There’s no telling for certain whether Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore was out to distract attention from the $1.27 million pension bonus he took a few weeks before landing in his new post.
It seemed that way, though, when Moore followed up disclosure of his pension gusher with public mention of a “radical amnesty” on unenforced bench warrants for quality-of-life misdemeanors that are stacked up against thousands of homeless folks. The situation has grown out of a system that’s become a revolving door, with many offenders going from the streets to jail to court to back where they started – only to have the process begin again.
The proposal to wipe away a big backlog holds obvious appeal to subjects of the warrants as well as some of Moore’s likeliest critics, including genuine community advocates as well as opportunists who stand to gain from any discontent with LAPD.
Moore painted the plan as a common-sense concession to reality and resources in Los Angeles.
Our concern is the absence of any acknowledgement that the backlog is a symptom of larger problems of homelessness – a matter of obvious and growing concern to the community of business and the rest of society.
Purging the citations might give some temporary relief to our social service and criminal justice systems, both of which remain ill-suited to handle their duties comprehensively in this regard. It also would cut a break to a portion of the homeless population that’s the most obvious example of the joint systemic failure.
Both of those favors would apparently be fleeting, though. Moore said there would be no substantive change to how LAPD enforces quality-of-life crimes. So what’s to stop another backlog of warrants from eventually rendering the police work behind the citations meaningless?
Crime is devastating and expensive in both its effects and the fear it fosters. Fear is often a perception rooted in a sense of lawlessness – the sort of atmosphere that takes hold when a city decides that it’s unrealistic to actually follow through on the work of policing quality-of-life offenses at street level.
Moore’s prescription, it seems, treats the matter as a bureaucratic headache rather than what it is: a festering wound at the heart of the city.
The timing of Moore’s announcement –shortly after revelations about the lucrative pension payout he secured by retiring briefly from the department before officially starting as chief – compounds our concerns. The plan smacks of a political tactic rather than strategic planning.
Moore isn’t solely responsible for this mess, to be sure. His civilian bosses in city government and elected and appointed officials at all other levels of government have roles to play.
Moore could, however, conduct a full-throated campaign to do more than reset the assembly line that has our criminal justice and social service systems punching tickets for violators as they return to the streets.
We urge Moore to think that that through – but only after he’s been through the wringer on whatever problems his pension bonus might bring.