of the Day
- September 23, 2009
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From LA Times
Pomona police pursuit and apparent gun battle ends in suspect's death
September 22, 2009 | 9:12 pm
An officer-involved shooting in Pomona left one man dead this evening, authorities said.
Circumstances surrounding the incident along the 1900 block of South Towne Avenue remained unclear late tonight, and Los Angeles County sheriff's homicides detectives said they were investigating the matter.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Fire Department said firefighters were called to the scene about 5:10 p.m. to help two victims caught in a traffic crash, said fire dispatcher supervisor Bryan Webb. The collision involved an individual with a gun, and apparently escalated into a standoff with Pomona police. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
Pomona police said no information was available.
One witness said the incident involved a police pursuit between officers and two suspects after their truck collided with another vehicle and then smashed into a wall in front of a house.
At one point, authorities ordered passengers in the truck to “come out with your hands up,” said John Nickoley, who witnessed the incident. Then a shot came from the car and police opened fire on the vehicle, he said.
He said more than a dozen shots were fired.
The traffic victims were rescued, but details on their condition were not available. No officers were injured.
San Ysidro border entry point closed after gunfight
September 22, 2009 | 6:41 pm
U.S. authorities have closed the San Ysidro Port of Entry on the border with Mexico after a gunfight there early Tuesday.
San Ysidro is the nation's busiest border crossing. Roughly 40,000 vehicles cross there daily from Mexico.
Three vans loaded with suspected illegal immigrants tried to speed through the crossing Tuesday afternoon, drawing gunfire from at least two U.S. agents, authorities said.
Three people in the vans and a traveler in a nearby car were injured in the failed attempt to cross into San Diego from Tijuana. About 70 people inside the vehicles were taken into custody, according to authorities.
Smugglers on occasion attempt to run the port of entry but rarely in such an apparently coordinated fashion. Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection fired their weapons at the vehicles, authorities said.
No cuts in store for Los Angeles County jails after all
September 22, 2009 | 5:00 pm
Sheriff Lee Baca will not close a jail because of budget cuts after all. Although the sheriff had a few months ago threatened such a closure, the department has managed to find $25 million in additional savings and revenue, officials said today.
Early last summer, Baca said he might have to close part or all of the Men's Central Jail, or the North facility jail, because of a growing public funding crisis.
“There will be no jail closures, and no portion of a jail will be closed,” said Steve Whitmore, the department's spokesman. “There will no reductions in services in unincorporated areas and no reductions in detectives.”
Instead, the department will use unspent funds and new revenue streams to cover the gap. Whitmore said the department would get $10 million of additional state revenue for housing inmates awaiting transfer to prisons and use $7 million in funds left over from programs last fiscal year. It will also use $3 million in revenue from cities that contract with the department for law enforcement, $1 million in miscellaneous revenue, $2.5 million in cuts to specialty medical clinic services and $1.5 million in reductions to fixed assets.
Whitmore said the county has agreed that it doesn't need to implement $22 million more in potential cuts.
L.A. council wants to level $1,000 fine against those who illegally remove trees
September 22, 2009 | 4:50 pm
Looking to protect more of its urban forest, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to draft a law allowing city inspectors to issue a $1,000 fine for anyone who illegally removes a street tree.
Under the proposal, citations would be issued to those caught chopping down a tree without city permission in a median strip or on a parkway — the area between the curb and the sidewalk, said Bill Robertson, general manager of the Bureau of Street Services.
The fine also would apply to trees that are on private property but have other city laws protecting them, including California bay, western sycamore and Southern California black walnut trees. Three violations within a year would result in the filing of misdemeanor charges in Superior Court, according to the proposal.
“The problem we're trying to address is the illegal removal of trees, especially protected trees” such as native oaks, said Cynthia Ruiz, president of the Board of Public Works, which supports the proposed fine.
The proposal comes more than three years after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched his initiative to plant 1? million trees. That program drew fire after The Times reported that organizers were handing out seedlings with a high mortality rate and counting them as planted. Since then, Villaraigosa's team said the program has surpassed the 245,000-tree mark.
L.A. Council approves purchase of dairy site for future park along Los Angeles River
September 22, 2009 | 3:29 pm The Los Angeles City Council today approved the purchase of a 6.3-acre dairy site along the L.A. River that officials hope to transform into a public park and water treatment center.
Officials have eyed the Albion Dairy site for several years as a prime location to clean storm water from the surrounding 254 acres before it enters the L.A. River through two drains that run parallel to the Spring Street and Main Street bridges. The parcel is part of an area straddling the river east of downtown that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hopes to transform into an incubator for clean technology companies.
The city is purchasing the dairy land with $17.6 million from Proposition O, the $500-million bond measure approved by voters in 2004 to clean up the city's beaches, waterways and lakes.
There are no design plans yet for the park in the Lincoln Heights area, which is close to the Downey Recreation Center. City officials must still secure money to build the water treatment center and create the park — and that work will not begin for at least two years, when the dairy operator's lease expires. Officials will raze the buildings and clear the site at that time.
Still, Councilman Ed Reyes, who is spearheading the city's efforts to rehabilitate the L.A. River, said the project was an important step toward improving the city's water quality and relieving “the pressures felt by these very crowded neighborhoods.”
Originally only $5 million was slated for the Albion Dairy purchase. But the council agreed Tuesday to use some of the money that had been set aside to buy land on the site of the old freight-switching and rail car maintenance facility known as Taylor Yard.
Nearly 40 acres of Taylor Yard have already been converted into the state's Rio de Los Angeles State Park at 1900 San Fernando Road, part of which is managed by the city.
The City Council had set aside $25 million of Proposition O money to help acquire an adjacent 42-acre riverfront parcel of Taylor Yard, owned by Union Pacific, to create a wetlands that would remove pollutants from storm water runoff in the surrounding area.
But in a report, the city's top budget analysts said they had made little progress acquiring that land and proposing to direct nearly half of it toward the Albion Dairy property purchase.
The money from Proposition O was divided between 32 water improvement projects . The largest undertakings include an $84-million project to drain and clean Echo Park Lake beginning in January 2011 and restoration of Machado Lake and the Wilmington Drain, which will cost more than $117 million.
Nearly 5,000 UCLA volunteers help out at schools, beaches, other sites
September 22, 2009 | 1:33 pm
Paintbrush in hand, UCLA junior Jacob Casteneda was putting a fresh coat of brown paint this morning on the exterior of one of the many bungalows at Samuel Gompers Middle School. He was among an army of about 4,600 UCLA volunteers who came to the South Los Angeles campus and seven other spots around the L.A. area for a day of community service.
“It's always nice to reach out to the community and it's always great to help out kids,” said Casteneda, who recently transferred to UCLA from Santa Monica College. “We need to take the time to give a hand to kids who are without.”
UCLA's first Volunteer Day brought painters, cleaners and gardeners to four other schools, Griffith Park, Point Dume State Beach and the veterans hospital and cemetery in Westwood. About a hundred buses ferried the UCLA students and faculty to those sites, with transportation costs and other expenses covered by a $250,000 grant from the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, who has said he wants to engage the university more with the surrounding city, joined in the painting work at Gompers and said he was delighted with the turnout. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt, Block said that a great public university needs to have excellent research and education but also “a sense of volunteerism and a sense of public duty.”
L.A. council clamps down on a crowing problem: roosters
September 22, 2009 | 1:02 pm
Hoping to quell the amount of crowing across the city, the Los Angeles City Council passed a law today limiting the number of roosters that each household can own.
In a 12-0 vote, the council agreed to allow only one rooster per property unless such birds are part of a “permitted and licensed commercial, agricultural or industrial business” — and on a street with the proper zoning.
Roosters can be heard in a number of neighborhoods around the city, from Wilmington near the harbor to the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley. Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who crafted the measure, said it would provide peace and quiet to her constituents while helping animal control officers crack down on cockfighting.
“Roosters have their place in this city, but we think having more than one per property causes problems,” she said.
Officials with the Department of Animal Services said those who currently have more than one rooster can apply for a one-time, $50 permit that will allow them to keep two more.
Roosters can be found in some of the most crowded communities near downtown, where daily crowing competes with the roar of freeways. Still, opposition to the law has been strongest in the San Fernando Valley, where residents have argued that cockfighting is already a crime in California.
