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Santa Monica Joins Lawsuit to Block Zero Bail

By Jorge Casuso

October 12, 2023 -- The Santa Monica City Council voted 4 to 3 on Tuesday to join more than two dozen cities in a lawsuit challenging LA County's zero-bail system that went into effect October 1.

The new zero-bail protocol applies to those arrested for nearly all theft offenses, property crimes like vandalism, vehicle code violations and some non-violent serious crimes ("Zero-Bail Protocol to Take Effect," September 13, 2023).

The four Councilmembers who voted to join the lawsuit -- Phil Brock, who placed it on the closed session agenda; Oscar de la Torre; Christine Parra and Lana Negrete -- all were elected on a pro-public safety platform.

The three opposing votes were cast by Mayor Gleam Davis and Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick, who are backed by Santa Monica's liberal establishment.

Only Davis and Torosis explained their votes after leaving an agenda-packed closed session that lasted four hours.

"I don't think this lawsuit will reinstate cash bail nor will it make the City safer," said Davis. "It simply reverts to the system we were all existing under, which many people were very concerned about."

Torosis, who noted that she started the County's first career center at a women's detention facility, said she has "seen first hand how pretrial incarceration hurts people, hurts families, hurts women."

The old cash bail system, she said, "criminalizes poverty and perpetuates inequality and injustice" and disproportionately affects "people of color."

In a statement issued after the vote, the Santa Monica Police Officers Associations (SMPOA) said it was "proud" to see the Council majority "stand up for its residents, businesses and visitors."

"The SMPOA’s members work to reduce crime and disorder in Santa Monica daily," the police union said. "It makes little sense to issue a policy to immediately release those arrested back into the community to reoffend.

"Don’t be fooled by the 'non-violent crimes' language used in the policy. When it’s your bike stolen, your car window smashed or your house broken into, it matters."

The Zero Bail system not only "puts the community at risk," it "misses an opportunity to help offenders," the POA said.

"Simply issuing them a citation and releasing them back into the community without the help they need is not going to solve the ills of our criminal justice system," the statement said.

The last-minute lawsuit -- filed in superior Court on September 29 by 12 cities -- seeks an injunction blocking the change to zero bail.

The lawsuit was filed by Whittier, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, Lakewood, Santa Fe Springs, Palmdale, Arcadia, Industry, Vernon and La Verne.

Since then, 14 cities -- including Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach -- have joined as plaintiffs.

According to court papers submitted by the plaintiffs, “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."

Editor's note: This report was updated at 6 p.m. Friday to indicate that an additional 14 cities, including Santa Monica, have joined the lawsuit initially filed by 12 cities.

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