Officials said thieves in hoodies had descended on Apple stores in 19 different counties, stealing more than $1 million worth of electronic merchandise, including iPhones and iPads.
Officials have charged 17 people with stealing more than $1 million in electronics from Apple stores across California, reports the Los Angeles Times. The thieves wore hoodies and entered Apple stores in large groups before quickly snatching products on display and fleeing, officials said. Seven people were arrested Tuesday and booked in the Alameda County jail, and one is in custody in Sonoma County. Arrest warrants have been issued for nine others. Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said law enforcement collaboration led to “dismantling a large criminal ring.”
The arrests follow a series of apparently related thefts over several months across 19 counties. Video footage shows groups of men in dark hoodies casually walking into Apple stores before running off with products, while scared customers stand by. In a July theft in Costa Mesa, surveillance video from South Coast Plaza shows that some of the men appear to struggle with a man, who was an off-duty police officer, standing near the store as customers run from the area. In that case, the thieves stole nearly $30,000 worth of merchandise, including iPhones and iPads. The suspects were described as being in their 20s. “Organized retail thefts cost California business owners millions and expose them to copycat criminals,” according to the state attorney general’s office. “Ultimately, consumers pay the cost of this merchandise hijacking.”
After eight years heading one of the nation’s largest police agencies, retiring Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck gives TCR a frank assessment of the challenges of being a big-city reform chief, what it takes to change the culture of American policing today, and some key lessons he learned.
As he prepares to move on after eight years heading one of the nation’s largest police agencies, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck sits down with TCR’s West Coast bureau Chief Joe Domanick for a candid conversation about the challenges of being a big-city reform chief, what it takes to change the culture of American policing today, and some key lessons he learned along the way.
(Note: This interview has been abridged and edited for clarity.)
The Crime Report: Let’s pretend you’re speaking to a group of reform-minded, big-city chiefs. What would you tell them is essential to understand about changing a department’s culture?
Charlie Beck: That you change culture by everything you do. Just saying that you want a more empathetic, more community-building police department focused on helping communities is only one percent of culture change.
What’s essential is how you interact with people and model your behavior. One of my core beliefs is that the way a chief treats his cops is the way that they will treat the community. If you treat cops like fools, or if you’re over-dependent on harsh discipline, that’s what they’ll learn [and act out on the street]. They’ll see the way that you deal with conflict and adversity, and how you deal with people you don’t agree with, and act accordingly.
TCR: Once you were selected chief, did you actually sit down and write a reform plan?
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Photo by Ruperto Miller via Flickr
Beck: Yes. A lot of times managers think: I don’t need that, I know where I’m going. But the organization needs a plan. It needs a road map. We wrote a list of things we wanted to do. Of course, they change all the time. You achieve goals or you modify goals, the circumstances change. You can’t write ‘em on a chalkboard and just leave them up there for eight years. You’ve got to look at them constantly; while doing self-evaluation to realize what you’re good at and what you’re not. And then you’ve got to find people to fill the gaps. That’s really important.
TCR: One of the biggest challenges a reform chief faces is getting buy-in from the rank-and-file and key opinion-makers within a department. How did you go about it?
Beck: I did it the obvious way ─ through the traditional chain-of-command-stuff [from the top down.] But I also believe in managing from the ground up. So I went to roll calls in every station. And in every division for my first three years as chief I worked a partial shift side-by-side with officers in their black and whites. And I did all things that are iconic culturally within the LAPD that demonstrate that we’re all cut from the same basic cloth. For example, I hate to run [in department races] but I do it because it’s part of the culture.
TCR: And what did demonstrating that we’re all in this together get you?
Beck: When you say things or take actions that [many officers] don’t intrinsically agree with, like, for example, undocumented folks should be able to obtain driver’s licenses, they’ll think, “I don’t really get why that’s important to (the chief), but I’ll just wait and see.” In other words, it’s not necessarily that they buy into your ideas. It’s that they buy in to you as having their best interests at heart.
TCR: What else can you say about troop buy-in?
Beck: First, understand that it’s going to be very difficult to change an organization. Then create a bond with a peer leader in one station, and that bond spreads through the whole station. (Finally,) you want to create bonds, but not be thought of as one of the boys, because you’re not, and you have to make that clear If you want to command respect.
TCR: The [LAPD] union resisted many of your [progressive] reforms. But you were able to maneuver between a very liberal police commission and a very conservative union to get body/patrol car cameras, and a new de-escalation shooting policy. Talk a little about that.
Beck: First of all, you’ve got to understand why they want what they want, and you’ve got to know what you want and what you’re willing to settle for. Then you have to understand what the real sticking points are for the union. Second, always gauge who has the most support with the rank-and-file. You or the union?
Who will they follow? Make sure beforehand you’ve got capital in the bank [of good will] among the troops; and that you are as good as you can be on that part.
TCR: What’s the biggest lesson you learned about officer discipline?