Ellie Hamblen, who lives in Lake View Terrace, asked the council to meet with the leadership of the American Poultry Assn. to come up with an acceptable compromise.
“We don't want this ordinance to be rushed through,” she said.
Hahn's ordinance drew support from the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which described it as a new measure to address cockfighting. One real estate developer said the law also would bring relief to residents of his 28-unit development in Panorama City.
Michael Mekeel, a resident of Hollywood, said his tenants have had to drown out the bird noise by turning up their televisions and wearing earplugs.
Hahn's ordinance also won the backing of Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has roughly a dozen chickens at his Mar Vista home and regularly distributes eggs to his colleagues. Rosendahl said he loves the sound of a rooster crowing but conceded that others in Los Angeles may not feel the same way.
“Having even one rooster in an urban environment is a problem,” he said. “Because the sound just travels.”
Governor signs bill to keep Healthy Families kids insured
September 22, 2009 | 11:48 am
Adding a dash of good feeling to a year dominated by budgetary distress, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this morning signed a measure that keeps nearly 700,000 children from being yanked off a government health insurance program.
The measure by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) allows the state's Healthy Families program to reap $196 million and ensure coverage to children of families who wouldn't otherwise have coverage.
“We were going through painful moments…Today we are turning all this around,” Schwarzenegger said during a ceremony in the Capitol rotunda. “It would have been disastrous to lose healthcare for all those kids.”
He called the scheme used to save the program “innovative,” with much of the money coming from a new 2.35% tax on health insurance companies that will be used to leverage nearly $100 million in federal matching funds. Insurance companies will be largely reimbursed with federal money for the cost of the tax, which expires at the end of 2010.
In addition, the state's First 5 early childhood development effort, the voter-approved program that is flush with cash from a special tobacco tax, has agreed to divert $81 million to help Healthy Families.
More than $15 million in additional funds would come from a shift in dental coverage and from higher premiums and co-payments for Healthy Families participants. The only unaffected participants would be the lowest-income enrollees, making less than $27,500 annually for a family of three.
During the signing ceremony, Schwarzenegger also announced that the state had won $42.7 million in federal stimulus money to help the homeless.
Massive police raid targets brutal L.A. gang
An early morning assault by federal and local personnel yields 78 arrests and a sense of cautious optimism that the Avenues' hold on Northeast L.A. may be weakening.
By Joel Rubin
September 23, 2009
Los Angeles cop Juan Aguilar has been battling the Avenues hoodlums long enough to have seen the gang at its most vicious.
During his five years working an anti-gang detail on streets the Avenues claim as their own in the city's northeastern reaches, gang members are accused of gunning down a man in broad daylight as he held his 2-year-old granddaughter's hand, opening fire on LAPD officers with an assault rifle and killing a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy.
Even as crime has dropped throughout the city, Aguilar says he still braces for the worst when it comes to the Avenues. "When I read the crime reports from the weekend that land on my desk and there hasn't been a gang shooting, I'll say to myself, 'We've had a good weekend.' "
On Tuesday, Aguilar was one of roughly 1,200 police officers and federal agents involved in a massive crackdown on the Avenues -- one of the most entrenched and violent gangs in a city full of them.
"I've been looking forward to this day for a while," the soft-spoken 35-year-old said as dawn broke over the operation's large command post in Elysian Park.
His words summed up a common sentiment expressed by the officers -- both top brass and rank-and-file -- involved in the full-scale assault. It was a cop's cautious optimism that maybe, for the first time, police had gained the upper hand, mixed with the harsh reality that there is plenty more fighting to come.
By day's end, 78 alleged Avenues members or associates were in custody on federal charges related to the gang's extensive drug dealing, previously unsolved murders and other crimes. Five other people were arrested on state charges and 10 people wanted by federal authorities remained at large and were being sought. It was the largest gang sweep in the city in recent years, officials said, and affected a large portion of the gang, which claims about 400 members.
As handcuffed suspects were hauled back to the command post, Aguilar nodded in recognition at many of them. Louie Mora, the alleged gun-toting drug dealer who Aguilar said had tried to go straight, but slipped back into the gang life, walked by. And there was Leonardo Erentreich, the kid they called Fatal, whom Aguilar had watched grow from more innocent days as a tagger into a full-fledged gangbanger accused of armed robbery and drug dealing. Some of them he had at one time tried to help, telling them quietly that the only way to leave the gang is to leave the city. Others had long ago slipped beyond help, he said.
The sweep unfolded in the early morning darkness of Glassell Park and surrounding neighborhoods -- an area that has been the center of Avenues territory since the gang first surfaced in the 1950s. Months of logistical planning by a specialized unit of LAPD gang detectives and a Drug Enforcement Administration task force paid off, and there were no major hiccups. The day's only significant use of force was the shooting of two aggressive dogs by San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputies.
Most suspects went quietly, including Norberto Salazar. An LAPD SWAT team quietly surrounded Salazar's home on Estara Avenue. Using a bullhorn, an officer ordered the occupants out of the house. Several dazed-looking women emerged carrying small children wrapped in blankets and were taken aside for questioning. They were followed by Salazar, who was escorted down the street in stiff plastic handcuffs. On the street corner, beneath a sign advertising check cashing at the El Ranchito meat market, Salazar spoke quietly with detectives for several minutes before being led to a waiting car. He is accused of directing other Avenues members to commit several violent and drug-related crimes, according to police. His brother was not found at the house and is still being sought.
At the command post, dozens of handcuffed men and women were shuffled around and booked in assembly-line fashion in the middle of a sprawling parking lot dotted with hundreds of police vehicles and catering trucks to feed hungry officers. Federal immigration officials were on hand to deal with any undocumented immigrants, although a DEA spokesman said none of the people arrested were found to be in the country illegally.
The operation was the culmination of a yearlong investigation into the gang that stemmed from the August 2008 slaying of Juan Abel Escalante, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. Escalante, 27, was gunned down outside of his parents' Cypress Park home early in the morning as he headed to work as a guard at the Men's Central Jail.
LAPD detectives led the investigation because the killing occurred within city boundaries. Within months, two Avenues members were arrested in connection with the murder. Later, a third member was taken into custody and charges were brought against a fourth, who remains a fugitive. In the course of investigating the Escalante killing, detectives and DEA agents delved into the inner workings of the Avenues and compiled evidence related to a host of other alleged crimes.
Much of the incriminating information in the case came from the suspects themselves after DEA agents got approval from federal judges for an array of wiretaps that allowed them to listen in on gang members' phone conversations.
Over the course of the investigation, cases were built against Avenues members for their alleged roles in six unsolved murders and four attempted murders, police said. The bulk of the charges, however, are for extortion and racketeering crimes that authorities say Avenues members and associates committed as part of the gang's extensive drug trafficking in the area.
Most of the Avenues members and associates included in the indictment are being charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Statute, which allows prosecutors to pursue lengthy prison sentences.
The gang, named for the avenues that cross Figueroa Street, has a long, ugly history dating back at least to the 1950s. The group's insignia, which many members have tattooed on their bodies, is a skull with a bullet hole, wearing a fedora. Various cliques of the Avenues claim Highland Park and parts of Cypress Park, Glassell Park and Eagle Rock as their territory. It is linked closely to the Mexican Mafia prison gang, which demands that the Avenues and other Eastside gangs send up a share of the taxes they collect from low-level drug dealers and others selling goods on their turf, police said.
Tuesday's sweep was hardly the first time law enforcement had taken on the Avenues. In 2002, the city attorney won an injunction against the gang, making it illegal for members to congregate in many areas. A few years later, federal prosecutors won hate-crime convictions against Avenues members for the killings of three black men between 1995 and 2000.
In February 2008, the gang re-emerged into the city's public consciousness when a man was gunned down as he stood on a curb holding his 2-year-old granddaughter's hand. The suspects, who police say were members of the Avenues' Drew Street clique, brazenly took on police in a running gun battle, firing at officers with an AK-47 assault rifle. Most recently, in June 2008, the DEA led a similar, but smaller raid on Drew Street members.
