LOS ANGELES – Law enforcement officials and some residents continued to express safety concerns Tuesday about the imminent implementation of zero bail in Los Angeles County, but backers of the plan told the Board of Supervisors that misinformation about the system is leading to unfounded perceptions that crime will increase and criminals won’t be held accountable.
“Our communities have not been shy about telling us how nervous they are about this change,” Sheriff Robert Luna told the board, saying crime victims who see offenders immediately released from custody are left with little confidence in the criminal justice system. He said he respects the need to respect the constitutional rights of arrestees, but zero-bail can demoralize deputies and police officers who work hard to make arrests, only to “watch the offender walk away with a citation as the victim looks on in disbelief.”
But Supervisor Holly Mitchell said the zero-bail system taking effect Sunday does not mean criminals are escaping punishment for their offenses.
“It’s really dangerous for us to conflate bail with accountability,” Mitchell said, adding later: “Bail means I have the resources to pay my way out of jail.”
The zero-bail system, officially dubbed by the Los Angeles Superior Court as Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols, or PARP, will take effect Sunday. The system will largely eliminate the existing cash bail system for all but the most serious of crimes. Most people arrested on suspicion on non-violent or non-serious offenses will be either cited and released in the field or booked and released at a police or sheriff’s station with orders to appear in court on a specific date for arraignment once they are actually charged with a crime. Arrestees in such cases who are believed to present a heightened threat to the public or flight risk will be referred to a magistrate judge, who will review the case and determine if the person should be held in custody pending arraignment or released under non-financial restrictions or monitoring.
Once a person is charged and appears in court for arraignment, a judge could then change the defendant’s release conditions.
The new system is borne from long-held criticism that cash bail favored the rich, meaning well-heeled people arrested for even the most serious of crimes could pay their way out of jail, while low-income people languished behind bars for far lesser offenses. The new system is based not on cash, but on the risk an offender presents to public safety or the possibility the person might fail to appear in court.
The county implemented a zero-bail system during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to prevent crowding in jails. Then in May, a Los Angeles judge issued a preliminary injunction essentially reinstating the system by ordering an end to cash bail by the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments.
The Los Angeles Superior Court in July announced plans for the PARP system, with Presiding Judge Samantha Jessner saying, “A person’s ability to pay a large sum of money should not be the determining factor in deciding whether that person, who is presumed innocent, stays in jail before trial or is released.”
But the idea of zero-bail has generated public safety questions — with some county supervisors noting Tuesday their offices have been swamped with calls from residents concerned about the system, particularly following a recent wave of mob-style smash-and-grab burglaries and reports of arrestees being quickly released and reoffending.
Some residents spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in opposition to the zero-bail system, saying the county should “think this through before implementing” it. Another claimed the system implemented during the pandemic “didn’t work” and that other jurisdictions that have tried it saw jumps in crime.
But others spoke in favor, calling suggestions that crime will increase “fear-mongering” and accusing opponents of manufacturing statistics in an effort to “sustain the current policies that do not work.”
A report prepared by the county last year analyzing the impacts of the pandemic-era zero-bail policy concluded that “rates of failure to appear in court and of rearrest or new offenses remained either below or similar to their historical average.”
The Judicial Council of California also released a recent report finding that a risk-based zero-bail system actually led to increased public safety, with a 5.8% drop in people being rearrested for misdemeanors and a 2.4% decrease in people being rearrested for felonies.
David Slayton, the CEO of Los Angeles Superior Court, told the Board of Supervisors those percentages may seem small, but they represent an “impactful reduction in re-arrest rate.”
Echoing Mitchell’s comments, Slayton flatly denied that the new system means there are no consequences for crime, noting that people who fail to appear in court, re-offend while on release or violate their release conditions will be subject to arrest and jail.
“There are consequences for illegal behavior,” he said, noting that the idea of bail has always been to ensure people show up in court, not to punish people, and a risk-based decision on pre-arraignment detention serves the same goal.
Mitchell noted that while it might be upsetting if a person released on zero bail commits a new crime, its equally upsetting when that crime is committed by a person who posted cash bail solely because they had the money to do so.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger also said her office is hearing from concerned constituents.
“Residents don’t feel safe. One only has to turn on the TV each morning and hear what happened the day before, whether it be a smash-and-grab, a carjacking, a burglary, an armed robbery … and people what to know how this is going to impact crime on the street.”
Barger said she fully understands the problems with cash bail, but it’s a matter about how to explain to the public what the new system is working to accomplish, and “how are we going to make sure that criminals out there don’t feel there are no consequences.”
The board asked court officials to return in about six months to report on the impacts of the program.