LOS ANGELES - A dozen Southland cities filed an 11th-hour court action Friday in hopes of halting the implementation of a zero-bail system in Los Angeles County that will eliminate cash bail for most people arrested of non-violent or non-serious crimes, allowing them to be released with a citation to appear in court at a later date.
The zero-bail system is scheduled to take effect Sunday. But in court papers submitted to Los Angeles Superior Court Friday, 12 cities contend that the switch to zero-bail represents a threat to public safety.
"There is and has been grave public concern regarding public safety in light of reduced enforcement and criminal consequences for various categories of `low-level' offenses that, despite the nomenclature, have profound and significant impacts on the day-to-day life of whole communities of plaintiff cities and others within the county," the municipalities argue in court papers.
With the zero-bail system taking effect Sunday, it was unclear when or if the cities' request for an injunction blocking the move might take place. The zero-bail schedule was announced by the Los Angeles Superior Court in July, with an effective date of Oct. 1. It was unclear why the cities waited until the last minute to file a legal challenge.
"It is our duty to this community to ensure the safety of those live here, work here, and visit," Glendora Mayor Gary Boyer said in a statement Friday. "The zero-bail schedule fails to support local leaders in their pledge to protect their residents, and that is unacceptable."
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Superior Court officials could not be reached for comment after hours Friday on the challenge.
The zero-bail system, officially dubbed by the Los Angeles Superior Court as Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols, or PARP, largely eliminates 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 who are believed to present a heightened threat to the public or be a 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 such as electronic monitoring.
Once a person is charged and appears in court for arraignment, a judge could change or revoke the defendant's release conditions.
People arrested in connection with serious crimes such as murder would not be eligible for zero-bail release.
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.
During a hearing before the county Board of Supervisors earlier this week, court officials insisted that the new system does not equate to a lack of accountability for criminal offenders, noting that it applies only to pre-trial detention decisions. People who violate release conditions or commit a new offense while on release will be subject to arrest.
County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said the zero-bail system 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."
Supporters of the program have lashed out at critics who contend it will lead to heightened crime and reduced public safety.
A report prepared by the county last year analyzing the impacts of a zero-bail system that was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic 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."