That incursion, and the city's subsequent efforts to improve quality-of-life issues in the area, led to a noticeable drop in the gang's drug activity and violence, said Capt. Bill Murphy, who oversees the department's Northeast Division.
At a news conference, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and police officials vowed to follow the gang sweep with additional officers who will try to keep rival gangs from swooping in to fill the void left by the arrests, as well as other resources aimed at improving the quality of life in the area. The city attorney's office also filed three abatement lawsuits against homes used by Avenues members.
Like many others in the department, Aguilar is not under any illusions that Tuesday's crackdown on the gang, however large, might deal a fatal strike.
The Avenues gang, he said, has woven its roots too deep, and for too long, into the hardscrabble pavement of the neighborhood to be broken that swiftly. "This will hopefully be a huge blow," he said, "but it won't be the end of it."
FAQ: Where is the homicide count?
September 22, 2009 | 10:37 pm
A Homicide Report reader recently asked why this blog no longer posts the year-to-date number of homicides in Los Angeles County. That number was calculated as part of our interactive Homicide Map, which is no longer live on site because of technical problems when latimes.com underwent a recent redesign.
Work is underway on a new map that will allow readers to view homicides by location, filter by characteristics of the crimes and more. We plan to launch the new map as part of a database of homicides in L.A. County that is also under construction.
In the interim, beginning next week we will post year-to-date totals with the weekly summaries. The most recent cases typically are available from the coroner on Mondays.
As of early Monday, Sept. 21, the coroner had reported about 563 homicides in L.A. County this year. This number does not include a handful of cases in which the cause of death has been deferred.
As the coroner continues to investigate cases, occasionally homicides will be added to or taken off our list.
Beginning next week, we will post the year-to-date total with our weekly summary posts.
LAPD memorial for fallen officers finds its way home
The brass wall is put in place in front the new police headquarters downtown, but all did not go smoothly. Its backward placement will have to be rectified before the dedication next month.
By Alexandra Zavis
September 23, 2009
Accompanied by a Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle escort, a memorial wall for fallen officers was delivered Tuesday to the department's new downtown headquarters.
LAPD staff gathered at the windows and in the street with cellphone cameras to record the arrival of the nearly 11,000-pound brass structure from Kansas City, where it was assembled.
But when a crane finally hoisted the wall onto an elevated plaza in front of the Police Administration Building on West 1st Street, the horrified designers realized that it was facing the wrong way.
After hurried consultations with contractors, it became apparent that it would not be possible to simply flip the wall around to face the area where ceremonies will be held, because brackets securing it to the ground would no longer be aligned.
But all was not lost. The more than 2,000 brass plaques that make up the structure were designed to be removable so that the names of additional officers who die in the line of duty can be carved out.
After reviewing the drawings, it was decided that the more than 200 plaques already bearing the names of fallen LAPD officers could be unscrewed and moved to the front of the wall, instead of having to move the structure again, said Li Wen, who was part of a team of architects who conceived and developed the memorial.
"It is anticlimactic," said Wen, a senior associate at the Santa Monica office of the Gensler architecture firm, which provided its services for free. But he was confident the mistake would be rectified in time for the Oct. 14 dedication.
The wall is intended as a tribute to the entire force, as well as to individual members who have lost their lives, Wen said.
"When you approach it from a distance, it will appear as a wall, reflecting the unity of the police force," said David Herjeczki, another Gensler senior associate. "But as you get closer, you will see it is an assemblage of individual pieces, each one paying tribute to a fallen officer."
The Los Angeles Police Foundation raised the funds for the $725,000 memorial through private donations, officers said. The original tribute to fallen officers, a memorial fountain in front of Parker Center, crumbled when it was moved to make room for a new jail, said Alan Atkins, executive director of the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation.
The Kansas City-based architectural metal firm A. Zahner Co. built the new memorial. On Friday, it was boxed and loaded onto a trailer for the trip to California. In a show of support to fellow officers, Kansas City police escorted the memorial out of town.
When the truck reached Los Angeles, passing firefighters pulled over and turned on their lights out of respect, said Ed Thomas, who drove the memorial across the country. Other drivers honked their horns and gave thumbs-up signs, said members of the LAPD escort.
"The names on the memorial are all heroes," said Officer Brenan Booth, a 22-year veteran of the force. "It was an honor to escort them here."
When the memorial was in place, First Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell dropped by for a closer look.
"It's beautiful," he said, running a finger over some of the names. "The sad part is, there's plenty of blanks. Unfortunately, they won't be blank forever."
Supreme Court to weigh depictions of animal cruelty
In a case that pits free-speech defenders against animal rights activists, the justices will consider whether the 1st Amendment should protect depictions of animals being hurt.
By David G. Savage
September 23, 2009
Reporting from Washington
The video images were disturbing -- a tiny white kitten singed with the flame from a lighter; a gray cat struggling beneath a woman's spiked heel; pit bulls tearing into a trapped animal.
The Supreme Court has often said that freedom of speech includes ugly and foul language. But this fall the justices will be looking at video clips like these to decide whether selling films of dogfights or animal torture is protected from prosecution under the 1st Amendment.
The dispute, expected to be heard in early October, has driven a wedge between traditional free-speech advocates and defenders of the humane treatment of animals.
Book publishers, movie makers, photographers, artists and journalists have joined the case on the side of a Virginia man who was convicted of selling videos of dogfights. They argue that any new exception to the 1st Amendment, no matter how laudable the goal, poses a danger to free expression.
"The road to censorship is paved with good intentions," said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
But animal rights advocates say no one should be able to profit from the abuse and torture of animals for entertainment.
"This is not about speech, but about a commercial activity of a sickening type," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
The society said it had seen a resurgence of horrific "crush videos" for sale on the Internet in the last year, ever since a U.S. appeals court struck down on free-speech grounds a federal law that banned the selling of videos of animals being maimed and tortured.
These underground videos, said to appeal to a bizarre fetish, typically include tiny animals being crushed by a woman's shoe.
Investigators for the Humane Society said hundreds of such videos could be purchased online. They showed clips of them to reporters this month.
Laws in all states
All 50 states have laws against animal cruelty, including bans on dogfighting and cockfighting. The 2007 dogfighting case against NFL quarterback Michael Vick prompted a new round of laws, including a California measure that added penalties for attending a dogfight.
Ten years ago, Congress made it a federal crime to market videos or other depictions of live animals being illegally "maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed." Its sponsors made clear they did not intend to interfere with legal hunting, fishing or the slaughter of animals for food.
More recently, the law was used against the underground dogfighting industry, which utilizes videos and magazines.
The case coming before the Supreme Court involves Robert Stevens, 69, a Virginia pit bull breeder. Stevens ran a business called Dogs of Velvet and Steel, which provided books and other materials about handling pit bulls.
Among the videos he had for sale was one about using the dogs to hunt wild boar and pigs. Others included scenes of pit bulls fighting each other in Japan, where the activity is legal.
Stevens had advertised several of the videos in "Sporting Dog Journal," an underground publication that reports on dogfights. After federal agents bought three of his videos, he was indicted in 2004 under the animal cruelty law.
Stevens was the first person to be prosecuted under the law. He was convicted by a jury in Pittsburgh.
The U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia decided to strike down the law last year on free-speech grounds. Its judges said that although those who put on dogfights could be punished, the 1st Amendment protected "depictions of animal cruelty."
The appeals court stated in its decision that the government did not have a "compelling interest" in limiting such depictions.
In the past, the high court has said speech can be restricted when the government has a compelling reason. It is illegal to threaten the president's life or to solicit a bribe or a contract murder. The court has also said obscenity and child pornography are not protected by the 1st Amendment.
But in striking down the law against animal cruelty videos, the appeals court said the government's compelling interests had been "related to the well-being of human beings, not animals. . . . It is difficult to see how [a law banning depictions of animal abuse] serves a compelling interest," wrote Judge D. Brooks Smith.
Free-speech advocates agree, saying that the Supreme Court should look away from the ugliness of the animal torture videos and uphold the principle behind the 1st Amendment.
"The 1st Amendment is most necessary when unpopular speech is at issue," said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition.
Some media lawyers worry the law could be used against movies, TV shows or books that show bullfighting or hunting with bows and arrows, or documentaries exposing conditions in a slaughterhouse.