Beck: Organizations want to overreact to small things and underreact to big things. That is very bad management. As a chief I want to insure that if officers do serious things from which there is no return, that they have no opportunity to return. So officers have to accept that kind of bottom line and deal with it.
But you also have to recognize what’s important and what’s not. We sometimes spend an enormous amount of resources over very little. You can lose a lot of organizational authority by being seen as the kind of a chief who is more concerned about what color your socks are than whether or not you’re telling the truth in court. You know [the LAPD’s] been that kind of organization before. My lesson to anybody is: Don’t do that.
TCR: What’s the most effective way to deal with a civilian oversight entity, the police commission in your case?
Beck: Involve those individuals with the members of the police department enough so they will grow to understand that these are by and large extremely good-intentioned, good-hearted people. And if they are involved enough, they’ll see just how difficult this job is. And that maybe that expectation of perfect handling of every incident or perfect handling of any incident in my estimation is something that is a false expectation. I think that’s really important.
And I think that’s what you have to look at with police commissioners. They’re going to influence you, but you can also influence them.
TCR: Talk about the political skills and strategies that a chief needs in order to deal with the multitude of players.
Beck: First, you’ve got to know the lay of the land and that every city is different, and that every political group is different. Then you have to know who are the lever-pullers. Who are the actual people that have influence? That is an art in and of itself.
No one person can truly know that. That’s why you’ve got to surround yourself with people who understand at a really deep level who’s influential in these individual communities. Recognize that there are some people that you’re never going to change. Then you’ve also got to recognize those who, no matter what you do, will think that you’re fantastic. That’s about 10 percent on your end. And then work on the middle.
TCR: And how do you work on the middle?
Beck: First of all, you have to explain your actions as best you can in public so people gain trust. You’ve got to show respect, spend the time necessary─or make sure you have emissaries doing so if you can’t spend the time. In every major community I have a chief’s liaison person who works within that community to have an impact, especially in the African American community.
Then you have to know which divisions are important on the macro level. I have 21 divisions. Three or four of them could be a flashpoint for a riot; that could cause a huge political upheaval with very small incidents. A couple of others in which people have a huge political influence. And then you’ve got to pick the right people to go to these places, [people] who understand the dynamics.
People in these areas have one or two issues that they find immensely important. So you’ve got to recognize what those issues are, whether it’s human trafficking in the San Fernando Valley, or immigrant rights in East LA, or African-American interactions with police. You’ve got to not only know that, but make sure you work to address that with them individually. It’s just about understanding the way they are. If you don’t, then you need to find people who do, and use those people to educate you and to do the outreach in those communities that they have contact with.
TCR: How about recruit training? What are the first things a reform chief should tackle with recruit training so that when those recruits leave they understand the game as the chief wants it to be played?
Beck: When they get out of the academy, recruits are uninformed beyond the initial nuts and bolts of policing. They still have to learn about political savvy, understanding of the goals of the department, etc. What we’ve done to address that is bring the recruit class back after they’ve been out in the field for a year. Then they’re ready to understand the bigger policing picture. Because now they’re not worried about whether they’re going to keep their job, not afraid of the great unknown, what are the radio codes for a purse snatch. They’re just not ready for this stuff when they leave for the academy.
TCR: You’ve managed to keep yourself and your department out of the daily news cycle that was a key feature of the way most of your predecessors operated. Do you think that was effective, and useful?
Beck: I certainly have seen police chiefs and city attorneys who love being in the papers. They crave it. They solicit it. They take every opportunity to put themselves out there. I have no interest in that. I understand that I’m going to be out there plenty anyway.
Being a police chief is a serious job. We’re dealing with life and death, with people’s safety. When you talk, you should be taken seriously. Less is more. If you go out there every time somebody saves a cat out of a tree, clamoring for attention, pretty soon you’re just a loud person clamoring for attention, and people see that. You come out to the public for things that are important, that you do believe in and which you have some depth of understanding and ability to discuss.
TCR: Why do you think it served you well?
Beck: It’s added authority during the times when we do have to use the media. Because we do have to use the media. When I call the press conference I get the press, I get a lot of it. Because it’s not common. I think it gives you a bigger megaphone for the times when you need it. Again, the more you put yourself out there you also create vulnerability. The more times you talk the more opportunities to trip up and all that kind of thing.
TCR: What should future reform chiefs avoid at all costs?
Beck: Thinking the organization is more important than you are. Thinking that it is about you, or that an organization can be sacrificed for your own personal needs. That’s my bottom line. You cannot be seen as somebody who will throw employees or the organization as a whole under the bus in order to save yourself. And I’ve seen people who did that just lose all the authority. You have to avoid that at all costs.
That doesn’t mean you never take action. I’ve arrested employees, all that. But that’s not the same as abandoning somebody for political expediency. You cannot do that.
That shouldn’t stop you from calling it as it is when something has happened and doesn’t fit the standards of the organization. But you can’t shape the standards of the organization to fit unrealistic expectations.
