By John Friend
Criminals in California are now essentially operating with impunity as many local jurisdictions and the state’s Judicial Council have moved to enact a zero-bail policy for most misdemeanor and lower-level felony crimes with the threat of the Covid-19 virus being used as the reason.
Criminal justice reform activists and organizations have been demanding such policies for decades, and the Covid-19 pandemic has finally provided the state’s legal, judicial, and law enforcement authorities justification under the guise of public health.
Since the policy change, countless dangerous criminals have been cited and released with little or no punishment for their crimes. Late last month, officers in Glendora, Calif., just outside Los Angeles, arrested a man three times in one day, yet were forced to release the criminal rather than take him to jail as a result of the new policy.
Dijon Landrum, a 24-year-old from the area, was arrested at roughly 8:30 am on Wednesday, April 29 while driving a stolen vehicle. Officers also found other stolen property and narcotics on Landrum and simply issued the man a citation and released him.
A few hours later, officers were called to confront a suspicious man walking through the front lawns of a residential neighborhood carrying a box. When officers confronted the man, they discovered it was Landrum once again, and he had more stolen property in his possession. Later that evening, Landrum was arrested after being pursued by LA County Sheriffs and California Highway Patrol officers on a local freeway. He was issued a citation for operating a stolen vehicle and evading arrest and was subsequently released.
California’s judicial and legal officials have justified the new zero-bail policy as a way to help combat the spread of Covid-19. California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, who sits on the Judicial Council, argued that the goal of the policy was to limit the number of people in courtrooms and jails.
“The Judicial Council should take these temporary actions in order to protect the health and safety of the public, court employees, attorneys, litigants, and judicial officers, as well as staff and inmates in detention facilities, and law enforcement during the state of emergency related to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Justice Cantil-Sakauye stated in her request to enact the zero-bail policy, which officially took effect in early April.
Legal and judicial leaders across the state applauded her efforts, and many local district attorneys and judges had made similar policy changes at the local county or municipal level.
“I applaud the chief justice and the Judicial Council for adopting a statewide zero bail for people charged with most misdemeanors and low-level felonies,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey stated following the state Judicial Council’s decision. Lacey went on to praise criminal justice leaders across the state for collaborating to develop “new and innovative approaches as we work to try to stop the spread of Covid-19 in our community.”
Not everyone is on board with the new policy. Law enforcement officers on the front lines have criticized the zero-bail policy as being far too lenient on criminals. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, for example, described the policy as a total failure after one criminal in the area was arrested seven times after the shelter-in-place orders were first enacted by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in mid-March, with officers having to cite and release the man rather than take him into custody.
“Waseen Abuhwaidi has been arrested a record seven times during SIP (shelter-in-place),” the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office announced earlier this week. “Numerous assaults, thefts, trespassing, and now robbery and attempted carjacking. All in multiple cities.” Abuhwaidi was finally arrested and taken into custody on a $200,000 bond after his latest crime spree.
The hysteria surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in California’s entirely misguided and ultimately dangerous zero-bail policy being enacted.
John Friend is a freelance writer based in California.