The value of speech
Government lawyers counter that the law has been used rarely, and that it exempts from prosecution any image that has "serious religious, political, scientific, journalistic, historical or artistic value."
More recently, government lawyers set off alarms with their legal brief saying the court should uphold the law by "balancing the value of the speech against its societal costs."
"It would be a dangerous departure if the court endorsed that idea. It would open the door to legislation restricting many kinds of 'low value' speech simply because some people find it offensive," said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.
Bertin said the 1st Amendment has stood as a shield for free expression, not just a legal rule that calls for a balancing of interests in each case.
"Think about flag burning or video games or rap music. Would you want a jury to decide the value of this speech balanced against its perceived social cost?" she asked.
But Joyce Tischler, a co-founder of the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Northern California, said she was disappointed that free-speech advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union had urged the justices to strike down the law.
"The 'crush videos' involve torture. There is no other way to say it. It is intentional abuse of a defenseless animal. . . . People who do that should not be able to hide behind the 1st Amendment," she said.
Lawmakers weigh Patriot Act extension
Three provisions of the law are set to expire Dec. 31, and the Obama administration wants Congress to extend them. A Senate bill proposes some changes.
By David G. Savage
September 23, 2009
Reporting from Washington
The Patriot Act -- a favorite tool in the George W. Bush administration's fight against terrorism -- may be renamed later this year as the Justice Act. But the law itself, including its controversial provisions that gave FBI agents more leeway to search computers and bank records, is likely to survive, albeit with some changes to limit who can be searched.
"Security and liberty are both essential in our free society," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said Tuesday in introducing a bill to extend three provisions that are due to expire Dec. 31. He said Democrats would "update checks and balances by increasing judiciary review" of the government's investigations.
As a senator from Illinois, Barack Obama was a critic of the Patriot Act. Last week, however, the Obama administration asked the House and Senate to extend the three provisions. "The administration is willing to consider . . . ideas [for modifying the law], provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness of these important authorities," Assistant Atty. Gen. Ronald Weich said in a letter to Congress.
That small concession was greeted by House Democrats on Tuesday as a "refreshing break" from the Bush era.
The House subcommittee on the Constitution held its first hearing on extending the Patriot Act on Tuesday. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), its chairman, said the law had "aroused a great deal of controversy and concern" but nonetheless "remains a useful tool" in investigating and preventing terrorism.
But many liberals are upset by the far-reaching search authority, and they were not ready to back the extension.
"This law was rushed through Congress after 9/11," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said. When an Obama administration lawyer testified in support of extending the law as is, Conyers stopped him. "You sound like a lot of people who came over from DOJ," he said, referring to the Department of Justice under Bush.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), the lone opponent of the Patriot Act in 2001, served notice that he would lead an effort with other Senate liberals to make "fixes" in the law. Their bill, called the Justice Act, also would allow lawsuits against telecommunications firms that cooperated with the Bush administration and supplied information on their customers.
More controversial than the three provisions about to expire is the FBI's use of national security letters to obtain financial records and computer information without the approval of a judge.
Both Leahy and Nadler said Tuesday that they would not seek to end the practice, but would press for changes. Leahy said his bill "would require the FBI to include a statement of facts articulating why the information it is seeking it is relevant to an authorized investigation." He also said he planned to seek a change that would call for disclosing these searches in some cases. The Obama administration said it had not decided whether it would support changes in this part of the law.
Of the three expiring provisions, the most controversial allows the FBI, with a judge's approval, to obtain an order to get business records, financial data, computer information or even library records that are believed to be relevant to a terrorism investigation. These searches are done in secret and the banks, for example, are not to notify the customer.
Leahy and Nadler said they would seek a change in the law that would require investigators to show a clearer link between the records being searched and an actual terrorist suspect.
On Tuesday, an Obama administration lawyer discounted concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union about gathering information from libraries. "At the time of the USA Patriot Act, there was concern that the FBI would exploit the broad scope of the business records authority to collect sensitive personal information on constitutionally protected activities, such as the use of public libraries. This simply has not occurred," Todd M. Hinnen, a deputy assistant attorney general, told the House subcommittee.
Another section of the act authorizes a "roving" wiretap of a suspected terrorist or foreign agent who moves around and switches cellphones to avoid detection. These wiretaps must be approved by a judge. An Obama administration lawyer said that provision had been used about 22 times per year since 2001.
The third provision allows the government to spy on a foreigner who is suspected of terrorism but is a "lone wolf" with no apparent connection to a group such as Al Qaeda. Prior to 2001, the FBI could spy on suspected terrorists or foreign agents in the U.S., but only if they could be linked to some terrorist group or foreign government. Government lawyers said they have never used this provision but still urged that it be extended.
Republicans said the Patriot Act helped prevent a terrorist attack in this country, and the provisions should be extended as they are.
"The clocking is ticking," Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said Tuesday.
An ACLU lawyer said much of the law is "unconstitutional" and should be repealed or revised: "The time for Patriot Act reform is long overdue," said Mike German, who is also a former FBI agent.
Obama names Customs and Border Protection commissioner
Former California Education Secretary Alan Bersin has experience in law and border enforcement as well as education. If confirmed by the Senate, he'll take charge of about 57,000 employees.
By Sebastian Rotella
September 23, 2009
Reporting from Washington
President Obama has nominated the administration's point man on Southwest border strategy to be the new commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the nation's largest law enforcement agency, the White House announced Tuesday.
Alan Bersin, a veteran of federal border enforcement and a former San Diego schools superintendent, has served since April as assistant secretary for international affairs at the Homeland Security Department. Bersin, 62, is the department's special representative for border affairs, working with Mexican leaders and U.S. border-area agencies on challenges such as drugs and immigration.
If approved as commissioner by the Senate, Bersin will take charge of about 57,000 employees who police the nation's borders while struggling with a massive workload, grappling with the threat of corruption and trying to speed travel and commerce.
Customs and Border Protection encompasses the U.S. Border Patrol agents who guard the Mexican and Canadian boundaries, a far-flung army of inspectors working at ports of entry, and an air and sea interdiction fleet.
The agency faces a persistent terrorist menace as well as powerful drug mafias that have responded violently to a crackdown by the U.S. and Mexican governments.
Bersin will continue to advise Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on issues related to Mexico and the border, although he will relinquish the title of special representative, officials said.
"Under Alan's leadership over the past several months, we have forged new international and domestic partnerships along our borders to strengthen security," Napolitano said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing to work with Alan in his new position."
Known for a cerebral yet hard-charging style, Bersin has alternated between law enforcement and education.
In the Clinton administration, he spent five years as U.S. attorney in San Diego. He led campaigns against illegal immigration and drug mafias at a time when turmoil at the border surged to the center of the political debate in California and the nation.
Appointed to the additional role of so-called border czar by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno in 1995, he worked to coordinate an array of often overwhelmed and fractious federal agencies at the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
In 1998, Bersin turned away from the border when he became superintendent of schools in San Diego, the nation's eighth-largest school district. He gained a reputation as an energetic innovator but clashed during a seven-year tenure with teachers unions that resisted his efforts for dramatic change.
A Democrat, Bersin also has held posts under Republican bosses. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him state secretary of education in July 2005. He served until December 2006, and then was named by San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders to chair San Diego's regional aviation authority.
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Bersin met future Vice President Al Gore and starred in football. He knew former President Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as a law student at Yale and as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford.
Before going into government, Bersin was a senior partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson and a law professor.
Limits are sought on long tarmac waits
Airline passenger rights groups tell lawmakers about the potential health risks. Sen. Barbara Boxer expects a three-hour rule to become law.
By Joe Markman
September 23, 2009
Reporting from Washington
Passenger rights advocates pressed lawmakers Tuesday to pass a proposal that would require airlines to let travelers off a plane if it were delayed more than three hours on the tarmac.
Speaking at a packed hearing in Washington, they said that long delays were not just an inconvenience but a potential health risk, citing a 2007 World Health Organization study that found that the risk for developing conditions such as a pulmonary embolism doubled after four hours of immobility in a seat.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told the crowd that the three-hour time limit and requirements that airlines provide basic services like food and water during long flight delays would soon become law because of increasing support in Congress and among consumer and business groups.