Joe Domanick, Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College and West Coast Bureau Chief of The Crime Report, is the author of four books on American Policing and incarceration. His latest, now out in paperback, is “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.” Joe welcomes comments from readers.
The nation’s most populous county is embarking on an overhaul of its juvenile justice system that could in the long run, all but end the practice of arresting and prosecuting youth under 18, except for the most serious crimes.
Los Angeles County—the birthplace of heavy-handed police tactics like S.W.A.T. teams, helicopter patrols and gang injunctions—is embarking on an effort that could make the nation’s most populous county a model for using a lighter touch with juvenile offenders.
Late last year, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a sweeping plan that will make diversion the centerpiece of the county’s juvenile justice system, and could in the long run, all but end the practice of arresting and prosecuting youth under 18, except for the most serious crimes.
“This is a huge sea change and represents a whole new era in dealing with youth, especially youth of color,” said Peter Espinosa, a former Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who is leading the effort.
Espinosa heads the new Division of Youth Diversion & Development, which county supervisors created within the Department of Health Services when they approved the plan last November. The department is tasked with designing a program that will ultimately serve all 46 police agencies within the county borders, including the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the juvenile probation division, and the many smaller police departments within the county borders.
County health officials cite so-far unpublished U.S. Department of Justice figures that show youth arrests have plummeted in Los Angeles County over the past decade –from 56,285 in 2005 to 11,399 in 2016.Yet they estimate that in as many as 9,000 of those 2016 cases, young people could have been offered a diversion program had there been proper resources in place.
The only offenses not eligible for diversion under the plan are felonies committed with a firearm and serious juvenile crimes which the state Welfare and Institutions Code has declared ineligible for diversion. That includes: assaults that result in serious bodily injury, robbery, rape and sexual assault, kidnapping, murder and attempted murder, and several other violent felonies.
“We are trying to emphasize prevention and we don’t believe the most effective solution is incarceration,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who first proposed the plan in early 2017 and shepherded it through the county supervisors’ vote in November.
“We believe that is better for the young person involved as well as better for taxpayers.”
When Ridley-Thomas mentions taxpayers, he is alluding to the estimated $233,000 it costs to house a young offender in one of the county’s juvenile lockups for one year.
Espinosa acknowledges that bringing the plan to fruition “will be a heavy lift,” especially when considering the current state of diversion in the county. While there are diversion programs operating now, they exist in pockets of the county and are inconsistently offered.
Youth advocates have long complained that whether a juvenile is offered diversion depends on where in the county he or she is arrested, and the color of their skin. A number of studies have shown that white youth in Los Angeles and elsewhere are far more likely to be offered diversion than youth of color. Because the new diversion plan will cover the entire county, officials and advocates are optimistic that it will help reduce these disparities.
Despite the daunting nature of the undertaking, there is a palpable excitement for the plan in law enforcement as well as among youth advocates.
“It’s been a thrill to watch it unfold,” said Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, which has invested heavily in efforts to limit youth incarceration. Because the LA system is so large, we think the direction they are headed in will have national implications.”
Breaking New Ground
Ross and others say the plan is groundbreaking because it prioritizes pre-charge diversion, meaning that a youth alleged to have committed a crime will be diverted before being booked and fingerprinted. This means that as long as he or she completes a diversion program, there will be no record of the arrest.
This is crucial, youth advocates say, because studies have shown that any contact with the juvenile justice system, even just an arrest and one court date, makes a child less likely to finish school and more likely to become further ensnared in the system.
While advocates have long pined for pre-charge diversion, it’s traditionally been a deal-breaker for many in law enforcement who have feared it would remove an important crime deterrent. But successful large-scale diversion programs in a handful of other places, such as Miami-Dade and San Francisco counties, have suggested that those fears are largely unfounded.
High-level officials in the LAPD have bought into pre-charge diversion thanks to a five-year-old partnership with Centinela Youth Services, a local nonprofit focused on youth and community development.
The program started in the LAPD’s South Division, with officers referring 49 pre-charge cases to Centinela in 2013. Since then, the program has expanded to a dozen divisions, with officers referring 254 cases to Centinela in 2017, according to Cmdr. Jeffery Bert, the LAPD’s Risk Manager.
And though those cases represent a small fraction of all juvenile arrests by LAPD officers during those five years, the recidivism rates opened a lot of eyes.
The recidivism rate for youths who go through the county’s juvenile justice system without the offer of diversion is between 30 percent and 60 percent, Bert said.
Meanwhile, the rate for youth in the Centinela program has hovered around 11 percent.
“This program has really blossomed for us in the past two years,” Bert said. “We believe in it and would like to see its smart expansion.”
The LAPD’s experience notwithstanding, advocates say getting system-wide buy-in for the pre-charge model was an uphill battle, and likely wouldn’t have happened had they not elbowed their way into the development process, starting in March 2017 when a committee established by the supervisors began meeting to design the plan.
“Usually system change is driven by county players and law enforcement, and it gears too much toward suppression and a hammer-only approach,” said Kim McGill, an organizer with LA County’s Youth Justice Coalition.
