Police Arrests are Plummeting Across California, Fueling Alarm and QuestionsPosted: April 1, 2017 | |
What’s going on in California?
Police officers began making fewer arrests. The following year, the Los Angeles Police Department’s arrest numbers dipped even lower and continued to fall, dropping by 25% from 2013 to 2015.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the San Diego Police Department also saw significant drops in arrests during that period.
The statewide numbers are just as striking: Police recorded the lowest number of arrests in nearly 50 years, according to the California attorney general’s office, with about 1.1 million arrests in 2015 compared with 1.5 million in 2006.
It is unclear why officers are making fewer arrests. Some in law enforcement cite diminished manpower and changes in deployment strategies. Others say officers have lost motivation in the face of increased scrutiny — from the public as well as their supervisors.
The picture is further complicated by Proposition 47, a November 2014 ballot measure that downgraded some drug and property felonies to misdemeanors. Many police officers say an arrest isn’t worth the time it takes to process when the suspect will spend at most a few months in jail.
In Los Angeles, the drop in arrests comes amid a persistent increase in crime, which began in 2014. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted that arrests for the most serious crimes have risen along with the numbers of those offenses, while the decrease comes largely from narcotics arrests.
The arrest data include both felonies and misdemeanors — crimes ranging from homicide to disorderly conduct. From 2010 to 2015, felony arrests made by Los Angeles police officers were down 29% and misdemeanor arrests were down 32%.
Two other measures of police productivity, citations and field interviews, have also declined significantly.
The LAPD could not provide final tallies for arrests in 2016. But based on numbers that include arrests by other agencies within city limits, the downward trend continued last year, Assistant Chief Michel Moore said.
A direct link between the crime pattern and the drop in arrests is difficult to draw, in part because the arrest data include minor offenses not counted in the tally the city uses to measure crime. Still, some city officials are concerned.
“Those are dramatic numbers that definitely demand scrutiny and explanation,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who sits on the Public Safety Committee and represents the Westside. “If crime was dramatically down, I wouldn’t have a problem with arrests going down. But if crime is going up, I want to see arrests going up.”
Beck said although arrests are an important component of policing, they are not the sole barometer of officer productivity. As an example, he pointed to community policing programs that he credits with reducing homicides in housing developments hit hard by violent crime.
Modern policing includes an array of strategies, such as swarming hot spots to prevent crimes from occurring, that may increase public safety without generating many arrests, he said.
For the LAPD, Beck said, modern policing also includes a different philosophy than the one the department embraced decades ago, during the Operation Hammer days when officers would stop, search and arrest thousands of people during weekend raids.
“The only thing we cared about was how many arrests we made. I don’t want them to care about that,” Beck said of his officers. “I want them to care about how safe their community is and how healthy it is.”
Nationwide criticism of police stoked by the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and other highly publicized law enforcement killings has had an effect on officers’ mindsets — but not to the detriment of crime fighting, Beck said.
“I’d be denying human nature if I didn’t say police are very cautious about what they do now because of the scrutiny,” Beck said. “But do I see it? I don’t really see things that make me think that the workforce as a body is retreating. I don’t see that at all.”
The decline in arrests had already begun before Brown, an unarmed black man, was killed by a white Ferguson police officer in August 2014, setting off nationwide demonstrations. After a grand jury declined to indict the Ferguson officer, protesters in Los Angeles and other cities marched through the streets.
In a nationwide survey conducted in 2016 by the Pew Research Center, 72% of the law enforcement officers questioned said their colleagues were less likely to stop and question suspicious people “as a result of high-profile incidents involving blacks and the police.”
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies interviewed by The Times echoed that view.
“Everyone is against whatever law enforcement is doing, so that makes an officer kind of hesitant to initiate contact,” said one LAPD officer, who has worked in South L.A. for more than a decade and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “A lot of guys will shy away from it because we’ve got the dash cams, we’ve got the body cams.… We don’t want it to come back on us.”
The heightened atmosphere surrounding ordinary police encounters was apparent one day in Compton last summer, when L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Federico made a routine stop of a vehicle without license plates.
Federico gave polite directions, calmly telling the driver why he had been pulled over, and the driver complied.
But as Federico moved back toward his cruiser, someone stepped out of a house and trained a cellphone on him. About 25 feet away, an Uber driver pulled over and also began filming.
Federico said he refuses to let the added scrutiny affect his work.
“It doesn’t bother me, because I know I’m not doing anything wrong,” he said.
But others say it is inevitable that some officers will pull back, taking care of necessary work while not engaging in the “proactive policing” that could lead to more arrests — and to more encounters that turn violent.
“Not to make fun of it, but a lot of guys are like, ‘Look, I’m just going to act like a fireman.’ I’m going to handle my calls for service and the things that I have to do,” said George Hofstetter, a motorcycle deputy in Pico Rivera and former president of the union representing L.A. County sheriff’s deputies. “But going out there and making traffic stops and contacting persons who may be up to something nefarious? ‘I’m not going to do that anymore.’”
LAPD officers are troubled by contentious demonstrations at Police Commission meetings and by public criticism of their colleagues for using deadly force, said Robert Harris, a police officer on the LAPD union’s board of directors. … (read more)