California prostitutes win victim compensation
by Susan Abram
Prostitutes who are beaten or raped will now be allowed to receive compensation from a victim's fund after a California board voted on Thursday to reverse a 1990s law that prohibited them from applying for the monetary help.
Under a system that had been in place since 1999, those harmed in violent crimes could be paid for medical costs and related expenses, but prostitutes were excluded because their activities are illegal.
California was the only state in the nation to have such a law. The three-member Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board voted unanimously to end that exception.
"They've been raped, abused, crimes committed against them," Michael Ramos, the district attorney in San Bernardino County, who sits on the board, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
"They're victims. Nobody deserves to be raped, I don't care who you are."
Over the last few years, law enforcement officials have been trying to change perceptions and practices involving sexual assault victims, and in particular those victimized by human trafficking. And more laws have been passed to punish perpetrators.
"When you start putting a face on it, when you see that these girls are the same age as your daughter, you realize they are not choosing to be a prostitute," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who alongside Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, has been working to increase awareness of human sex trafficking.
"The awareness has even changed the wording, from hooker, to prostitution to child trafficking," Knabe said.
There are 17 tracks or main boulevards where pimps rotate prostitutes throughout Southern California. Many are in Los Angeles County, from the San Fernando Valley to the border with Orange County, law enforcement officials have said.
Those who work to help women leave the life of prostitution applauded the board's decision.
But the question remains: Will prostitutes who are raped come forward and file police reports?
"There definitely will be more reporting, but I don't think you'll see a big rash of that," said Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, which has worked to save children from prostitution since 1979.
Lee called the board's decision a step in the right direction. Rapists, she said, often practice their crimes on prostitutes before moving on to other women. But Lee said prostitutes may not see themselves as victims.
"Abused people that take abuse just say 'Oh well, this is just my rotten life,'" she said.
"There's got to be a shift in the way our society sees them. And the shift also has to occur in how they see themselves," said Stephany Powell, a former vice detective with the Los Angeles Police Department and new executive director at the Mary Magdalene Project. The organization provides programs to help women leave prostitution.
"There are people who think that prostitutes can't be raped. Of course they can. That's one prong of the problem."
Kristen DiAngelo, who identified herself as a sex worker, testified for the board Thursday that she was raped, beaten, repeatedly choked, robbed and held captive overnight in downtown Sacramento in 1983.
"I was told that if I prosecuted this guy, by the police, that I would be the one going to go to jail," she said. "What happens when we have a regulation like this, it segregates us from the normal population. It makes us inhuman, non-helpable. You allow predators to hone their skills.
"These are hate crimes, and they need to be stopped," she added later.
The American Civil Liberties Union and organizations representing sex trade workers asked for the regulation change.
California created the nation's first victim compensation program in 1965, and formal rules barring payments to those involved in criminal activity have been in place since 1999. The program gets its money from fines and restitution paid by criminals, along with federal matching funds. It reimburses victims of violent crimes for expenses, including medical care, counseling, lost income and increasing home security.
Though victims can be reimbursed for up to $62,000 in expenses, the average compensation is just under $2,000. Last year, the board denied 28 claims because the victims were deemed to have been involved in prostitution-related activities.
Ramos said the increase in awareness of sex trafficking made it possible for the board to notice the regulation.
"The temperature I'm taking from people is they are realizing this is modern slavery," he said. "If we hadn't been looking at this issue, this would have continued to be the regulation. It was something we should have changed years ago."
Lakeview Cops Offer Safety Tips to Prevent Theft During Holiday Season
by Serena Dai
LAKEVIEW — Still stocking up on holiday gifts? Be careful — more packages and more shopping also means the potential for more theft, Town Hall District police said.
"Everyone could use extra money around the holidays," a safety notice from the district said. "Criminals thrive on unsuspecting and innocent victims."
The district released personal safety tips so that residents and visitors can minimize burglary and theft this holiday season.