“If we didn’t push hard and bring four or five young people to every meeting, we wouldn’t have gotten this plan.”
One young person who joined the lobbying effort is Tanisha Denard, who was charged with petty theft and sent to juvenile hall as a 16-year-old after getting caught stealing personal hygiene items from a store in South Central Los Angeles.
In an interview, Denard, now 23, claimed she hasn’t been in any trouble with the law since, and that she stole the items because her mom was in the process of losing her house to foreclosure and she didn’t want to burden her with more expenses.
But her record has been a severe hindrance as she’s tried to get through college.
“For a long time, it held me back as I tried to find jobs and pay for college,” said Denard, who is currently attending Long Beach City College. “I would do good in the interviews, but then it would come to the background check and they’d say your background didn’t pass…if I’d gone through diversion I’d be at a university by now.”
Sheila Mitchell, who heads the county’s juvenile probation division, said she was excited to see the groups that in past haven’t seen eye-to-eye come together.
“Fundamentally and philosophically, we need to help our children do well, and help them avoid the path that takes them deep into the juvenile justice system,” Mitchell said. “The beauty of this undertaking is all hands are on deck—courts, law enforcement, supervisors, and community-based organizations.”
Finding the Money
Over $26 million has been budgeted for the plan, which will be phased in over four years. Mitchell is being credited for offering up nearly half of the funding from her budget in the probation department.
Advocates characterize the $26 million as “a good start,” but add there is concern as to whether the county will dedicate the resources necessary to build capacity within community-based organizations that would sustain a countywide diversion program over the long haul.
“The county has invested a lot of money in blue ribbon panels and task forces in the past, but unfortunately they often sit on the shelf and collect dust,” said McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition.
“So, it will take the same vigilance and united effort among county players and [community-based organizations] that we’ve had so far to make sure this plan is implemented.”
County officials say they’re confident they’ll be able to find other funding for the program, including state grant money. And they are counting on charities to provide increased funding to community organizations that will serve the diverted youth.
“There’s a lot of energy for criminal justice reform in the philanthropic community,” said Ridley-Thomas, who gave the opening remarks to a crowd of more than 300 at the Youth Diversion & Development Summit, held March 1 at the Carson Community Center.
“I think charities are already stepping up because they want to see certain kind of results.”
Ross of the California Endowment said his institution is dedicated to helping to make the plan work, so much so that he showed up and spoke at the supervisors’ meeting when the plan was approved. But he cautioned against expecting too much from philanthropies, adding that the largest pool of potentially available money is the billions in taxpayer dollars currently being spent on California’s “incarceration infrastructure.”
“I think the philanthropic community will be emboldened and bolstered should the LA County plan go forward,” Ross said.
“We see our role and supporting the development and evaluating the effectiveness of the approaches. But it’s the public and taxpayer dollars that will be the main driver of change – the philanthropic money won’t be able to save the day.”
The Crime Report is pleased to co-publish this story with the California Health Report, a statewide nonprofit news service that covers health and health policy. David Washburn is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked at the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Voice of San Diego and Dateline NBC. In recent years, he’s focused on issues related to juvenile justice and school discipline. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Some states are considering an increase in the age of adult jurisdiction beyond 18. But two Wisconsin researchers caution that might increase juvenile criminality.
While the US imposes an age of majority on youthful offenders at the age of 18, many other nations rely on higher ages such as 20 or 21 to demarcate the separation of juvenile offenders and juvenile correctional systems from their adult counterparts.
In recent years, many have argued that the US should move to a higher age of majority, such as 21. Such changes, generally known as “raise-the-age” reforms, are currently under consideration by several state legislatures, such as Connecticut and Illinois. Moreover, many states have already passed legislation raising the age of majority from 16 or 17, to the age of 18.
Advocates for these changes argue that corrections systems need to account for the lack of emotional, psychological, and intellectual maturity in youthful offenders. In particular, they argue that youthful offenders may not be mature enough to properly understand the costs of the harsher punishments that characterize adult correctional systems, and therefore to understand the consequences of their criminal acts.
If these youthful offenders are undeterred by adult punishments, then imposing harsh sanctions on youthful offenders will likely be ineffective at reducing crime and create additional costs for taxpayers and offenders, with no public safety benefit. As a result, the argument runs, raise-the-age laws represent relatively costless ways of reducing correctional costs and improving outcomes for youthful offenders.
A recent research paper co-authored by the two of us finds that this narrative of costless improvement is very likely incorrect. We find that youth are in fact deterred by the harsher punishments imposed at the age of majority.
In particular, we find that youth sharply reduce their offending at precisely the age of 18, when the imposition of harsher punishments presents real and palpable consequences. To reach our conclusions we analyzed high-frequency data that records all criminal offending in California for both juveniles and adults from 1998 to 2006. We constructed daily crime counts where crimes are organized by the precise age of offenders in days. We then used rigorous statistical techniques known as regression discontinuity designs to analyze the patterns of offending by youth immediately before their 18th birthday, and the patterns of offending by youth immediately after their 18th birthday.
