Gun-control bills could push California to top of firearm-restriction list
by Josh Richman
SACRAMENTO -- With summer recess behind them and the legislative session's five-week homestretch ahead, state lawmakers face a fusillade of gun-control bills that could move California far beyond what any other state has enacted -- including proposals to ban a wide range of semi-automatic rifles and impose strict new regulations on ammunition.
And what happens in Sacramento might not stay in Sacramento. With their agenda stalled in Congress, gun-control advocates hope California can break the inertia and reignite the national debate that erupted after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December.
"When we see movement on the California bills and the sort of tenacity that you had post-Newtown, it makes it really hard for the gun lobby to say the momentum has gone away. And it's certainly something Congress pays attention to," said Kristin Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "You can't underestimate how important it is for Congress to see movement in the states, especially big states like California."
Nonsense, gun-rights supporters say.
"While they may try to reignite their lost momentum, I don't think anything California does is going to affect what Washington does," said Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade group coincidentally based in Newtown. "We constantly see a barrage of anti-gun, anti-industry legislation being introduced in California, far more than in any other state."
The state Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday will hear bills already passed by the Assembly that would create a state database of all ammunition purchases, make it a crime to have a gun that's not locked up when not being carried, and extend the time for which someone is banned from owning firearms after making a violent threat.
The next day, the Assembly Public Safety Committee will hear bills already passed by the state Senate that would ban all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, make it a crime to leave a gun unlocked when you're out of the house and require those who own high-capacity magazines to get rid of them.
And while a few bills -- such as a 10 percent tax on ammunition and a ban on using lead ammunition for hunting -- now seem less likely to advance, many others are waiting to be heard in coming weeks. So gun control will be at the fore even as lawmakers grapple with about 1,000 bills on such subjects as health care reform, fracking and environmental regulations.
"We're going to be open to amendments and suggestions from the administration and the Assembly, but we think we've hit the sweet spot in a lot of these areas," state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told this newspaper.
"I don't have any illusion that whatever any state does, even California, will have an impact on the intransigence on Capitol Hill around some of these issues," but that's no reason to stand down, he said. "We ought to do everything we can to protect the people of our state from some of these horrible things that have happened."
Assembly Speaker John Perez said last week he was struck by gun advocates' recent claims that a huge increase in gun ownership over recent decades -- and not California's increasingly strict gun laws -- contributed to a decrease in gun crimes.
"That means California can continue to have very strict gun-control laws and not infringe on people's individual rights to purchase guns," said Perez, D-Los Angeles. "I'm also a gun owner, and so I'm always very thoughtful about how you balance safety concerns and the law-enforcement concerns of gun control with the individual rights of gun owners."
The gun issue has been put on the back burner in Congress since April, when the Senate rejected a bipartisan plan to require background checks for firearms sold at gun shows and online. But a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently said it's "almost certain" Congress will take up background checks again in 2014.
"States aren't waiting for Congress to act, however," said Juliet Leftwich, legal director at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "They're standing up to the gun lobby, and they're responding to the public's call for common-sense gun laws."
Her San Francisco-based group has answered lawmakers' and activists' requests for aid in 25 states this year, she said. And in the absence of uniform national laws "it's really important that states step up and do what they can," she added. "Hopefully action at the state level will help create momentum for meaningful federal action."
Even by the standards of California -- which for decades had the nation's strictest gun laws, until New York leapfrogged ahead after the Newtown massacre -- the sheer number of pending gun bills is staggering, Leftwich said.
Chuck Michel, an attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said he isn't surprised. California lawmakers, he said, have pursued "civilian disarmament" for years, and "this year's extremist legislative package proves that the threat of the slippery slope is all too real."
"None of the proposed bills will truly reduce the misuse of firearms by violent criminals or the mentally ill," Michel said. "Although politicians coached by the gun-ban lobby have practiced the emotionally appealing anti-gun sound bite, sound social policy is not effectuated by knee-jerk emotional reactions like these."