The requirements, similar to those in a provision already approved in the House, is contained in a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration now before the Senate.
The legislation makes an exception for occasions when the pilot believes that the plane will take off in the next half-hour or that it might be hazardous to leave the plane.
Though such mishaps occur on hundreds of flights a year, the airline industry says they represent a minuscule percentage of flights.
David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Assn., which represents the nation's biggest airlines, said the proposed law could have unintended consequences.
"I think of the unaccompanied child who will be stranded in a strange city because a few people want to get off the plane," Castelveter said.
Various reports over the years of passengers being denied or asked to pay for food and water were rare "missteps," he said.
Robert Crandall, former chief executive of American Airlines, said that instituting a three-hour limit would result in a deluge of passengers canceling flights.
Citing American Airlines statistics, Crandall said that without a proper phase-in, the time limit would result in more than 6,000 passengers in a six-month period being forced to create alternative plans.
Crandall, who said he supported the legislation overall, proposed starting at four hours and moving to three in 2011.
Boxer and fellow Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota threatened to filibuster any amendment that would strike out the consumer protections from the FAA legislation.
"We would talk as long as every passenger was left sitting on their flights," Klobuchar said.
Staff is disciplined after inmate death
September 23, 2009
Sixteen Arizona corrections employees have been fired, suspended or otherwise disciplined for their roles in the death of an inmate left in an outdoor holding cell for four hours in triple-digit heat, and for a punishment practiced at the prison where she died.
Three of those disciplined were fired, two stepped down rather than be dismissed, 10 received suspensions ranging from 40 to 80 hours, and one was demoted. Two others are to be disciplined after they return from medical leave.
Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced the moves Tuesday, calling the death "the most significant example of abuse" of an inmate that he was aware of within the department.
Marcia Powell, 48, died of heat-related complications in May, hours after she collapsed in an unshaded outdoor cell at the Perryville prison in Goodyear. She had been there for nearly four hours, despite a prison policy setting a two-hour limit and requiring guards to check on inmates in the outdoor cell every 30 minutes.
She had first- and second-degree burns on her face and body, and a core body temperature of 108 degrees, an autopsy report said.
"That is an absolute failure," Ryan said Tuesday. "The inmate should not have been left in the enclosure that length of time."
Ryan declined to provide the names of the disciplined employees, saying that would be inappropriate because they could appeal. They included a deputy warden, a prison psychologist and a security chief.
The state prison system ended its use of outdoor cells weeks after Powell's death.
During the administrative investigation of Powell's death, Ryan said, investigators uncovered a so-called wait-them-out punishment at the prison. Inmates were placed in outdoor and indoor holdings cells for hours as an alternative to using force, he said.
Powell was not in a holding cell under that practice, Ryan said, but an inmate had been left in an outdoor cell for 20 hours three days before Powell's death. That inmate did not require medical treatment. Ryan said no one died under the wait-them-out practice.
The Maricopa County attorney's office will decide whether any employees will be criminally charged in Powell's death.
Powell was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution.
From the Daily News
Phone boxes called a 'hazard'
Many say blind, others are endangered
By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer
Updated: 09/22/2009 09:29:31 PM PDT
GRANADA HILLS — For the blind, there are enough hazards when walking down the sidewalk — loose dogs, low branches and couches littering the curb.
Now there's a bigger obstacle to bop pedestrians -- visually impaired or otherwise -- in the nose: metal phone boxes.
"If I'm walking by myself, I'll hit it dead center," said Racquel Decipeda, secretary of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, standing next to an eye-level protuberance from a phone pole in Granada Hills.
"It's a hazard for the blind community. Just move it up, that's all we ask, before someone gets hurt."
A growing number of city officials, neighborhood groups and advocates for the disabled are objecting to the hundreds of high-tech phone-equipment boxes popping onto public rights of way.
A meeting is scheduled today between opponents of the boxes and Verizon officials, who maintain their equipment is safe. On Friday, the city Public Works Commission will vote on whether to ban the street-level telephone boxes.
The large metal cabinets can jut two feet across city sidewalks from knee-level to the top of one's head. In addition to being a hazard to pedestrians, some say they serve as blackboards for graffiti taggers.
They also can prevent motorists pulling out of their driveways from seeing oncoming cars.
"They're ugly," said Jerry Askew, a board member of the Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council, the first of many to oppose the boxes. "They're blight. They're a hazard.
"If a kid is riding down the street on a bike, they can smack right into one."
Since last fall, Verizon has mounted 267 of its low-lying metal cabinets on utility poles citywide to speed voice, video and other communications.
The company plans to add another 500 of its so-called FiOS boxes and is seeking permission to operate the sidewalk fiber optic distribution hubs.
The city contends the phone company broke local laws by installing boxes that block pedestrian rights of way, while others say the company violated state building codes and federal laws protecting the disabled.
The bureaus of Street Services and Engineering filed a joint report recommending Verizon be banned from operating its pole-mounted cabinets.
Verizon, according to the report, said it mounted them three feet off the ground for "worker convenience and lower cost."
It said Verizon contends its status as a telecommunications company allows it to place equipment in public rights of way, including sidewalks.
"We feel the boxes were properly placed, but are working with the city to reach a solution that is agreeable to all parties," said Jon Davies, a Verizon spokesman for its western region. "They are completely safe."
Davies declined to discuss the FiOS boxes until after Wednesday's meeting with Cynthia Ruiz, chair of the Public Works Commission.
Former City Councilman Richard Alatorre, who stepped down after a corruption scandal, has been lobbying on Verizon's behalf.
City officials said Verizon promised last year to work toward a solution, then said it would "do absolutely nothing."
"Nix the boxes," said Councilman Greig Smith. "Verizon has not been genuine in dealing with us. ... After all this talk, it's like they punched me in the eyes, then thumbed their nose at the city."
The low-lying boxes are opposed by neighborhood councils in Granada Hills, North Hills and others across the city.
Askew reported one kid was seen slamming into a FiOS box on his skateboard.
Seniors who can't see well risk run-ins with the metal cabinets.
The Braille Institute, National Federation of the Blind and the California Council for the Blind have each asked that the phone boxes be raised overhead.
Donna Pomerantz, who is legally blind, said blind walkers must feel for sidewalk obstructions. But because the 3-foot phone cabinets hover three feet off the concrete, it's impossible to detect them with canes.
"Because they stick out so far, a person who is visually impaired can run into them," said Pomerantz, president of the Council for the Blind's San Gabriel Valley chapter, who will attend Wednesday's meeting.
"Our canes wouldn't. But we could get hit in the shoulder, the stomach, any body part that chooses to get hit by the box monster."
County gives unspent funds to jails, child safety
By Troy Anderson, Staff Writer
Updated: 09/22/2009 09:11:07 PM PDT
With $178 million left unspent from the budget adopted earlier this year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allocate $27 million to keep jails open, prevent child deaths and set aside money in a "rainy day" fund.
The county ended 2008-09 with a $178 million fund balance. Of that amount, $151 million will be needed to pay for programs and projects not completed in 2008-09.
Chief Executive Officer Bill Fujioka said the remaining money will be used to keep jails open and some will be set aside in a "rainy day" fund. A total of $5.2 million was allocated to the Department of Children and Family Services to hire 33 workers to improve child safety.
In a memo to the supervisors, DCFS Director Trish Ploehn said she needed to hire the employees to increase oversight of social workers following several recent child deaths. Ploehn also wrote she wanted to expand her Internal Affairs division to eliminate a backlog of investigations into "potential employee misconduct."
"We feel it will go a long ways in addressing some of the recent tragic events," Fujioka said.
During the hearing, representatives of group homes and foster family agencies asked the supervisors to continue making the same payments to them to care for foster children even though state budget cuts have reduced the county's reimbursements.
But Supervisor Gloria Molina took issue with the request, saying the county recently wrote off $3.7 million in what auditors described as unallowable costs by the foster agencies, including $100,000 in payments to a retired chief executive for consulting fees not permitted under the contract.
Molina said she has noticed a pattern among the agencies that owe the county large amounts of money: Many of them simply go out of business and don't pay.
"These people have absconded with our funds," Molina said. "We don't even know if they just change owners around and then re-open."