Our principal finding is that youth criminality experiences a large, sharp, and discrete drop at precisely the age of 18 as a result of greater sanctions.
A key component of the analysis is that youthful offenders are essentially identical on either side of their 18th birthday; so unlike studies that rely on correlations between age, punishments and offending, our method likely reveals a causal channel between the punishments youth face and the level of criminal offending they engage in.
This stems from fact that youth are inherently the same in all respects at the age of 17 years and 364 days as they are at the age of 18 years and one day—with the only meaningful difference being that they are thrust into the harsher sanction regime of the adult justice and corrections system. Faced with this age-imposed change in how they are treated by the justice system, young people rationally choose to reduce their level of offending.
We also find that the prevalence of violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and assault by youthful offenders is more likely to change than other crimes. These violent crimes decline by up to 12 percent as a result of the greater sanctions imposed at the age of majority.
Our findings suggest that there is a slightly lower—up to eight percent—reduction in property crimes. Moreover, not all youth are equally deterred by the greater sanctions. While effects are present for both male and female offenders, the data suggest that female offenders respond more forcefully. Moreover, there are racial differences in the pattern of deterrence suggesting that perhaps not all youth face an equal jump in sanctions at age 18.
The result is hardly surprising from a theoretical standpoint. Researchers have long argued that offenders are deterred by harsher punishments. But our conclusions represent meaningful new findings in that deterrence has now been demonstrated for youthful offenders with the use of high-quality data. While it may still be the case that youth are less able to rationally process the threat of harsher punishments than mature adults, our paper casts substantial doubt on the oft-repeated claim that youth are categorically incapable of internalizing the costs of sanctions and reducing their prevalence of criminal acts.
Our findings imply that young people who have passed the age of majority at 18 are deterred from carrying out many crimes by being exposed to harsher adult sanctions. Reducing sanctions for those between the ages of 18 and 21 would likely lead to an increase in criminal offending.
Hence, raise-the-age policies extending the age of adult jurisdiction beyond 18 are far from the “costless improvements” that some have claimed, and would likely lead to greater rates of crime including violent crimes.
We refrained from considering past changes in the age of majority from 16 or 17, to 18. Our data only enables us to analyze the patterns of offending in California where the age of majority has been 18 for all the years in which high-quality data is available.
While we conclude that harsher sanctions imposed at age 18 have value in deterring crime, a truly comprehensive evaluation of raise-the-age policies would need to quantify costs and benefits in terms of public expenditures, as well as costs to offenders and victims. Such estimates have yet to be generated. As a result, further increases in the age of majority should be considered with great care.
Around 11:00 a.m. on January 24, 1987, nine-year-old Eric Coy left his home on Warren Street in Martinez, California to visit his aunt and cousin (some reports say a friend) who lived about a mile away. Eric took a shortcut through Martinez Junior High School towards Alhambra Creek. The route was considered safe and known […]
Around 11:00 a.m. on January 24, 1987, nine-year-old Eric Coy left his home on Warren Street in Martinez, California to visit his aunt and cousin (some reports say a friend) who lived about a mile away. Eric took a shortcut through Martinez Junior High School towards Alhambra Creek. The route was considered safe and known […]
As the campaign against sex trafficking emerges as a $47 million cottage industry, it has also spurred a “moral panic” that sex workers say has made them increasingly vulnerable to police abuse, and turns them into targets for those with religious or moral objections to prostitution.
At the height of national outrage over what government officials and activists call a human trafficking “epidemic,” sex workers are challenging what they say are misleading and harmful efforts to link prostitution to sex trafficking.
“People have used this moral panic, this idea that there is a trafficking epidemic, to create so much funding and so much policy that now that they’re being pressured to show the evidence—to show the sex trafficking arrests,” said Tara Burns, researcher and founding member of the Community United for Safety and Protection (CUSP), a group of former and current Alaska sex workers allied with sex trafficking victims.
“That’s where we see police arresting [prostitutes] for sex trafficking themselves, just so they can get those sex trafficking numbers up, and match the moral panic they’ve created.”
CUSP is lobbying for the passage of companion bills (HB 112/SB 73) in the Alaska Senate and House which would expand sexual assault laws to explicitly prohibit law enforcement from sexual contact with trafficking or domestic violence victims—as part of its continuing campaign to protect sex workers from laws that make them “vulnerable to violence and exploitation.”
In California, another group is challenging a state law that criminalizes prostitution, and asking a federal court to allow for a closer examination of studies that link consensual sex work to sex trafficking.
In January, a three-judge panel in the 9th circuit dismissed a suit by the Sex Workers and Erotic Service Providers Legal, Educational and Research Project (ESPLERP) to declare unconstitutional state laws that make prostitution a crime. The panel sided with 13 state and national organizations that wrote in to oppose ESPLERP, arguing that prostitution needs to remain criminalized in order to combat the “attendant evils” of violence against women, drug abuse—and above all, sex-trafficking.