However hot the Legislature's debate, which bills become law ultimately depends on Gov. Jerry Brown, who won't comment on bills before they reach his desk and has been an enigma on gun control.
He already has signed one of state Senate Democrats' top firearm priorities this year: a law diverting surplus money from background-check fees to beef up the Armed Prohibited Persons System that's used to find and seize guns from felons and the mentally ill. He also signed into law a 2011 bill extending the state's registration requirements for handguns and assault weapons to all long guns starting in 2014. And he signed a 2011 ban on the "open carry" of unloaded handguns, as well as a 2012 bill extending that ban to long guns.
But Brown, himself a gun owner, delighted the gun lobby by vetoing a 2012 bill that would have made it a crime to fail to report a firearm's theft or loss to police within 48 hours. He wasn't convinced it would help catch gun traffickers or disarm criminals.
As attorney general, Brown in 2009 even filed a brief siding with the National Rifle Association in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Chicago's handgun ban, expressing concern that "California citizens could be deprived of the constitutional right to possess handguns in their homes."
That's cause for hope, Keane said.
"The governor in the past has demonstrated independence,'' he said. "He is not reflexively anti-gun and will listen to sound policy arguments."
Where gun bills stand
Senate Bill 374 by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, bans all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and retroactively requires ownership records for all guns. It passed the state Senate 23-15 on May 29 and will be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Senate Bill 53 by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, requires a background check for all ammunition purchases and licenses for all sellers. It passed the state Senate 23-15 on May 29 and is now pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Senate Bill 47 by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, prohibits so-called bullet buttons and other devices used to circumvent the state's assault-weapons ban and allow fast reloading. It passed the state Senate 23-15 on May 29 and is to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Public Safety.
Senate Bill 396 by state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, outlaws magazines holding more than 10 rounds, even those that were grandfathered in under the state's assault-weapons law. It passed the state Senate 25-14 on May 29 and is to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Public Safety.
Assembly Bill 48 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, creates a state database to track all ammo purchases and makes it illegal to build your own high-capacity magazines. It passed the Assembly 46-26 on May 29 and is to be heard Monday by Senate Appropriations.
Assembly Bill 187 by Assemblymen Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, levies 10 percent tax on all ammo to benefit crime-prevention and mental-health services for children. It is languishing in Assembly Appropriations' suspense file.
Assembly Bill 711 by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-South Gate, would ban use of lead ammunition by California hunters. It passed the Assembly 44-21 on May 16 and is now languishing in state Senate Appropriations' suspense file.
Harrisburg police call town hall meeting to jump start community policing
by Emily Previti
HARRISBURG – Police in the capital city are calling on residents to help make their community safer and cleaner through a coordinated effort beginning with a planning forum next week.
Who: Harrisburg Police Department
“Policing our community is everyone's civic duty." - Harrisburg police
What: Town hall meeting featuring training and discussion re: Neighborhood Crime Watch, as well as blight, illegal dumping, fire safety and security and surveillance.
Where: YWCA of Harrisburg 1101 Market St.
When: 6 p.m. Monday
Why: “Policing our community is everyone's civic duty,” police said in a statement released Friday announcing the event.
Info: Community Policing Coordinator Bryan Wade at 717-255-3088, or Capt. Annette Oates at 717-255-3103.
On heels of conference, black officers discuss challenges, changes in policing
by Jenny Wagner
Several years ago, Andre Davis and his wife were driving home from a concert in Pittsburgh.
The couple had seen Luther Vandross at the Civic Arena.
At a red light on Route 65 north between the city and the Beaver County line, Davis -- then a beat cop -- found himself across the intersection from a police cruiser stopped in the opposite lane.
When the light turned green, Davis proceeded through the intersection. The cruiser made a U-turn and pulled over his vehicle.
The fairly young, white officer told Davis, who is African American, that he pulled him over for a “white line thing.” There was no alcohol involved, Davis said, and he and his wife didn't understand the justification for the traffic stop.
