By T.A. Hendrickson and Bill Hendrickson
The Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council has weighed in on an issue that is bound to be front and center in this year’s race for mayor of Los Angeles, namely, whether people accused of misdemeanors and lower-level felonies should be required to post cash bail to avoid pre-trial detention. Bail for such offenses has not been required in L.A. since March 2020.
In a recent letter to the L.A. City Council, the ERNC firmly opposes an effort by Councilmember and mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino (Council District 15) to reinstate bail.
The vote by the ERNC to send the letter was 14-0 with one abstention.
Specifically, Buscaino has filed a resolution, seconded by John Lee (CD 12), requesting the City Council and Mayor to call on the State Legislature to pass a law reinstating cash bail throughout California. A statewide law would override L.A.’s bail policies.
The ERNC letter calls on Councilmember Kevin de León, who represents Eagle Rock and is also running for mayor, to support and advocate for a policy that permanently eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors in L.A.
As of Jan. 11, De León had not responded to the ERNC’s letter, according to ERNC President Richard Loew, who signed the letter. Nor did De León’s spokesperson respond to requests from the Boulevard Sentinel for a comment from De León on the letter.
The letter points out errors and misdirection in the Buscaino resolution. For instance, the resolution links recent violent crime in L.A. to the elimination of cash bail — but violent crime has always been subject to cash bail and has never been covered by L.A.’s zero-bail policy for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
The letter also cites research showing that cash bail for low level offenses does not make the accused more likely to show up for trial. Rather, it forces people who cannot afford to post bail – generally people of color and the poor — to choose between pre-trial detention or pleading guilty in order to be released.
Both options are bad. Accused persons who choose pretrial incarceration risk losing their jobs, housing, even custody of their children — outcomes that are often irreversible even if the charges are dropped or result in acquittal. Accused persons who plead guilty to secure their release have lifelong negative repercussion on employment, housing and social and economic opportunities.
The letter also points out that the public is harmed when the accused are forced into pre-trial detainment by an inability to post bail. That’s because people who are detained pre-trial are more likely to commit future crimes than those who are able to bail out, according to research in the Stanford Law Review cited in the letter. “Rather than making communities safer, the current cash bail system and pre-trial detention actually causes an increase in criminal behavior,” says the letter.
The Buscaino resolution is currently pending in the Committee on Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations. The ERNC has done what it can to see that it dies there. In the meantime, cash-bail is emerging as a defining issue for L.A.’s mayoral candidates.