ESPLERP filed for a rehearing before the full 9th circuit on January 31, wanting the court to subject the studies it cited to a higher standard of review. But in an era when pornography has been declared a “public health crisis” linked to modern-day slavery, researchers who do not openly condemn prostitution are fighting an uphill battle—and sex workers themselves find it hard to be heard over the din of victims’ advocates who would speak for them.
ESPLERP members and their legal team in court on Oct 2, 2017. Photo courtesy of Maxine Doogan
Maxine Doogan, founder of ESPLERP, says that denying sex workers equal protection under the law has led directly to abuse by police and other authorities, and that she and other people in the industry cannot report actual cases of forced trafficking without fearing arrest themselves.
“There are many people, many women, that I know who are prostitutes, who have been caught up in these prostitution sting operations; and have been sexually assaulted by the police, and raped,” she said in an interview with The Crime Report.
“Our activity is illegal. and so that just gives license for anybody to do anything to us that they want at any time, and get away with it.”
In the document submitted to the California court, opposition groups argued that “prostitution is sexual coercion, and closely related to sex trafficking,” and that “decriminalization of prostitution will legitimize sex trafficking.”
The authors of the opposition brief cited numerous “authorities” for their argument, identifying in particular eight publications by Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and anti-pornography activist well known for her view that sex work is “a particularly lethal form of male violence against women,” and an expression of “male hatred of the female body.”
But according to independent scholars in the field, the majority of the publications cited in the opposition brief have not only been debunked, but also discredited in the Canadian Supreme Court during cross-examination. The court subsequently struck down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, finding them unconstitutional because of the negative impact they had on the safety and lives of sex workers.
Doogan notes that victim advocates are “not challenging the men who really have control over our world.”
She added: “They want to dismiss the sexual violence that we’re talking about that goes on with police.”
Doogan and other sex-worker advocates argue that the majority of people being rounded up and arrested during anti-sex-trafficking sweeps such as Operation Cross Country are not slaves held in bondage, but women working together, or as independent prostitutes– a claim supported by investigative journalists following this arrest data.
CUSP’s Terra Burns, who has analyzed thousands of charging documents from several states over the past five years, said that the most serious cases of child sex trafficking “are for the most part not cases that are being found in prostitution stings, [but] cases that are being found because somebody came forward and made a report.”
And in jurisdictions that aren’t aggressively charging people for prostitution, more sex workers are coming to police with tips, she added.
Burns, who herself was sex trafficked as a child, has lobbied extensively for legislative amendments in Alaska. She helped push through bills at the state and county level to allow immunity for sex workers reporting a crime, and hopes Alaska legislators will place priority on the proposed measure to make it illegal for police to sexually penetrate someone they were investigating.
“When an officer coerces you into having sex with him under the threat of arrest, or another kind of threat, that is an act of violence,” Burns said.
Police don’t need to have sex with someone in order to charge them with prostitution, but it happens. She describes one charging document where a police officer paid for a hand job at a massage parlor. “They could have arrested her right there, but instead he waited and got a hand job. and then he put her in handcuffs. And when that happens, it’s really traumatic.”
Doogan (left) and Burns, introducing their first bills. Photo courtesy of Terra Burns
In addition to government task forces, the anti-trafficking movement has also created a $47 million cottage industry of victim advocacy.
Significantly, in order to receive funding, organizations are still being asked to sign a Bush-era anti-prostitution pledge (also known as the “global gag rule”), even though it was ruled unconstitutional in a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
The same goes for researchers, according to George Washington University sociologist Ronald Weitzer, who has studied the sex industry and human trafficking for over three decades, and who served as an expert witness in the case before Canada’s Supreme Court. Before the gag rule was overturned, he was asked to sign the pledge in order to conduct an academic literature review for the National Institute of Justice.
“It’s shocking that even something as mundane as a literature review in this area becomes politicized,” he told The Crime Report.
More recent examples include University of Nevada researcher Barbara Brent, who was part of a 2014 task force developing a trafficking education program for first responders in Nevada.
In an email to The Crime Report, she wrote: “Participants, including Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, who receive federal trafficking funds, indicated that I could not include sex worker rights organizations on the team to develop programs because that violated their grant agreement. The task force eventually fizzled out, and I don’t know what happened to those efforts.”
Last year, the New Hampshire Human Trafficking Collaborative Task Force broke ties with its grants manager, Kate D’Amato, for apparently supporting decriminalization during a public event. The Manchester Police Department said D’Amato’s opinions violated a federal grant, though it is unclear whether that claim was ever challenged.
“What it means is often you’ll get religious or evangelical organizations, both in the US and internationally, to get funding for anti-trafficking work but have very little expertise in the area,” said Weitzer.
“And this was a major criticism of the bush administration funding for many of these anti-trafficking organizations during that period.”
