Connect with us

California

Some Homeless Crimes Are Really Cries for Help

Published

on

To solve homelessness, Californians must treat certain crimes as cries for help

by Mike Gatto

CALIFORNIA (CalMatters) — Those of us who have watched a friend or family member wrestle with addiction or cope with mental illness recognize that certain acts are a cry for help.

For one of my friends, it was getting into a car accident while under the influence, with her young children inside.

For others, it might be strange behavior or even violent acting out. When we witness such actions, those of us who care try to get help. Help comes in two steps: Staging an intervention—“This is a problem.”

For others, it might be strange behavior or even violent acting out. When we witness such actions, those of us who care try to get help. Help comes in two steps: 

  • Staging an intervention—“This is a problem.”
  • Then connecting your friend to resources—“I’m calling a rehab clinic I know.”

But what does society do for those who need help, but who do not have a caring support network around them?  

What do we do for those people who are so deep in the depths of addiction or mental illness that they don’t even know they need help, and have no guardian angel to tell them so? 

Should we leave them alone to fend for themselves? And does your answer change if they become dangerous to themselves or others?  

I believe that if our society started treated certain misdeeds as an opportunity to stage an intervention and steer someone toward needed resources, we could solve the pervasive issue of homelessness, which hasn’t responded well to purely economic solutions thus far. In other words, we must treat certain crimes as cries for help.

There are many reasons why people become homeless.  

A spouse fleeing an abusive relationship or someone who lost his or her job are prime candidates for conventional outreach and economic solutions: build more housing, and make a rational person aware of it.

But a comprehensive solution would also address people who are homeless for reasons that diminish logical behavior, like addiction or mental illness.

I won’t be drawn into a debate about what percentages of homeless people are so.  A recent, credible study placed that number at 76% in Los Angeles. But even if it is 40% or 30%, what are we doing to reach them? 

That is why I have proposed a ballot initiative, California’s Compassionate Intervention Act, to treat certain existing crimes as opportunities to engage the homeless.  

Under the proposal, acts like defecating on public transportation or shooting meth on the street would be strictly enforced. A special court would be created to assess whether a person committed those crimes due to a drug dependency or mental-health issues.

The court would then “sentence” the defendant to an appropriate treatment plan: connecting the defendant to existing shelters and safety-net programs like general welfare, or requiring that the defendant participate in drug rehabilitation and treatment, or placing the defendant in an appropriate mental-health hospital with access to free prescription drugs.  

Once a person completes his or her “sentence” of court-mandated rehab, the “conviction” would be automatically expunged, so there would be no harm to that person’s record.

It’s important to note that my proposal does not create any new crimes.  

Unlike previous attempts by cities, it doesn’t criminalize homelessness by banning sleeping on the street. Even now, prosecutors are free to enforce the laws that my measure treats as cries for help. But they don’t, and demoralized police forces don’t make arrests, because they know our system would fail that person. 

Sending someone to jail for a few days who needs long-term mental-health treatment is a pointless exercise. Our system is broken, and needs to change. 

However, a byproduct of my proposal is a return of respect for the law. If you exposed yourself to kindergartners walking to school, you’d have to register as a sex offender. If you littered in the most egregious possible way, you’d have to pay a fine.  

So looking the other way because a perpetrator needs help that we aren’t providing isn’t the right solution. Especially when studies show that certain homeless people prey on other homeless.

If you still don’t understand, imagine being transported back in time to Victorian England. You see a Dickensian orphan steal a loaf of bread in front of you. Society can do one of three things: 

  • We could ignore that child and leave him to fend for himself, which also creates a feeling of lawlessness on the streets, particularly for bakers.  
  • We could arrest that child and throw him in jail, which then worsens his situation in life.  
  • Or we can use his act, technically a crime, of course, as an opportunity to ask him some important questions: Do you need food?  Do you need shelter? Are there other demons you are battling? 

This third path is the right one. Applied to homelessness in the modern world, we can and will make a difference.  

____

Mike Gatto is a lawyer and former Democratic assemblyman from Los Angeles.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.


Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

California

Santa Monica Man Arrested for Cyberattacks on Congressional Candidate

Published

on

LOS ANGELES – FBI agents this morning arrested a Santa Monica man on federal charges stemming from a series of distributed denial-of-service – or DDoS – attacks on a website for a candidate who was campaigning for a California congressional seat.

Arthur Jan Dam, 32, was taken into custody pursuant to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday that charges him with one count of intentionally damaging and attempting to damage a protected computer.

According to Buzzfeed news, the attack was on an opponent to Katie Hill. “Hill, who flipped a Republican-held seat in California two years ago, resigned from Congress last year after nude photos of her were released without her consent. While she was a candidate in 2018, the website of one of her Democratic rivals — Bryan Caforio — was hacked.”

Dam allegedly staged four cyberattacks in April and May of 2018 that took down the candidate’s website for a total of 21 hours. “The victim reported suffering losses, including website downtime, a reduction in campaign donations, and time spent by campaign staff and others conducting critical incident response,” according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.

The victim further reported spending $27,000 to $30,000 to respond to the attacks, and the candidate believes the attacks contributed to the loss in the primary election in June 2018.

 “Law enforcement at all levels has pledged to ensure the integrity of every election,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “We will not tolerate interference with computer systems associated with candidates or voting. Cases like this demonstrate our commitment to preserving our democratic system.”

“The arrest shows the FBI’s commitment to hold accountable anyone who interferes with an American’s right to vote or who deprives a candidate the right to compete fairly in an election,” said Paul Delacourt, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “As part of our mission to defend the democratic process, the FBI is equipped with the expertise to respond to allegations of election interference; whether by fraud, intimidation or – as in this case – cyber intrusions.”

The investigation outlined in the affidavit found that the cyberattacks all originated from one Amazon Web Services (AWS) account, which Dam controlled, and the four attacks corresponded to logins into that AWS account from either Dam’s residence or his workplace. Furthermore, Dam had conducted “extensive research” on both the victim and cyberattacks, the complaint alleges.

 DDoS attacks typically are accomplished by flooding the targeted computer with superfluous requests in an attempt to overload systems and prevent some or all legitimate requests from being fulfilled. After the third cyberattack, the victim increased cybersecurity measures and retained a website security company, but that was not enough to prevent a final disruption to the campaign’s website just one week before the primary election.

 Dam was married to a woman who was employed by another candidate – and the eventual winner – in the congressional race, according to the complaint. The FBI has not uncovered any evidence that the winning candidate or Dam’s wife orchestrated or were involved in the series of cyberattacks.

Dam was arrested after surrendering to FBI agents at the United States Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. Dam is expected to make his initial court appearance this afternoon.

Continue Reading

California

LA County Eliminates Criminal Fees. Will California Follow?

Published

on

by Jackie Botts for CalMatters

LOS ANGELES — The county will stop collecting fees that often amount to thousands of dollars per person. Los Angeles County will stop billing people millions of dollars a year for the costs of their incarceration in an effort to lighten the financial burden on former inmates.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to eliminate all criminal administrative fees over which the county has discretion after hearing testimony from dozens of formerly incarcerated residents.

The county is the fourth in California to eliminate the fees. If a bill introduced in the state Senate is approved, the rest of California could soon follow.

“Most of the people who have contact with the criminal justice system are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-wrote the measure. “It’s most definitely not the purpose of the justice system to punish poor people for their poverty.”

Among the fees that Los Angeles will no longer collect are a monthly $155 charge for probation supervision, $769 for a pre-sentence report, $50 for alcohol testing and legal counsel fees that can reach hundreds of dollars, according to a November report from a coalition of criminal justice reform advocacy groups.

“It’s just never-ending. It’s a revolving door of fees and stipulations,” Cynthia Blake told the supervisors. A mother of seven, Blake said she was homeless when she was assessed more than $5,000 in probation fees nearly a decade ago. Unable to pay, she “ducked and dodged” the probation department, ultimately ending up in prison.

