California prison reform laws under fire in aftermath suspected gang member’s murder of Whittier cop

After the killing of a Whittier police officer by a man with suspected gang ties, new focus is being drawn onto California Assembly Bill 109 – legislation signed into law by Gov. Brown in 2011 that critics say illustrates the danger of putting repeat offenders back on the street too soon.

Michael Christopher Mejia, 26, had been arrested five times in the last year before he killed veteran officer Keith Boyer during the scene of an accident on February 20. Mejia was under the supervision of a probation officer, benefiting from the provisions under AB109, the bill enacting so-called “realignment” by shifting prisoners from state prisons to local jails, or releasing them entirely under supervision to deal with overcrowding.

Since its enactment, law enforcement agencies and politicians have warned it poses a threat to public safety, with Southern California police chiefs calling it “dangerous public policy” back in 2013.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors cited AB109, as well as Propositions 47 and 57, for creating “additional and considerable” safety threats to police departments.

“We need to wake up. Enough is enough. You’re passing these propositions, you’re creating these laws. … It’s not good for our community (and) it’s not good for our officers,” Whittier police chief Jeff Piper told the media in an emotionally charged press conference.

During a time of heightened scrutiny of law enforcement nationwide, in part due to the perceived anti-cop rhetoric from groups like Black Lives Matter, California is becoming more and more of a flashpoint in the debate over how to confront the issue of violent crime and police engagement.

“As soon as realignment became a reality here in California, we knew as police chiefs that it was going to be a big problem,” said Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas.

However, UC Irvine criminologist Charis Kubrin says the research indicates that AB109 isn’t responsible for an increase in violent criminal activity in the state, declaring that “there is no doubt in my mind that AB109 had zero impact.”

But as The Mercury News notes, few reviews of the law exist because the state did not apportion funds for studying AB109’s effects. Furthermore, four officers killed in Southern California in the last six months were by repeat offenders, including the murders of a Palm Springs officer and an L.A. County Deputy Sheriff, both which made national headlines.

While it appears more inquiry may be needed to understand the full effects of prison reform legislation, cities like Los Angeles are continuing to grapple with an increase in violent crime, with homicides rising for a third year in a row, reversing a decline that began in the 1990s.

Drew Gregory Lynch is a CalWatchdog contributer


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