For example: Priceless Alaska, a Christian anti- trafficking organization that works closely with law enforcement, engages a team of volunteer mentors to work with trafficking victims. By way of preparation, mentors receive a three-day training. According to its website, the training “focuses on the mentor’s personal spiritual development first and sex trafficking-specific training second.”
Among the organizations that signed on to the ESPLERP opposition brief was Covenant House, the largest privately funded agency in the US that provides services to homeless and runaway youth. Last year, Covenant House worked with Loyola University to produce a multi-city report on forced labor and sex trafficking. The report claims that one in every 5 homeless youth are victims of human trafficking.
But Burns, who has been collecting state and county arrest records for over five years, says that the data don’t add up, and that the report is intentionally misleading.
“Nobody’s been charged with trafficking a minor in Alaska since 2008,” she told The Crime Report.
In 2014, following the national trend, Alaska created the Special Crimes Investigation Unit, which is devoted to finding and rescuing juveniles who are being trafficked for commercial sex.
“They’ve existed with that mission for four years now,” said Burns, “and have yet to charge anybody with trafficking a minor.”
The problem with the Loyola report, according to Burns, is the way it switches between various definitions of a sex trafficking victim; from youth that are not involved in the commercial sex industry at all, “youths that are underage and just trading sex for survival means,” and youths who are being coerced or held in bondage and commercially trafficked.
“If [Loyola researchers] had talked to a youth who actively had a violent pimp, they would have had to report that to police and the police would have gone in— because they’ve been looking to charge somebody with trafficking a minor, obviously, to support all this rhetoric. We would see some charges if it were actually going on in that way,” Burns said.
But when “you’re not being honest about what you’re actually talking about, and then you’re turning around and saying ‘oh these kids are being kidnapped by pimps and forced into prostitution’— then the policy that ends up being created is not going to serve those actually kids that really exist–that are out there having survival sex right now.”
Fundamentally, Burns believes that this study—and others like it—are compromised by the “religious agenda” underlying the moral campaign.
“Covenant House and Loyola University are both religious organizations who have a religious agenda to prevent other people from having sex that they disapprove of,” she said.
What Burns has found by looking at thousands of charging documents is that the majority of people arrested in “sex trafficking” stings are women working together as prostitutes, or with a driver—both things that increase safety in the sex industry, she says.
Just three people were charged with sex trafficking in the first two years of Alaska’s new sex-trafficking law. One was a dancer charged with sex trafficking herself, according records Burns obtained.
Another was Amber Batts, the owner of the online escort service Sensual Alaska. Prosecutors were unable to charge her with force, fraud, or coercion, since people were working for the service of their own free will– but they still convicted her on charges of 2nd degree sex trafficking. She was sentenced to five years in prison.
“When you think of sex trafficking, you think of people that are held against their will and made to do things that they don’t want to do,” Batts’ sister, Tiana Escalante, told The Crime Report.
Escalante described being shocked to learn that a woman can be charged with sex trafficking in Alaska for a consensual act—even when she is working independently.
“I think it’s kind of outrageous. It’s her body, her right to choose.”
Meanwhile, despite the funding for sex trafficking “rescue” operations, Burns says that as a first responder she has been unable to get law enforcement to investigate two recent cases where victims were held against their will and sold for sex. In the first case, she said the FBI told her there was not enough evidence.
“I’ve been involved in or around criminal investigations for quite a bit,” she said. “There was so much evidence, there were text messages.”
In the second case, she said, despite having an admission from a violent pimp on social media, “the FBI told me they didn’t have time.”
A year ago, Burns helped one victim who was violently trafficked make a report to the FBI, and managed to get her money from the state Victims of Violent Crimes Compensation Fund.
“But the people from the violent crime compensation board actually called me up and let me know, ‘you won’t be able to receive this money on her behalf because we can’t give money to organizations that don’t oppose prostitution,’” she said.
Describing people who have illegal sex as being incapable of making a choice, or too corrupted to understand their own victimhood, isn’t a new strategy.
“It’s very similar if you look at the history of the laws against gay sex and the stigma around gay people… you look back and remember [people said] ‘well, there’s only gay because they were abused as children. And so the gay people are going to go out and they’re going to rape our children,’” Burns said.
“That’s the same kind of stigma that we see around the sex work. Well, prostitutes are all either victims, or they started out as victims and now they’re going to go and victimize somebody else.
“Imagine if you saw the same kind of rhetoric around domestic violence victims. Saying that domestic violence victims need to be arrested because they’re too morally damaged to know what’s good for them.”
This is precisely what Doogan and her cohort are trying to face down in court. As a sex worker and founder of ESPLERP, she insists that she is not a victim.
“If you were a victim advocate, I wouldn’t even bother talking to you,” she told The Crime Report. She calls them the “Anti’s.” “I think that they’re extremely tone deaf.”
“They’re treating us like the sex slaves that they think that we are. That’s the problem with their approach. I stopped talking to them because they don’t want to hear, and take responsibility for their own exploitative behavior.”
Members of the media are some of the worst perpetrators of this narrative violence, says Doogan, “renaming us, reclassifying us, stripping us of our agency.