L.A. Council confirms Keisha Whitaker to children's commission
Daily News Wire Services
Updated: 09/22/2009 12:37:07 PM PDT
The L.A. Council confirmed on Tuesday the appointment of philanthropist and former entertainment reporter Keisha Whitaker to the Commission for Children, Youth and their Families.
"I love Los Angeles, I think it's an amazing city, and children and family are my passion," said Whitaker, wife of Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker.
"My family is very important to me, and I really think it's important to bridge the gap between the city government and the local communities," she said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed her to the unpaid volunteer position on Aug. 28. In a news release, his office described her as "a fervent community activist who has touched countless lives through her work in journalism, film and philanthropy."
Whitaker has traveled the world with her family to promote charities like Hope North, an orphanage in northern Uganda, and Malaria No More. She and her husband helped Villaraigosa launch Nelson Mandela Day in Los Angeles in May.
After graduating from Endicott College in her native Massachusetts, Whitaker embarked on a modeling career in Boston and New York City.
When she moved to Los Angeles, she worked as a host of TV Guide programs, and as a correspondent on "Extra." In 2006, she co-founded Kissable Couture, a company that sells beauty products.
Last year, she served as executive producer of "Kassim the Dream," an award-winning documentary about a former Ugandan child soldier.
Burn notice: Nationwide arson registry needed
Updated: 09/22/2009 05:06:45 PM PDT
WITH the deadly, devastating Station Fire finally heading toward full containment this week, one local congressman is once again pushing a bill that would help future arson investigators track down pyromaniacs.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, has gone this route before. He and fellow Southern California House member Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, whose district has also been victimized by murderous firebugs, tried several years ago to pass legislation they co-authored aimed at setting up a national registry of arsonists to help track criminals across state lines.
Currently, only California, Illinois and Montana keep databases of convicted arsonists. Experts say having a 50-state registry would help immensely in their effort to locate former perpetrators.
The arson fire of October 2006 that killed five firefighters in the Inland Empire led Bono and Schiff to pen their original effort. It passed the House in December 2007, but it stalled in the Senate.
It's not necessarily that lawmakers considered it a bad plan. But good ideas have their costs, and this is a tough time to find money. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the registry would cost $17 million over five years to set up.
However, fighting the Station Fire has cost $84.5 million in less than four weeks, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
What's more, $17 million over five years ($3.4 million per year) is also small change compared with the costs of last year's nearly 63,000 arson fires, each of which on average destroyed about $16,000 of property.
We think the registry would be money well spent.
Schiff is a former federal prosecutor and recalls a case involving a suspect who set forest fires by taping matches to burning cigarettes and then throwing the bundle into the brush. By the time the matches ignited and the brush caught fire, he was long gone. After the suspect's arrest, officials discovered a previous conviction involving the same method.
"The records we found in preparation for trial were in a box in the probation officer's basement," Schiff said. "If we can get those records into a system, then we can track down some of these repeat offenders."
The House version of the bill is H.R. 1759. We urge its swift passage to put one more tool in the hands of prosecutors seeking to end the epidemic of arson-caused wildfires in the West.
Where the wild things are - in our back yards
Updated: 09/22/2009 05:02:10 PM PDT
ONE of the things that makes living in Los Angeles so appealing is its proximity to wild open space and the wild animals that live there.
But the very attractions have drawbacks as well, including deadly wildfires and the occasional injurious human-animal incident such as the one that prompted the killing of a handful of coyotes last week.
Canis latrans has roamed North America for 1.8 million years. Unlike many other wild animals, as humankind has encroached on their territory, coyotes have adapted. Their habitat expanded to include our suburban streets and their diet to include Fluffy or Fido.
Residents in the hills around Los Angeles report that while they have always seen the occasional coyote, they have seen more this summer.
Last week, coyotes were in the news because a celebrity resident of the Hollywood Hills, pop singer Jessica Simpson, had her small dog snatched away by one. Far more unusual is the case reported last Wednesday of a man napping on the lawns of Griffith Park near Travel Town who reported he woke up to find a coyote nibbling on his foot, perhaps wanting a handout. In a response that some say was overkill, authorities trapped and hunted down eight coyotes.
These kinds of interactions are sure to increase in the wake of the Station Fire, which has affected both the watershed and food sources of coyotes who live in the mountains. Coyote aggression and reported bites are indeed on the rise.
But for all the fear, there has been precisely one confirmed report of a human dying after being attacked by a coyote - in 1981, in Glendale, with the tragic death of a toddler.
As housing developments creep deeper into the local hills, encounters between coyotes and humans are bound to increase.
The best way to be careful is making sure that coyotes continue to be wary of us. The worst thing to do is intentionally feed them. And leaving pet food outdoors, from their point of view, encourages them to approach homes. When coyotes approach, scare them away - throw rocks, make loud noises, make sure they know they are unwelcome.
Coyotes eat rodents and are a crucial part of the food chain, and eradication doesn't make moral or ecological sense.
Instead, we need to maintain the distance - and the difference - between the wild things and ourselves as we continue to enjoy the fact that we live in a place where the wild things are.
Los Angeles' budget deal with the devil
Updated: 09/22/2009 05:16:38 PM PDT
EVERYBODY grab a hand and circle up! That's right, how about a big fat citywide prayer? Can I get a "hallelujah!" from Encino? A "thank you, Jesus!" from the Hollywood Hills? How 'bout an "Amen, brother!" from Reseda?
The City of the Angels has a budget deal at last! Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!
After months and months of posturing, pretending, posing and backpedaling, the Coalition of Los Angeles Unions locked arms with the mayor and City Council in one big "Kumbaya" moment Friday. Throw away your crutches, L.A.! Climb out of that wheelchair! You are healed!
There they were, Bill Rosendahl hand-in-hand with Herb Wesson and Richard Alarc n! Politicians who are pro-union united with politicians who are really pro-union! The rich tapestry of diversity has united for a common purpose: to make sure the public employee unions land on the softest pillow that intense lobbying and campaign cash can buy.
In the worst economy since the Great Depression, the City Council and the mayor handed the unions a bed of feathers to cushion the blow. If that's not enough to inspire a prayer circle, I don't know what is.
The mayor's early retirement scheme came out of retirement yet again. This doozie comes and goes faster than Brett Favre. The juiceless Engineers and Architects Union will take the bullet and the police and fire unions still have plenty of time to crunch the numbers before they move in for their bite of the apple.
So are there any actual savings? Have our prayers been answered? Sure, if you consider $78 million out of the $405 million hole a balanced budget. If this is a victory for the city, I'd hate to see a defeat. The council was right to pray. They should light candles and say a novena nobody notices the can being kicked down the road yet again.
Divine intervention might be the only answer for a city with a council and mayor who have a pathological aversion to leadership and public employee unions with no real reason to concede anything. As a point of fact, there have been some concessions - a 1.07 percent increase in pension contributions as well as furlough days - but these "givebacks" are nothing more than political window dressing.
Since the unions are the real power in Los Angeles, they apparently took pity on their pitiful bagmen, like parents who let their kids win a game of hide `n' seek. The mayor and the council looked so unhappy, let 'em think they won a round.
Tony V and Eric Garcetti and Co. had to have something to prop up the illusory narrative they've successfully sold so many times before: that they are really vigilant public servants who not only act as watchdogs protecting the public treasury, but magically protect any painful cuts in personnel or services.
Presto change-o! You can have your cake and eat it, too. You just have wait two years, but then you get an even bigger piece of cake. If you're the impatient type, you can simply retire at the tender age of 50, and the taxpayers will give you a 12.5 percent increase in pension.
Only the taxpayers and anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of the real numbers will find this deal hard to swallow. Is it possible this will somehow work? Sure. If the economy suddenly takes off like a Saturn 5 with zero percent inflation and somehow we continue to wring every possible dime out of the taxpaying public and small-business owners, it can work. In theory.
Just like "in theory" the Clippers can win the NBA title.
However, even if the miracle happens, most of the savings have to be returned to the unions down the road. Clank! Clank! Clank! They just can't quit kicking that can.