For one, all those holiday packages shouldn't be delivered to an empty house, police recommend. Criminals will watch when delivery trucks drop off goods on doorsteps — including when homeowners instructs the postman to put the package behind the house, community policing Sgt. Jason Clark said in past meetings.
It makes for easy pickings.
Instead, make sure somebody is home to accept the package or consider delivering packages to centers that will hold the goods. UPS, for example, will hold packages at UPS Customer Centers for five days.
If you're shopping local — and hey, there are great options for that — police have tips for you, too.
Carry your purse close to your body, with the clasp facing in. Don't give thieves easy access by setting purses down on counters or in shopping carts. Even then, keep car or house keys in your pocket, in case the purse is taken.
Bring a friend with you. "There is safety in numbers!" police wrote in a flyer.
But if you're by yourself, don't talk on your phone or listen to music during shopping, police said. Many victims in the neighborhood are distracted by their headphones or phones. iPhones are stolen more than any other item, police said.
The best idea is to stay alert.
And once you're back to your car, have your keys ready, and put any valuables in the trunk before driving off so that items are not visible when you reach your destination, police said.
Local cops have stressed prevention in hopes of reducing crimes of opportunity. Flyers with tips have been posted across the neighborhood, and community policing officers have continued to emphasize the need to lock doors and to stay alert.
Police have credited such efforts for the declines in burglaries in the neighborhood.
When Bratton quit Muslim mapping
by Azi Paybarah
In the fall of 2007, amid an uproar over his plan to construct a detailed map of the city's Muslim community, Los Angeles police commissioner Bill Bratton publicly abandoned the program, just two weeks after a top deputy had touted its importance in a hearing before the U.S. Senate.
“We will never do anything to the Muslim community, we will only do things with the Muslim community,” Bratton told a group of Muslim community leaders the day he announced his decision, recalled Salam al-Marayati, president and founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who attended the meeting.
For Bratton, who was tapped last week as the next commissioner of the New York Police Department, the abrupt shift represented a commitment to his own ideals of community policing, and the importance of maintaining good relations with an important subset of L.A.'s minority population.
Bratton's decision to scrap the program would seem to signal a substantive contrast with Ray Kelly, the current NYPD commissioner, who has also preached the need to connect with local communities, and was once seen as a forerunner of community policing, before he became a target of criticism in this year's Democratic primary for mayor.
The LAPD program, outlined by one of Bratton's top lieutenants in a 2007 hearing before the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, echoed a more comprehensive program that was already quietly underway in New York.
“We probably have over 700,000 American Muslims throughout the Los Angeles region but we don't really know where they live, or what they do or how they're structured," testified Michael Downing, the LAPD's commanding officer for Counterterrorism and Special Operations. "We have great outreach and we've got great relationships, but the idea here is to actually map out, to find out where the Pakistani Muslims live, the Somalians, the Chechnyans, the Jordanians.”
In the hearing on Oct. 30, 2007, Downing described a mapping project that would essentially serve two purposes: help the LAPD gather intelligence to prevent a terrorist attack, but also, help the department minimize the influence of “extremists” who could prey on angry, isolated Muslims.
The LAPD planned to do this by infusing government resources and social service programs into Muslim neighborhoods, Downing said, as a means of preventing the kind of alienation and resentment seen in European cities where Muslims clustered in what amounted to ghettos. In the process, the LAPD also wanted to form a bond with Muslims, and promote the idea that they shared a responsibility for preventing terrorism, he said.
“American Muslim neighborhoods and communities have a genuine responsibility in preventing any form of extremism and terrorism,” Downing said. He added, “we have aligned our resources to focus on the motivational side of the terrorist equation,” and “raising the moderate Muslim voice to prevent extremists from making inroads.”
The proposed “extensive community mapping project” could be “a pilot project for what the rest of the nation could look like,” Downing told senators.
Downing also endorsed a controversial, and expensive project already underway in New York: stationing local police officials in cities around the world in order to bring home valuable intelligence the federal government might not be passing along to local law enforcement.