“We have been barred from our own authority on these issues.”
Those interested in watching oral arguments in ESPLERP v. Gascon can view them here. Victoria Mckenzie is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.
The sale of marijuana for recreational use becomes legal on New Year’s Day, but administrative complications have slowed the sales application process in Los Angeles. Other cities, including Santa Cruz, San Diego, Shasta Lake, San Jose and West Hollywood, are ready to light up.
California kicks off recreational sales on New Year’s Day, becoming the largest state in the nation with legal marijuana. But dispensaries in Los Angeles, the state’s largest market, won’t be open for businesses until later in January, says the Associated Press. The city won’t begin accepting applications to sell legal recreational pot until Jan. 3, and it could take weeks before those businesses are properly licensed with the city and state and open their doors. Under Los Angeles rules recently approved, neighborhoods would be largely off-limits to pot businesses, and buffer zones would be set up around schools, libraries and parks. The city has long been a hive of unlicensed dispensaries, and hundreds have been shut down.
So far, legalization has resulted in a patchwork of regulations around California. Santa Cruz, San Diego, Shasta Lake, San Jose and West Hollywood are among the cities where businesses have been authorized for recreational sales. But Kern County is among the places that have banned all commercial marijuana activity. In general, California will treat pot like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of the drug and grow six plants at home. The route to legalization began last year when state voters approved Proposition 64, which set the stage for recreational pot sales to adults.
On Jan. 1, California’s 58 county sheriffs will be on the front lines of implementing the state’s new immigrant sanctuary law, which is designed to limit the people that law enforcement agencies can detain, question or investigate at the request of federal immigration officials. Many of those sheriffs were opposed to enactment of the law, says the Los Angeles Times.
Two years ago, as others in California were limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department welcomed them into its jail, says the Los Angeles Times. Sheriff Margaret Mims gave U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unrestricted access to databases and private rooms to interview inmates. She reorganized release times so agents could easily pick up people who had served their sentences. The policy sparked outrage among immigrant rights groups, who called it a pipeline from incarceration to immigrant detention, one that they said disproportionately and unfairly affects Latinos. “We are not anti-immigrant for working with ICE,” Mims said in defense of the approach. “We are anti-criminal activity.”
That belief is held by many of California’s 58 county sheriffs who will be on the front lines of implementing the landmark “sanctuary state” law, which takes effect on Jan. 1. The law was a sharp rebuke from Democrats to President Trump’s call for more deportations. It is designed to limit the people that California law enforcement agencies can detain, question or investigate at the request of federal immigration officials. But its impact will largely rely on county sheriffs whose departments play a vital role in immigration enforcement — and most of whom, like Mims, were opposed to its enactment. As keepers of jails across the state, sheriffs will retain control over who has access to the citizenship status of hundreds of thousands of people booked into their facilities every day. As elected officials, many represent conservative or rural areas, where voters might be more likely to oppose the new state law.
As the state’s legislative session comes to a close Friday, lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill aimed at impeding the Trump administration’s efforts to deport illegal immigrants.
Friday is the last day of the California legislative session, and lawmakers are expected to vote on a “sanctuary state” bill aimed at impeding the Trump administration’s efforts to deport illegal immigrants, reports the Wall Street Journal. Lawmakers reached a deal on the proposal after resistance from law enforcement officials and Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor and the bill’s author, Democratic State Senate President Kevin de León, negotiated for several weeks, coming to an agreement on a final bill just days before the state’s legislative deadline. Brown sought more limited protections for immigrants than de León had wanted.
The maneuvering shows the deep political divisions over immigration as states struggle to set their own policies—even in California, a Democrat-majority state that offers an array of benefits to undocumented immigrants. Texas passed a law banning sanctuary cities, setting off suits and countersuits within the state. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the law. President Trump has moved to end an executive action, put in place by President Obama, that shields illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents as children. On Thursday, Trump said he was close to reaching a deal with congressional leaders to give that group legal status.
Inmates at a San Bernardino County jail claimed they were subjected to Taser gun torture and brutal pat-down searches that their attorneys characterized as sodomy. Nearly three dozen inmates will be compensated for the abuse, which is under investigation by the FBI.
San Bernardino County, Calif., has settled for almost $2.75 million three of five federal lawsuits filed by dozens of current and former inmates at a Rancho Cucamonga jail who alleged a pattern of physical abuse by deputies there, reports the Riverside Press-Enterprise. The county has agreed to pay $2.5 million to 32 plaintiffs in one case. Last month it agreed to pay $175,000 to plaintiff Eric Smith, one of the first inmates to report the abuse, which is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. Another ex-inmate settled for $70,000.
The allegations first came to light in March 2014. The inmates claimed they were subjected to Taser gun torture and brutal pat-down searches that their attorneys characterized as sodomy. The allegations prompted the terminations of seven sheriff’s deputies and sweeping reforms and security upgrades at the jail, one of four in the county operated by the Sheriff’s Department.