From the LAPD
COMPSTAT Citywide Profile
Crime Statistics September 19, 2009
VIOLENT CRIMES 2009** 2008** % Chg
Homicide 227* 274 -17.2%
Rape 562 609 -7.7%
Robbery 8824 9400 -6.1%
Agg Assaults ** 7953 8835 -10.0%
Total Violent Crimes 17,566 19,118 -8.1%
Burglary 12915 13740 -6.0%
BTFV 20380 21350 -4.5%
Personal/Other Theft 19429 20035 -3.0%
Auto Theft 13058 15971 -18.2%
Total Property Crimes 65,782 71,096 -7.5%
Total Part I Crimes 83,348 90,214 -7.6%
* Numbers reflects a change in reclassification for Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) guidelines and numbers are adjusted accordingly.
** Prior to 2005, Aggravated Assaults included Child/Spousal Simple Assaults
September 22, 2009
Gunman Shoots and Kills Woman Near Her Home
Los Angeles: A suspect fatally shot a 47-year-old woman near her home on September 18, 2009, in South Los Angeles.
Shortly after 9:00 p.m., Rosa Maria Rees walked out of her home located in the 13500 block of South Ainsworth Street. Just before she entered her parked 2005 Cadillac Escalade, one or more suspects approached her and opened fire, detectives said. The woman died at the scene.
There is no suspect description and the motive for the shooting is undetermined.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Criminal Gang/Homicide Group detectives at 213-485-4341. During off-hours, calls may be directed to a 24-hour, toll-free number at 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (527-3247). Callers may also text “Crimes” with a cell phone or log on to www.lapdonline.org and click on Web tips. When using a cell phone, all messages should begin with “LAPD.” Tipsters may remain anonymous.
September 22, 2009
Hollenbeck Area Rolls Out The Red Carpet For Their Grand Opening
Mayor Villaraigosa - podcast
City Attorney Trutanich - podcast
After three long waited years of construction, Hollenbeck Area finally had their grand opening of the brand new state of the art police station. The surrounding streets to the station were closed off to traffic, city leaders, dignitaries as well as hundreds of community members show up for the dedication of the luminous state-of-the-art facility. Present at the memorable ribbon cutting ceremony were City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, Councilmembers Jose Huizar, and Ed Reyes, Police Commission John Mack, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Even though the Station has been open since July 11th 2009, the grand opening ceremony did not take place until September 19th 2009. As expected the ceremony was magnificent, from the red carpet rolled out along the side and front of the building, to the array of ethic food, provided by numerous neighborhood restaurants. Guest were also entertain by displays and props provided by different LAPD entities such as Air Support Division, Metropolitan Division, and Bomb Squad. There was also a display of historic LAPD squad vehicles that date back to the 1800's to the present.
During the ceremony Chief William J. Bratton thanked the community for “Giving the Los Angeles Police Department and officers one of the most modern, efficient police building that any police organization could hope for.” Chief Bratton further stated that this new building was extra special because it represents the Department “It has more glass and transparency than any other LAPD facility, with the exception of the new PAB.”
After the cutting of the ribbon the attendees were further treated to an outstanding performance of a mariachi band. The front doors of the station were then opened to the public and a tour of the facilities was provided by Hollenbeck Officers.
The new “green facility”, is the latest facility completed and built by funds provided by Proposition Q. The building is energy efficient, it is equipped with the latest technology available to the City of Los Angeles. Natural sunlight enters through the numerous windows helping to preserve energy and 126 new trees adorn different areas surrounding the building. All green products were used in the construction of the building and no harsh chemicals were used. Green products will also be used for the maintenance and upkeep of the facility. The new Hollenbeck Area Police Station is located at 2111 E. 1st Street and houses approximately 300 patrol officers, support staff and detectives.
September 22, 2009
From the Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Napolitano and USCIS Director Mayorkas Launch Redesigned USCIS Website
Release Date: September 22, 2009
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas and Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients today launched a redesigned USCIS website—available in English and Spanish—a major effort which fulfills President Obama's pledge to offer enhanced navigation tools for the public to access immigration information and review case status.
“Transparency and openness are critical to effective immigration and citizenship policies,” said Secretary Napolitano. “USCIS' new website provides the public with the latest tools—from text messages to emails—to improve responsiveness and access to immigration services.”
“The redesigned website we are launching today reflects our commitment to listening to the public and creating a better experience for the hundreds of thousands of USCIS customers we serve,” said USCIS Director Mayorkas. “This effort is the first step toward creating a more innovative, customer-centric experience that meets the nation's citizenship and immigration needs.”
Secretary Napolitano and Director Mayorkas made the announcement at a press conference at USCIS Headquarters, highlighting the Obama administration's commitment to achieving government accessibility and transparency using online and new media tools.
The new USCIS website provides a one-stop location for immigration services and information—including an innovative service called My Case Status, which allows immigration customers to receive alerts on the status of their applications via text message and e-mail.
Other new features include a Where to Start tool to guide users through the navigation process; a simplified way to track individual case status; local and national case processing times; an improved search engine; and a new Information Dashboard feature allowing users to access national immigration trends associated with immigration petitions and applications.
Visit the new sites at www.uscis.gov and www.uscis.gov/espanol .
Secretary Napolitano Applauds President Obama's Intent to Nominate Alan Bersin as CBP Commissioner
Release Date: September 22, 2009
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano today applauded President Obama's intent to nominate Alan Bersin—currently serving as DHS Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs—as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner.
“Under Alan's leadership over the past several months, we have forged new international and domestic partnerships along our borders to strengthen security,” said Secretary Napolitano. “I look forward to continuing to work with Alan in his new position, where he will lead the Department's efforts to implement practical, innovative solutions to protect our country from threats to our national and economic security and facilitate legitimate travel and trade.”
Since joining the Department in mid-April, Bersin has led efforts to implement President Obama's Southwest Border Initiative. As CBP Commissioner, Bersin will lead DHS efforts to secure America's borders while overseeing the enforcement of immigration, customs and drug laws. He will manage more than 57,000 CBP employees working to secure U.S. land and maritime borders.
Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Bersin was Board Chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, appointed in December 2006. He served from 2005-2006 as California's Secretary of Education, appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and previously oversaw the nation's eighth largest urban school district from 1998-2005 as superintendent of public education in San Diego.
Bersin also served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California from 1993 to 1998. Concurrently, he was appointed as Special Representative for the Southwest Border in 1995 by former Attorney General Janet Reno and, in that capacity, oversaw the coordination of border law enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border for three years.
As a law enforcement official, educator and civil servant, Bersin's previous positions include Special Counsel to the Los Angeles Police Commission, visiting professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, and Lecturer at Stanford University Graduate School of Education. He holds a B.A. from Harvard College, a J.D. from Yale University and was a Rhodes Scholar.
September 22, 2009
Alien smuggler sentenced to 25 years for sexual assault during hostage taking
PHOENIX - A Mexican national who helped hold more than 20 smuggled aliens hostage in a Phoenix residence where they were beaten and sexually assaulted has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Evaristo Ortiz-Jimenez, 37, of Nayarit, Mexico, was sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell. Ortiz-Jimenez pleaded guilty to using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, hostage taking. The charges resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Phoenix Police Department.
Ortiz-Jimenez was part of a violent group of alien smugglers who held at least 23 illegal aliens hostage in May 2008 at a house in Phoenix. Ortiz-Jimenez led the day-to-day activities at the house. While being held in the home at gunpoint, the victims were subjected to beatings and death threats. Ortiz-Jimenez was also accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl who was held hostage even after her family paid for her release. When sentencing the defendant, Judge Campbell called Ortiz-Jimenez's conduct "extraordinarily violent and cruel" and stated "I can think of nothing worse - short of killing someone."
Ortiz-Jimenez is the first of four defendants to be sentenced in this case. Of the remaining defendants, Carlos Alvarez-Espinoza was convicted at trial and faces life in prison followed by a mandatory minimum sentence of 107 years. His sentencing date is Oct. 19. Jesus Corrales-Fernandez and Freddy Ovando-Ocana pleaded guilty and are set for sentencing on Oct. 19 and Nov. 16, respectively. The fifth defendant, David Alejo-Ortiz, is currently in Maricopa County custody pending state charges for human smuggling, misconduct involving weapons and kidnapping. His trial date on those charges is Sept. 30.