Davis opened his wallet to retrieve his driver's license, and the officer saw his badge inside.
“His whole demeanor changed and we were sent on our way,” said Davis, who is now chief of the Aliquippa Police. “But I was thinking, had I not been a law enforcement official, that could have gone south for me.”
It's interactions like this that have helped Davis over his 27-year career to foster better relationships between law enforcement and the Aliquippa community, both black and white.
“But that's some of the stuff that you live,” Davis said. “So I am able to kind of relate to some of the situations that come into play when dealing with the community, as far as them feeling that there's no connection with the white officers.”
Last week, black leaders in law enforcement from all over the country gathered in Pittsburgh for the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives' 37th annual National Training Conference and Exhibition. The organization was formed by a group of officers in 1976 to address crime rates in largely black, urban communities.
The four-day conference offered workshops and events focused on helping leaders address the challenges that they and their departments face, such as reducing discriminatory policies, recruiting minority police officers and building better relationships with the community -- especially young people.
These challenges are not unique to black members of law enforcement, but black leaders and officers often face unique challenges in their careers.
NOBLE member and Beaver Falls Police Chief Charles Jones has been an officer with the department since 1994 and has served as chief since 2008. As the city's first black chief and the department's only black officer, Jones said he has faced not only the demands of being a police officer, but also a black police officer throughout his career.
“I have a unique set of challenges that other officers probably won't be exposed to and have to deal with,” Jones said.
Jones said former and current city officials, as well as the 17 other members of his department, have always judged him based solely on his character and his abilities, which “really meant a lot to me.”
“That's at least one challenge that I don't have to face,” Jones said. “They look at me and treat me as the chief of police and not the black chief, so I think that's very important.”
But other times, African-American officers may encounter prejudice in their work.
“I think I do face challenges, such as someone judging you based on your race before they really know what you're about or your abilities or your background,” Jones said.
Davis said he's been criticized in the past about becoming a police officer when dealing with blacks involved in crimes or violence.
“You have people that say, ‘Why are you siding with them?' or idiotic things just to justify their behavior,” Davis said. “They try to make you feel guilty about your position or your job.”
Patrolman Nate Smith, who works part time in both Ambridge and Baden, said he has noticed that respect and relationships between police and the public in general, has changed over the years.
“I remember growing up and every person in the community respected law enforcement and police officers. … I feel like now there's not that same respect that was there,” said Smith, a native of Pasadena, Calif. “Regardless of race, color, creed, it's not there.”
Davis said it's important to break down the barriers that exist between police and community and create new, positive relationships.
“In the relationship I think African-American men get a perception of white officers from negative incidents that they see, maybe in other venues or municipalities, or on TV,” Davis said, adding that instances of mistreatment throughout history also play a role.
“That seed was planted there and over the years I think it just got watered and grew,” Davis said. “But there are terrific white officers and sympathetic white officers. They don't look at white and black, they just look at right and wrong.”
New racially charged incidents between police and communities often bring up old feelings on both sides and keep barriers in place, Davis noted.
A recent clash between Pittsburgh police and an African-American teacher after a community meeting in the city's Homewood neighborhood caused mixed reactions.
“You have your situations and incidents that turn people off and they keep that seed of resentment in their hearts no matter who it is,” Davis said, “but I think if people open their hearts on both sides that we can really make some progress.”
Even President Barack Obama spoke about race relations recently, sparked by the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. He touched on ways he thinks things can get better -- including changes in legislation and law enforcement. During an appearance last week on “The Tonight Show,” Obama talked more about his speech and the issue with host Jay Leno:
“(W)hat I wanted to try to explain was why this was a particularly sensitive topic for African-American families, because a lot of people who have sons know the experience they had of being followed or being viewed suspiciously,” Obama said.
“And so what I'm trying to do is just make sure that we have a conversation and that we're all asking ourselves are there some things that we can do to foster better understanding, and to make sure that we don't have laws in place that encourage the kind of violent encounter that we saw there that resulted in tragedy,” Obama explained.
