County should seek the whole truth, and nothing but, on criminal justice – Los Angeles Times

Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer was shot to death Feb. 20 while assisting at the scene of a traffic accident. The following day, the Board of Supervisors called for L.A. County officials to report back within 30 days on the suspect’s previous contacts with the criminal justice system. Accompanying statements by the motion’s co-authors, Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, provided the subtext: Tell us whether criminal justice reform laws adopted by the Legislature and by voters led to this killing. A second subtext was better hidden but even more urgent: Please tell us this wasn’t a county screw-up.

The situation was in at least some ways reminiscent of the horrid 2012 murder of four people in Northridge by Ka Pasasouk, a man with a long record of violence and instability. At the time, county supervisors had been railing against criminal justice “realignment,” an initiative by state government that gave them responsibility for some convicted criminals who previously were handled by the state. The change, county leaders warned, would bring disaster. Just after the killings, one supervisor thundered from the dais, “We told you so!”

But with a few weeks of time and investigation it turned out that, no, neither realignment nor other changes to law were to blame. Instead, in an earlier case against Pasasouk, a deputy district attorney had mistakenly told the judge that the defendant was eligible for drug treatment instead of prison despite his record. It was a lawyer’s failure to know the law — a basic screw-up by a county worker — that left Pasasouk free and able to kill.

Five years later, many law enforcement leaders and some county officials continue to argue that realignment and now Proposition 47, which changed drug possession and some property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, are to blame for an uptick in crime in Los Angeles and some other parts of the state. At present there is a stark lack of evidence to support or refute their assertions, but critics of the new laws raised the issue anew when Boyer was slain.

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