The prosecution was handled by Lisa Jennis Settel and Josh Parecki, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona.
September 22, 2009
Texas man sentenced to 76 months for travel with intent to sexually exploit minors
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Patrick Cochran, 47, of Lake Jackson, Texas, was sentenced on Sept. 21 in Phoenix to 76 months in prison for travel with intent to engage in sex with minors and possession of child pornography. This case was investigated by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE).
In addition to the prison term, Cochran was sentenced to lifetime supervised release by U.S. District Judge Stephen M. McNamee of the District of Arizona.
Cochran was indicted on Dec. 5, 2007, in Phoenix on two counts of travel with intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor. According to allegations contained in the indictment, Cochran paid a deposit and traveled to a pre-arranged meeting spot in Arizona in order to go on what he believed would be a tour of Mexico that would offer him the opportunity to have sexual contact with two boys, aged 8 and 13. In reality, the tour was an undercover operation run by the Department of Homeland Security's ICE as part of Operation Predator.
Cochran was indicted on Jan. 20, 2009, in Houston on one count of possession of child pornography and one count of destruction of records. According to court documents, search warrants were executed at Cochran's residence near Houston and child pornography was discovered on digital media seized from his home. Additionally, according to the court documents, when ICE agents returned to Cochran's home to recover his computer, he told them he had thrown it away.
The Texas case against Cochran was transferred to Arizona for plea and sentencing. Cochran pleaded guilty on May 5, 2009, to one count of travel with intent to engage in sex with minors and one count of possession of child pornography. According to the plea agreements, Cochran admitted to arranging and paying to be taken to Mexico in order to have sex with two boys. Further, Cochran admitted to possessing more than 600 images of child pornography.
The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney James Silver of CEOS, with assistance from Senior Litigation Counsel Vincent Q. Kirby of the District of Arizona and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Stabe of the Southern District of Texas.
ICE maintains "Operation Predator," an ongoing initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.
From Ron Kaye
Terms of Endearment Deal: ERIP or Ripoff?
By Ron Kaye
September 22, 2009 7:38 AM
The battle over the $405 million city budget deficit is far from over despite all the self-congratulatory back-slapping and expressions of undying love last Friday.
The terms of endearment agreed to by the 22,000-member Coalition of City Unions and a unanimous City Council -- with the exceptions of Tom LaBonge and Tony Cardenas who didn't bother to show up to deal with this crisis -- provides only $78 million in total savings.
Some $20 million of that goes to restoring part of the $100 million already stolen from the emergency reserve fund. The rest goes into the general fund to pay the full the cost over 15 year for the Early Retirement Incentive Package (ERIP) for 2,400 lucky workers who get to retire as young as age 50 with the five years of service credits.
City workers' contributions will rise from 6 percent to 7.07 percent instead of the 6.75 percent in the June 26 deal. The early retirees getting a 12.5 percent boost in their pensions also will pay 1 percent for 15 years.
Other terms include deferring this and next year's cost-of-living raises for two years, requiring overtime be paid in compensatory time-off not cash, furloughs that amount to 30 minutes a week for the rest of year and half pay for holidays with the rest in more comp time,
As many workers will be transferred from general fund jobs to the Harbor, Airport and DWP -- especially the DWP -- payrolls whether they are needed or not since those are independent agencies with their own revenue streams and almost no effective public scrutiny.
They also will be looting all three agencies for services -- real or ficititious -- as much as they can get away with.
Then, there's the pay-later provisions: Cash payments for unused sick time normally made in January will be paid next August, the $15,000 golden handshake for early retirees will be paid next year and the year after, boot and uniform allowances will be paid next year as will City Attorneys fees to the California Bar.
In addition, any workers who wants an 8-day, 72-hour work schedule can have it and pensions will only be calculated with one of the many regular bonuses offered city workers to do their jobs instead of adding them all up.
Finally, if the economic miracle that this deal depends on actually comes true, much of the money will go back to city workers.
That's the deal, at least all we know about it, thanks to the unions sharing the information to their members, information our elected officials refuse to divulge because they don't see any reason why taxpayers should know what's really going on.
Not all city workers are happy about this.
The Engineers and Architects (EAA), for instance, get screwed again with one furlough day every two weeks, which is equal to a temporary 10 percent pay cut, and now will be hit with the only layoffs as well. As I understand it, 400 of EAA's 6,600 members -- city planners, technology people, auditors, criminalists and other white-collar professionals -- will get the axe because they have refused to be taken over so far by the SEIU which so deftly uses members' money to buy our city officials.
There's also a rump group of troublemakers who have set up LA CITY WORKERS.com in an effort to build opposition to approval of the deal.
Fat chance. The vote on the deal will take place at a public meeting in two weeks where anyone who stands up to the union bosses is putting their life, at least their working life, on the liine.
An even bigger problem exists: Firefighters and police officers.
The deal approved by the Council on Friday furloughs cops one day every two weeks, halts hiring of new officers, puts cadets on notice of termination after completing their training and bars the Fire Department and Police Department " from entering into any new personal services or consulting contracts to perform work that would have been performed by sworn employees subject to the furloughs, layoffs, or other position reduction measures."
These provisions are nothing but a public relations exercise and bargaining tool.
They know damn well the public wants cops and firefighters protecting lives and property a lot more than the hundreds of millions of dollars spent every year on social welfare programs and salves to special interest communities.
They count on us crying out against against the perils of anarchy in this gang-infested city and the perils of fire, flood and earthquake without adequate emergency services.
What this is about is giving the leaders of the fire and police unions, whose contracts expired three months ago, an excuse to make the same kind of modest concessions the other unions have made.
The trouble is deferring payoffs and raises until next year or the year after doesn't solve anything at all.
City Hall doesn't have the skill or the will to keep costs under control as they have promised as part of this deal and their rosy estimates of revenue will almost certainly fall short of reality.
The likelihood is that the city will face a cash crisis before this fiscal year is over. The certainty is that the city's financial condition will be much worse next year and the years after as the deferred bills come due and pension costs double and triple.
More than a year ago, I said LA had reached the point of no return. Things have gotten a lot worse since then and the actions of the mayor and City Council have compounded the depth of the problem.
If the business community and the residents of the city don't make a stand now and come together to take back City Hall, it will be too late when the libraries and parks close, the 911 emergency calls go unanswered and chaos ensues.
It's now or never.
Ftom the Dertoit Free Press
Study: Big cities opt for job reductions to balance budget
By SUZETTE HACKNEY
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is not alone — a study released this morning shows that big-city mayors have aggressively pursued reductions in labor costs to balance their budgets.
The report, called "Layoffs, Furloughs and Union Concessions: The Prolonged and Painful Process of Balancing City Budgets," found that union leadership in 12 of America's largest cities has been forced to choose between job losses for some of their members or reduced compensation for all.
“A common pattern across the country has been for big-city mayors to talk initially about massive layoffs — and then tell the unions that those job losses can be averted only through across-the-board concessions, often characterized as temporary, usually including unpaid furlough days,” the report states.
Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Baltimore, Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle were included in the report.
Of the cities studied only four — Philadelphia, New York, Columbus and Atlanta — sought to address their budget crisis by enacting major tax increases. Still, those cities also made significant labor cost cuts.
Bing has said he must reduce the city's workforce by 10% — more than 1,000 people — in coming weeks unless unions agree to take a pay cut through 26 furlough days. Detroit is facing a $300-million accumulated budget deficit and up to an $80-million cash shortfall this year.
Some union members say they are not opposed to a pay decrease, but add Bing is asking for other unacceptable concessions. Other concessions on the table include: a reduction in the number of paid days off, the elimination of paid lunch hours and yearly bonuses, the end of some elective-care items from health insurance coverage and putting in place a 401(k)-style pension plan for new hires.
“The budget process in many cities has seemed virtually endless, with constant adjustments needed as the bad news keeps coming,” Larry Eichel, project director of Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative, which wrote the report, said in statement. “Many hard choices remain — both for city governments trying to balance budgets or keep them balanced, and for unions faced with the possibility of reductions in compensation or jobs.”
To read the full report go to http://www.pewtrusts.org/philaresearch
Detroit Free Press