One of the things Davis, Jones and other local department leaders have done is encourage community policing strategies.
Davis said that lately, there has been a heavy focus on community policing, and most grant funding, especially from the government, has a community policing requirement built in.
Smith said community policing has proven to be beneficial in his work. He often parks his car and goes on foot patrols during his daylight shifts in Ambridge and Baden.
“You separate yourself from the community by sitting in a police car with the windows up,” Smith said. “Policing isn't just riding around in a police car, it's actually getting out and interacting with the community.”
From neighborhood crime watch groups to outreach in schools, many local municipalities also have programs to foster better relationships between police and the community, especially the young people.
“You start creating those rapport-building relationships when they're young because they identify you when they're older,” Davis said.
REFLECTING THE COMMUNITY
Working with young people is also helpful in recruiting new police officers -- especially minorities, which are underrepresented in police departments, both locally and across the country.
Jones said his officers do great work, but he would love to be able to hire an African-American male or female in the department.
According to 2010 U.S. Census data, 75 percent of the residents in Beaver Falls are identified as white and about 20 percent are identified as African American or black. As the only African-American police officer, Jones represents only 5.5 percent of the city's department.
“I think a police department should reflect your community,” Jones said. “If your community is diverse, I think your police department should be diverse.”
But the reality is that Jones and others haven't seen many minorities apply for the jobs.
“You definitely have to be prepared to deal with the challenges in this position,” Jones said. “You definitely have to have your heart in the job to do this and I just think a lot of African-American males ... it's not all of them, but I think a lot of them take a look at the challenges that they would have to deal with and say, ‘I'm not really prepared to deal with that.'"
Smith, who is the only black officer working in either of his departments, said he's talked with lots of young men, white and black, about a career in law enforcement.
“I feel the biggest issue with young African-American men or young minority men is that in western Pennsylvania, the mentality for so long was police officers were white, so I think it wasn't even something that they saw as an option,” Smith said. “Once they realize it, it's not hard for young African-American men and minorities to get a job (as a police officer) in western Pennsylvania, they just don't apply.”
Davis said having minority officers only further helps the police in relating to community members.
“Hey, me, myself, I'm just a poor kid from Fifth Avenue in Aliquippa that was able to make it and be somewhat successful in doing so because of what I have been through and what I was shielded from and protected from,” Davis said. “Even some of the bad guys that I would hang out with growing up would steer me in a different direction.”
Davis said one of the most important things he learned about police work was from former Aliquippa police chief, the late William Alston.
“He told me, ‘This job is very easy, you just have to treat people the way you would want to be treated,'” Davis said.
And Davis knows how he would and would not want to be treated.
“I think me being an African-American police officer, I think I can relate more because I lived that struggle as far as growing up and not basically having a father in my life,” Davis said. “I was raised around a bunch of women and so I think me being an African-American chief or leader, I think … I'm more sympathetic to certain situations involving not only African-American men or people, but just people in general.”
ICE's top 10 anti-gang achievements
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) protects the United States by promoting homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration. To accomplish this mission, ICE coordinates with its federal, state, local and tribal partners to arrest and remove dangerous individuals during anti-gang operations and projects around the country.
Below are 10 of ICE's anti-gang achievements.
Operation Community Shield
ICE conducted its largest ever nationwide gang surge Oct. 1, 2008, during Operation Community Shield.
In the course of the ICE-led operation, 1,759 gang members and associates, criminals and immigration violators were arrested.
ICE announced March 1, 2011, the arrests of 678 gang members and associates from 133 different gangs during Project Southern Tempest, an intensive law enforcement operation executed in 168 U.S. cities targeting gangs affiliated with drug trafficking organizations.
During this operation the ICE arrested the 20,000th gang member since inception of the anti-gang program in 2005.
The goal of Project Nefarious was to identify, locate, arrest, prosecute and remove gang members and associates affiliated with human smuggling and trafficking organizations.
