Council hears details on DA misdemeanor crime directive

by Steven Felschundneff |

During the October 12 Claremont City Council meeting Claremont Police Captain Aaron Fate delivered a presentation on Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon’s Special Directive 20-07 which covers misdemeanor case management in the county.

The contentious directive states that specific misdemeanor charges shall be declined or dismissed before arraignment and without conditions, unless limited exceptions or factors for consideration exist.

“Despite the immense social costs, studies show that prosecution of the offenses driving the bulk of misdemeanor cases have minimal, or even negative, long-term impacts on public safety. Agencies equipped with the social-service tools necessary to address the underlying causes of offenses such as unlicensed driving, sex work, drug possession, drinking in public, and trespassing are best positioned to prevent recidivism and will thus be empowered to provide help to those in need.

“The goal of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is to protect public safety. To do so as effectively as possible, we will direct those in need of services to treatment providers, divert those undeserving of criminal records to appropriate fora and reorient our focus towards combating violent and serious criminal offenses,” according to the text of the directive.

Crimes on the list include trespassing, disturbing the peace, driving without a valid license or suspended license, criminal threats, drug possession or drug paraphernalia possession, minor in possession of alcohol, drinking in public, being under the influence of a controlled substance, public intoxication, resisting arrest, loitering and loitering to commit prostitution.

“This presentation is not for or against the district attorney directives, it’s more of an explanation of some of the feedback we have been getting from community members, because of the perception in some cases that nothing is being done [about a crime] because they are seeing some of the same behavior they have previously reported to the police department,” Captain Fate said.

Examples of situations in which a misdemeanor could be charged under the directive include a person trespassing on the same public or private property repeatedly during a 24-month period, or the presence of “verifiable imminent safety risk.” However, there can be no indication that the person has a substance use disorder, mental illness or homelessness.

“Most of the trespassing cases we deal with involve one or all of those things listed,” Captain Fate said.

Claremont police have been contacted about trespassing most often when a business owner calls about a person repeatedly sleeping on the property “potentially vandalizing, leaving trash and other things behind and they keep coming back.”

“So if [a person] gets arrested and released and they come back we will have a business owner saying ‘what are you guys doing to alleviate this problem,’” Captain Fate said.

Loitering exceptions under the directive include repeat offenses over the preceding 24-months involving substantially similar behavior to that charged, but loitering to commit prostitution has no exceptions.

Under the influence of controlled substance and drug possession are also common crimes in Claremont but there are no exceptions to the directive for these misdemeanors, and as a result, police interact with the same people frequently.

Those under the influence of drugs or alcohol can become a serious public threat or pose a danger to themselves, as Captain Fate noted in an example of a naked man who was covered in blood, yelling and running through the streets last Tuesday.

The problem police departments are encountering when upholding the district attorney’s directive is that most agencies are not “equipped with the social-service tools” to offer an individual following their arrest. Also, there is little incentive for that person to select the services when the alternative is to simply walk away.

“The problem with this, and the problem we can point back to with some of those repeat offenders, drug possession, trespass and things like that, is there is currently nothing in place to direct people in need of those services as part of the district attorney filing process,” Captain Fate said.

“Under that program, is there a way to incentivize or really get that candidate for diversion into a program, or is it really just suggestive and they can kind of walk away from it and continue to go through that cycle,” Councilmember Ed Reece asked.

“I know from our own experience, sometimes we have some great resources available, it’s frustrating because people are just not willing to engage in those resources,” Captain Fate responded. “So I am hoping that down the road there is an incentive where it’s either you engage in these services or potentially there could be some criminal or civil liability.”

There are three pilot programs in effect, including one in Pomona where police will have staff working at the jail 24 hours a day to contact the person following an arrest and direct them to services as a diversion to potentially getting engaged in the criminal justice system.

In Claremont the Psychiatric Assessment Care Team (PACT), including licensed psychiatric technician Shawna Acosta and licensed marriage and family therapist Danielle Cervantes, can provide some of the same services, particularly when an individual is contacted multiple times and there maybe some type of underlying mental health issues. Not every contact the team makes involves cases covered under Special Directive 20-07, however, the team does make 30 calls on average per month, according to a recent report.

“I would consider us fortunate here in the City of Claremont to have some in-house services that can come into play,” Captain Fate said. “If our PACT team notices that we are arresting somebody multiple times for the same offense, they will go talk to them in the jail. If there may be some sort of underlying reason, they can provide services for what may be the root cause for why they are engaged in this behavior,” he said.

Being held in the Claremont jail over the span of a few hours can be an effective diversion for someone who is under the influence of a controlled substance, simply because the drugs leave that person’s system. Captain Fate gave the example again of a individual screaming, running through the streets and swearing at people who, after the few hours in jail, was having a normal conversation and was actually nice to converse with.

Captain Fate envisions improved and expanded programs such as one that would get at the root causes for driving without a license and through uncovering the barricades to obtaining that license, provide services including driver education or help with studying for the license test.

“Clearly, this is a topic that could have a very rich discussion. I think there is a lot of improvement that we as a society can do that make it so that a illegitimate lifestyle doesn’t seem like a more reasonable choice, and we live in a society where sometimes that is the case,” Mayor Jennifer Stark said. “I look forward to having this discussion again and I appreciate you guys and I appreciate the PACT team.”


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