“I know New York is criticized for having their people out in foreign lands, but I think it's a good idea because it gives a local perspective that the federal government does not have here," he said. "If they're in Jordan, what is the intelligence in Jordan telling them about the local community in New York? And that's what's so crucial to us.”
At the time, Kelly's aggressive international efforts were generally known, but the extent of the NYPD's surveillance of the local Muslim community was not.
Kelly's spokesman initially denied that an NYPD unit was specifically dedicated to surveilling Muslim communities in the New York area. Later, following a series of Pulitzer prize-winning stories by the Associated Press, Kelly defended the program by saying it was part of a broader, proactive approach to preventing another terrorist attack.
Kelly has not announced any changes to that program in response to criticism from local leaders, including some in the Muslim community.
A spokeswoman for de Blasio who is fielding inquiries for Bratton declined to say whether his decision on the mapping program factored into his vetting for the NYPD job, and said no final decision has been made about the surveillance operation, stationing NYPD officials overseas, or any related program.
During the campaign, de Blasio initially supported Kelly's efforts, before signaling his skepticism about the program.
In April, de Blasio said, "I'll spent a lot of time with Commissioner Kelly reviewing the situation and I came to the conclusion the NYPD had handled it in a legal and appropriate manner with the right checks and balances.” He said he would also monitor it going forward.
In September, days before the primary, de Blasio changed his position, following the latest A.P. story, saying, “We have not been leveled by the NYPD,” and that “the kind of surveillance happening is much broader and not based on specific leads.” He added, “anything that is not based on specific leads should not continue.”
In his decision on the LAPD program, Bratton seemed more closely aligned with de Blasio's subsequent position than Kelly's reflexive defense of the program.
Sixteen days after Downing's testimony, Bratton declared the program "dead on arrival."
According to a press release, Bratton said “it would have required shared cooperation between the Department and members of the Muslim community” and that cooperation simply wasn't forthcoming.
The LAPD had hoped that the two goals could coexist.
During the hearing, one senator asked if the stated goal of socializing Muslim residents into civic life would be undermined if LAPD officials were also gathering intelligence.
“We were right up front and told them we're not out here to knock on your door to have you tell us about terrorism, who wants to do bad things to good people," Downing testified. "We're here, we want to talk to you about what community problems can we solve in your neighborhood: the trees trimmed, the potholes filled, the lighting good. We want to integrate you in our advisory boards, our neighborhood watch programs, business chambers of commerce that's the kind of dialogue we're having.”
On November 9, Downing pressed his case further. He told the Los Angeles Times "We are seeking to identify at-risk communities.” The story was headlined: “LAPD to build data on Muslim Areas.”
Although he told the senators the outreach to Muslim had been underway for 18 months, Downing told the paper that “physically the work was not begun” in terms of generating maps.
On November 15, Bratton held a press conference to announce the mapping program would not commence.
Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Shura Council of Southern California, was one of many in attendance for a meeting with Bratton that day. He told Capital he learned of the mapping program from the L.A. Times story, even though he had been in regular contact with the LAPD, as an active participant in the community relationships Bratton had touted.
A week before the mapping story, Syed said he had lunch with Jim McDonnell, “one of [Bratton's] top assistants at the Los Angeles Police Department,” according to the paper, and the issue never came up.
Syed also said he met with Downing to voice his opposition to the program, and Downing defended the program as constitutional.
“I walked out," said Syed, who is an outspoken defender of the Muslim community.
I asked Salam al-Marayati, the president and founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who also attended the Nov. 15 meeting with Bratton, how much pressure was applied before the LAPD cancelled the mapping program.
“Was there opposition? Absolutely,” he said.
“My point is: Bratton listened," he added, without prompting. "Unlike Ray Kelly or other people in the NYPD, where there was never an effort to get feedback in the community.”
Al-Marayati, whose group has the stated purpose of helping Muslims integrate into American society, said in the wake of the mapping debate, the LAPD created the Chiefs Muslim Forum, which holds public forums so police and Muslim residents can communicate.
“Even though the mapping was a difficult time, it proved community engagement was Bratton's policy,” he said.