Sunday Commentary: Bail Reform Under Scrutiny After Pre-Trial Release of Smash and Grab Suspects – But Why?

LAPD Chief Michel Moore speaks during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Dec. 2, 2021.
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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

This week LAPD and LA City Officials announced the arrest of 14 people for a string of smash-and-grab robberies.  At the same time, both Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore and Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday called for ending the county’s $0 bail policy.

The concern was that all of those arrested were out of police custody – some having bailed out while others fit the zero-bail criteria and were released.

The zero-bail policy applies to misdemeanors and lower-level felonies and was instituted as a means of reducing crowding at county jails during the COVID  pandemic.

The concerns expressed by the LAPD Chief however echo complaints about bail reform in general.  They expressed concern about those being let out becoming repeat offenders as they await their case being processed.

Mayor Garetti expressed similar concerns.

“There are people who need to be behind bars,” Garcetti said. “How many times does the same person have to steal a car, three, four or five times, after being released before we realize we have opened up a lot of the city, because we’re in a better place with COVID, we should be able to also open up our jails, and we should be able to have judges that put people behind those bars as well.”

The chief is blaming zero-bail on the increase of auto-thefts for example.

“The people stealing them are the chronic offenders,” Moore said. “And so that’s where the criminal justice system needs to make those adjustments.”

Interestingly enough just two of the 14 caught here have criminal histories.

The issue of bail is complicated and often misunderstood.

Under the US Constitution, people accused of crimes are legally innocent until proven guilty.  Bail is provided as a means to secure release from custody pending criminal proceedings and supposed to be a safeguard to ensure that people make their appearances.

Over time however, bail was increasingly used as a means to incarcerate pretrial people who could not afford bail with higher bails used as a means to de facto hold people in custody pretrial who might be considered dangerous.

The problem of course is it conflated ability to pay with public safety.  People who committed lesser crimes but were poor are held in custody sometimes for months or even years awaiting trial while those who have means can bail out eve4n for serious crimes.

Reformers have recognized this inequity and the California Supreme Court ruled that courts cannot hold people in custody pretrial simply because they cannot afford bail.

The court recognized the balancing act the courts must perform between the right to pretrial liberty with the state’s interest in protecting the public.

From my perspective there should be two conditions under which people should be held in custody pretrial – substantive public safety risk and risk of flight or non-appearance.

Moreover I believe that we have held a lot of people in custody for monetary reasons who really were little or no threat to public safety.  In fact, in a lot of cases, holding people in custody increases a lot of the problems – it costs a lot of money to hold people in custody, each person costing between $50 and $100 thousand per year.

It puts people in economic jeopardy – they lose their jobs, their homes, and distances them from family and support networks.  That studies show actually increases recidivism which increases the chance of more crime down the line.

Public officials are understandably concerned about these flash-mob, smash and grab type offenses.  But one of the critical components to stopping them in the future is the ability to arrest and then successfully prosecute them.

Often these offenses happen because people don’t believe they will be caught.

The idea that they have to then hold the people in custody doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I could see modifying conditions of release to those of standard parole and probation which would require people to follow all laws in order to remain out of custody.

That would allow for the presumption of pretrial release with the caveat that additional crimes may well change that calculation.

The idea that the concern about autothefts or burglaries means that we have to hold people who have not been convicted of a crime in custody misunderstands the nature of our system and what bail should be used to do – insure court appearances.

DA George Gascón, supporter of ending cash bail, has also insisted that smash-and-grab offenders would be held accountable, The Associated Press reported this week.

“Our office has been collaborating with multiple law enforcement agencies and once all the evidence has been gathered, we will review the cases to determine what criminal charges should be filed,” Alex Bastian a spokesperson for the DA told media this week.  “These brazen acts hurt all of us: retailers, employees and customers alike.”

In my view, the key to this is going to be the ability to catch those who commit these crimes and successfully prosecute them – not whether or not they are held in custody pending their trial.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 Comments

  1. Keith Olson

    Mayor Garcetti expressed similar concerns.
    “There are people who need to be behind bars,” Garcetti said. “How many times does the same person have to steal a car, three, four or five times, after being released before we realize we have opened up a lot of the city, because we’re in a better place with COVID, we should be able to also open up our jails, and we should be able to have judges that put people behind those bars as well.”

    The Mayor is hardly conservative and he’s facing the reality of how bad it looks to let felons out walking the streets on little to no bail.  The Progressive social justice push by Progressive DA’s is more and more looking like a losing position.  There’s soon going to be a major shift in the opposite direction.

    1. David Greenwald

      The Mayor is not a progressive and he’s definitely in the establishmnet/ law and order wing of the party, son of the former DA.

      When Biden considered appointing him to the Cabinet, BLM opposed it, “Black Lives Matter protesters have gathered outside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home for weeks demanding that Biden not select him for any top position.” So not really a surprise here.

      1. Alan Miller

        The Mayor is not a progressive

        Ouchie, that stung  😐

        and he’s definitely in the establishmnet/ law and order wing of the party, son of the former DA.

        Son of the former DA?  So lineage matters?  Who is our beloved Chesa the son of?

  2. Keith Olson

    The concern was that all of those arrested were out of police custody – some having bailed out while others fit the zero-bail criteria and were released.

    We had a discussion on this the other day where you were adamant that the thieves couldn’t be released with no bail.  Are you willing to concede that you were wrong?

    Keith Olson December 3, 2021 at 7:28 am
    And here lies part of the problem with Progressive DA’s and reform, where they catch the smash and grabbers and they’re already back out on the streets:

    After a spate of brazen smash-and-grab robberies left Los Angeles-area retailers and shoppers on edge last month, officials announced Thursday that they had arrested 14 suspects in connection with the crimes.
    Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, joined by other officials and members of the business community at LAPD headquarters, said none of the 14 suspects remains in custody.
    One of the suspects is a juvenile, Moore said. The others either posted bail or were released without bail.
    The chief pointed to zero-bail policies that were put in place last year for certain crimes, including burglary, as a public health measure to reduce jail populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “There’s criminal elements that are recognizing that condition and are capitalizing on it,” Moore said.
    https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-02/lapd-announces-14-arrests-smash-and-grab-robberies

    ReplyReport comment ↓

    David Greenwald December 3, 2021 at 8:26 am
    You think a retail theft case means no bail? that’s not not how bail is supposed to work.
    Ignore Commenter

    ReplyReport comment ↓

    Keith Olson December 3, 2021 at 8:31 am
    What are you saying here?
    According to the article all 14 are back out in the streets, some with no bail.

    ReplyReport comment ↓

    David Greenwald December 3, 2021 at 8:48 am
    And some bailed out. You can’t hold people for this kind of crime without bail.
    Ignore Commenter

    Report comment

    Keith Olson December 3, 2021 at 8:54 am
    Did you miss this part of the article?

    The others either posted bail or were released without bail.

    Report comment

    David Greenwald December 3, 2021 at 8:57 am
    I know. It doesn’t change my opinion on the matter.
     

     

     

  3. Bill Marshall

    Similar thing with a thief ring of catalytic converters (Sacramento region, inc. Davis)… damage a lot of cars, cost the owners many thousands of dollars…

    Yet they got out on ‘no bail’ while awaiting trial (after all, innocent until proven guilty, right?)… they were picked up again for same (additional, post-release) crimes that they were arrested, charged with, because they were still awaiting trial on the first charges, and had been released.

    Will have to see if the pattern continues…

     

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