In Tuesday’s significantly longer-than-usual City Council meeting, Councilmembers voted 4-3 to join a lawsuit over the County’s newly implemented Zero Bail system, with the issue apparently causing some emotional discussion during closed session.
Starting October 1, every police agency in the county has to follow a new bail system that largely eliminates the need for cash bail while evaluating the severity of the crime, a suspect’s risk to the public and repeat offenses.
According to the Santa Monica Police Department, officers now have three choices: cite and release (arrestee is released at the location of the arrest), book and release (arrestee is booked in jail and then released on their own recognizance) or magistrate review (select cases referred to an on-call magistrate).
Most suspects are charged with petty crimes like property crimes, minor theft and vehicle violations that will be covered by cite or book and release. A judge will be called in when a suspect’s crimes pose an increased risk to the public. In those cases, it will be up to the court to decide what terms of release are assigned to that suspect. The most serious crimes, like murder, will not qualify for pre-arraignment release.
While advocates have said the new system will address an unfair system that targeted the poor who could not afford bail, critics say it will contribute to rising crime trends. A group of 12 cities in Los Angeles County filed a lawsuit to delay implementation of the policy in response to the new rules.
The narrow vote broke down as follows: Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete and Councilmembers Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre voted yes, along with Councilmember Phil Brock who asked for the City to join the case. Mayor Gleam Davis and Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick voted not to join the lawsuit.
Upon returning to chamber after closed session Mayor Gleam Davis briefly explained the reasoning behind her vote to not join the lawsuit.
“I do not think that this lawsuit will reinstitute cash bail, nor will it make the city any safer. It simply reverts to the system that we were all existing under prior to October 1, which I know many people were very concerned about,” she said, adding, “So I will not think that this lawsuit in any way, makes the city safer, keeps more criminals off the street. In fact, it actually reduces our ability, the county’s ability, to come up with a better bail system that the Judicial Council was trying to institute.”
Torosis, who also voted against said, “As someone who started the county’s first career center inside the woman’s jail at Lynwood Century Regional Detention Facility, I have seen firsthand how undue pretrial incarceration hurts people, hurts families, hurts women.
“I also think that it criminalizes poverty and perpetuates inequality and injustice in our criminal legal system. It doesn’t prevent crime from happening, but it keeps low income individuals and disproportionately people of color in jail before trial.”
Zwick offered no explanation and with the meeting already having run past 11 p.m. the dias continued onward with the next agenda item.
However, speaking to the Daily Press, Negrete explained her reasoning, “The pre-trial bail system currently in place in Santa Monica plays a crucial role in maintaining accountability and ensuring that individuals not only receive immediate services, but also appear at their trials. By omitting this process, we risk jeopardizing the safety of individuals, particularly vulnerable populations such as children and victims of crime.”
She said zero-bail could demoralize law enforcement officers and that the impact of the new rules will have an impact beyond the current data points.
“While some may argue that there is only a perception of increased crime, it’s essential to consider the complexities of the issue. Data may show certain trends, but it does not always account for critical social factors, changes in arrestable offenses, or the reduction in the reporting of crimes due to a lack of faith in the justice system’s response. It’s our responsibility as public servants to weigh all these factors when making decisions that impact the safety and well-being of our community.”
Brock, who requested that the item be placed on the agenda, told the Daily Press, “One of the reasons to hold people many times was to try and get them clean. So they could then again make a rational decision about their life choices. Well, right now they can’t do that. If you arrest someone and they’re back down the street, you’ve never had a chance to have them sit and contemplate what they did, to sit and be able to find a new way, a new path forward.”
“I think it’s also extremely frustrating for a police officer. If you arrest someone for shoplifting at Target and a short time later you see them stealing again, nothing has been accomplished. I understand the reason to start discussing a no bail system, but there has to be a comprehensive plan in place,” Brock said, adding, “We may be a divided city council [on this issue] but I think our residents are united about not wanting crime.”
With Santa Monica on board, the group of cities opposing the rules includes: Whittier, Santa Clarita, Glendora, Beverly Hills, Azusa, San Dimas, Palmdale, Covina, Downey, Artesia, Lakewood, Santa Fe Springs, City of industry, Arcadia, Vernon, Santa Monica and LaVerne.