ICE announced April 25, 2012, the arrests of 637 gang members and associates from 168 different gangs during Project Nefarious. The operation was executed in 150 U.S. cities and Honduras targeting transnational street gangs, prison gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs involved with human smuggling and trafficking organizations.
Project Big Freeze
Project Big Freeze was the largest nationwide ICE-led enforcement operation targeting transnational gangs with ties to drug trafficking organizations.
ICE announced Jan. 27, 2010, the arrests of 476 gang members, associates and other criminals.
Oct. 16 2012, the results of a long-term probe, which dismantled one of San Diego County's largest single-day weapons seizures, and drug and gun trafficking rings involving members of 13 different Southern California gangs, are announced. Special agents from ICE seized a cache of 60 weapons during the two-year investigation dubbed.
This case was unique because of the number and type of weapons seized. The items included Uzi submachine guns, AR-15 rifles, shotguns, high-powered rifles with optics and laser sighting systems, silencers and a law enforcement Taser.
Operation Barbed Wire
The U.S. Department of the Treasury with the assistance of ICE designated the Latin American gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization Oct. 11, 2012. MS-13 was the first transnational criminal street gang designated as a transnational criminal organization.
MS-13 was designated for its involvement in serious criminal activities, including drug trafficking, human smuggling and sex trafficking, murder and violence, racketeering, and immigration offenses. MS-13 is one of the most dangerous criminal gangs in the world today. MS-13 members have been responsible for numerous killings within the United States.
Operation Red Rein
The federal government indicted the majority of the 20th Street clique members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang Oct. 23, 2008.
Twenty-two individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area were indicted on federal racketeering and other charges arising from their participation in the MS-13.
Operation Devil Horns
When the federal government indicted the majority of the 20th Street clique members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, Oct. 22, 2008, Danilo Velasquez, aka "Triste," assumed leadership.
Velasquez was sentenced to life in federal prison Feb. 15, 2012, on racketeering-related charges arising from Operation Devil Horns, a long-term probe led by ICE. Velasquez was described by a federal judge as a "vicious murderer."
Operation Red Tidings
Federal and local authorities announced the indictment May 3, 2012, of 19 members of a South San Francisco street gang on racketeering and other federal charges.
This indictment and the related arrests served as a warning to gangs about the consequences of using violence and fear to maintain control of their turf.
Three ICE special agents with were injured during the enforcement action. They were transported to a Bay area hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. The indictment was the culmination of investigations originally initiated by the Daly City Police Department and the South San Francisco Police Department following separate shootings in those communities. The Daly City shooting occurred Dec. 18, 2010, and left three people injured. Four days later, a shooting in South San Francisco killed three individuals and wounded three others.
Rancho San Pedro Busts
More than 1,300 federal and local law enforcement officers fanned out April 28, 2011, across the Los Angeles harbor area to arrest 80 alleged members and associates of the Rancho San Pedro gang. The charges stem from a sweeping investigation involving more than a dozen federal, state and local agencies. During the course of the investigation, informants and undercover officers purchased 90 firearms along with significant quantities of cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana. During the takedown, officers seized an additional 14 firearms and a silencer.
The Los Angeles City Attorney's Office has filed a gang injunction and nuisance abatement actions against the gang. This is the first time a gang injunction and nuisance abatement lawsuits have been filed simultaneously in conjunction with the takedown of a major Southern California street gang.
From the FBI
Wanted by the FBI: Serial Sexual Attacker
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information about the identity of a man wanted for at least 35 sexual assaults in the Los Angeles, California area.
The unidentified man is linked to a series of attacks through DNA analysis. The attacks have taken place from 1996 through 2012. He has been called the Teardrop Rapist because witnesses say he has one or two teardrop tattoos underneath one of his eyes.
"If somebody has information, it's crucially important for them to report it to avoid him attacking even one more person," said Special Agent Olivier Farache.
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