The published Commentary “Tricky measure allows release of violent felons” (Santa Monica Daily Press, December 7) captured my attention, not only for its chilling examples of the failure of California’s statewide criminal justice laws, but because comparable City and County measures fueled serious violent crimes right here in Santa Monica
Indeed, among eight individuals arrested for serious violent crimes in Santa Monica over roughly the past four months, virtually all had been released from jail recently. Their violent crime arrests were for murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, hate crime, as well as other charges.
They were arrested for those violent crimes here because a glut of crime-friendly criminal justice policies shortened or eliminated their jail time for previous offenses, even for repeat offenders and those with a history of violence, according to published news reports and publicly available law enforcement records.
For example, in mid-November a homeless man was arrested for robbery and multiple stabbings near the beach. Two weeks before the beach attacks Santa Monica Police had arrested this individual for battery on a person (i.e., punching or hitting someone). But instead of remaining jailed on the battery charge he was released on a citation the same day, based on his “promise to appear” in court in a month.
Also in mid-November, a man was arrested near Reed Park for assault with a deadly weapon, as well as possession of drug paraphernalia. He had received releases from jail on two felony arrests this summer, once on his “own recognizance” and once to “suitable placement” in lieu of jail.
Within days of those violent crimes, a man was arrested at a Santa Monica fast-food restaurant after lunging at a customer with a knife and threating to kill him. Two days earlier, the arrestee had been released from a Santa Monica misdemeanor charge under the “Alternatives to Incarceration” program, which allows arrestees to avoid jail if they “self-report experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, or mental health issues.”
An armed robbery, also committed at knife-point, occurred at a second Santa Monica fast-food restaurant a few weeks earlier. The robber had been released from jail four times over the Summer, three of the four within a day of being arrested.
Meanwhile, in late October two homeless individuals attempted to steal beer from a Santa Monica convenience store. After store employees prevented the theft, one of the men returned and fired a handgun into the store, precipitating the arrest of both men, including for attempted murder, attempted robbery, and firearms violations. Both men had prior arrest records: one had received a same-day release from jail a few weeks earlier while the other had been previously jailed for battery.
And the list goes on and on.
Shortly after Labor Day, a homeless man threatened a passerby with a knife while yelling racist threats. When the passerby tried to walk away, the attacker stabbed him in the back. Yet Santa Monica Police had arrested this attacker three times over the Summer, only to see him released each time, including a judge’s “Short Sentence Release” one month before the hate-crime stabbing.
Lastly, the killer who committed the late-Summer homeless-on-homeless knife homicide at Santa Monica’s Main Library had been released from jail on probation three weeks before, despite having several previous arrests on both felony and misdemeanor charges.
These violent local crimes expose the folly of City and County criminal justice policies, on top of the State laws and policies cited in your December Commentary piece. Whether enacted altruistically or unwittingly, such policies simply offer chronic offenders too many ways to avoid jail. If violent criminals arrested here had remained in custody for their earlier crimes, Santa Monica’s residents, visitors, and workforce would not have suffered their subsequent criminal behavior.
The violent acts described in SMDP’s December 7 Commentary and these recent Santa Monica crimes also expose the deficiency of the familiar debate over whether punishment or rehabilitation should be the key purpose of incarceration, a debate that ignores the public-safety benefit of thwarting crime by separating dangerous offenders from potential victims. The criminal acts of violent offenders are too often not the behavior of good people having a bad day, but of bad people beyond redemption.
Peter DiChellis, Santa Monica