The vote followed a December report from the county’s Chief Executive Office finding that the county assessed an average of $121 million in fines and fees each year since 2014, but collected about $11.4 million annually, or 9%.

Including all fees, fines and restitution, Los Angeles still has over $1.8 billion in outstanding debt on the books, dating back 50 years. The measure doesn’t touch restitution or fees and fines required by state law, however.

The county’s 2019-2020 budget for public protection — which includes the sheriff’s department, which operates county jails, probation and the courts — is $8.9 billion. 

Los Angeles follows the lead of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, which have passed similar measures in the past two years. More than 30% of California’s nearly 73,000 jailed inmates and 356,000 probationers reside in the four counties that have eliminated fees, according to data from the Board of State and Community Corrections and Chief Probation Officers of California. Another 127,000 inmates are in state prisons and 45,000 are on state-run parole.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis (right) authored the measure to eliminate the fees. Photo by Jackie Botts

The supervisors also resolved to write Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators in support of SB 144, which would eliminate several of the most common and costly criminal administrative fees charged by counties and the state prison system.

“We are further hampering an already fragile family or community economically,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat who authored the bill.

The bill is opposed by counties and law enforcement groups, which say that eliminating fees would leave gaping funding holes.

“One of the problems is that the legislature passes laws that have to be paid for… When they didn’t want to use general funds, they allowed it to be done as a fine or fee,” said Darby Kernan, deputy executive director of the California State Association of Counties. “That’s what holds the system together, and minus those dollars, the system will collapse.”

Kernan pointed to a 2016 state law that required people convicted of driving under the influence to install in their cars an interlock device — a breathalyzer that must be passed to turn on the ignition — and pay an administrative fee to cover the cost.

But Mitchell urged the governor to recognize that criminal fees are a “self-defeating, anemic source of revenue,” in a statement Tuesday.

“If LA can afford it, California can to,” Mitchell said.

Los Angeles’ move may bode well for Mitchell’s bill, if history is an indication. The county was a trendsetter when it stopped charging fees to parents for their kids’ time in the juvenile justice system in 2009. Three Bay Area counties followed, Mitchell introduced a bill to do so statewide and in 2018, California became the first state in the nation to abolish juvenile fees.

But that law didn’t do away with pre-existing debt from the juvenile fees. While most counties, including Los Angeles, stopped collecting the old fees from parents, 22 counties haven’t.

Both the Los Angeles ordinance and MItchell’s proposal make old administrative fees uncollectible.

Marquies Nunez has struggled to pay off his county criminal justice fees. Photo by Jackie Botts

That could make a big difference for Marquies Nunez. When the 28-year-old finished a 13-year sentence four months ago, he received a new bill for $1,000 from Los Angeles County. That was on top of the $12,000 he already owed in restitution fees, $2,000 of which he had paid off by working for 30 to 60 cents per hour while imprisoned.

“I was actually devastated and hurt… knowing that I worked so hard while I was in jail to pay off my restitution and now here it is, I got bumped up an extra $1,000,” said Nunez.

After Los Angeles’ vote, Nunez is optimistic about spreading the wave of reform to the rest of the state.

‘We’re going in the right direction. We got a good governor, we got good people outside here voting for these laws, good people in the Senate,” Nunez said. “We’ve got a bright future ahead of us.”


Jackie Botts is a reporter with CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

Continue Reading

California

Impeachment Role Makes Schiff a Top Prospect for Senate

Published

on

CALIFORNIA (Ukiah Daily Journal) –It’s been clear for several years, that U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff would love to run for the U.S. Senate. So would California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, best known as a constant irritant for President Trump, and several others.

But Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the chief prosecutor in Trump’s impeachment trial, has a big leg up on his competition because of his months in the national limelight managing the effort to oust a president for the first time ever.

If running an impeachment effort should propel Schiff into the Senate, it would be a ironic sign of the massive changes California politics has seen over the last 25 years.

The congressman would likely have run for the Senate two years ago if veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then 84, […]

Continue reading at ukiahdailyjournal.com

Continue Reading
Advertisement

This Just In…

Trending