AB 109 debate reignites after police say Whittier officer slain by parolee

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- In the wake of Whittier police officer Keith Boyer's death, the debate over the impact of criminal justice reform in the state has reignited.

During a news conference hours after Boyer's death, Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper let out his frustrations about some of the voter-approved measures.

"Enough is enough! You're passing these propositions, you're creating these laws that are raising crime," said an emotional Piper.

Michael Mejia, 26, is the suspect who killed Boyer in a shooting on Monday, according to authorities. Police said the known gang member was in and out of jail, and had been placed on parole just 10 days earlier.

"As soon as realignment became a reality here in California, we knew as police chiefs that it was going to be a big problem," said Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas.

Rojas is one of many law enforcement leaders who are critical of AB 109, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011. It aimed to reduce prison overcrowding by moving certain felony offenders from state prisons to county jails.

It also makes some eligible for post release community supervision and shifts the responsibility to local agencies.

"Business as usual, we enforce court orders, maintaining community safety," said Officer Anthony Wade from the Orange County Probation Department during a recent ride-along.

MORE: Slain Whittier officer honored with procession

Members of the probation department and Santa Ana police are assigned to monitor and serve compliance checks on the hundreds of AB 109 probationers in the city. At a few stops, the probationers answered questions from officers and searches of their property came up empty.

They were in full compliance. But at two locations, officers found methamphetamine and heroin on probationers. Both were immediately re-arrested.

"Sort of a revolving window, guys come in, they go upstate, they'll come back to us and we'll start from scratch," said Wade.

Part of the realignment program provides classes and rehabilitation for offenders in hopes of lowering recidivism rates. Opponents said it's not working, but Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, disagrees.

"(It) showed us that we can downsize our prisons without compromising public safety and I think that's a big success," Kubrin said.

Kubrin co-edited the first and only systematic evaluation of AB 109. She and her colleagues compiled a series of papers which looks at crime data and statistics across the state before and after the implementation of AB 109.

MORE: Friends, family honor slain Officer Boyer with memorial at Whittier police station

She said the data shows the law is effective.

"Realignment had absolutely no impact on violent crime whatsoever," Kubrin said.

Kubrin's other major finding showed that counties that put more money toward programs and rehabilitation see much lower recidivism rates than those that don't. She said her research shows that more work needs to be done on the front-end of crime prevention, rather than traditional policing.

Kubrin cautioned against drawing too many correlations between criminal justice reform and crime without any hard data.

To be eligible for supervised release, the inmate's crime has to be non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual. But opponents point out that only the last offense committed by the inmate is taken into consideration.

"When you're just looking from a myopic standpoint like that, and you're just looking at one crime, are you really getting the totality of who that individual is and what their criminal record is about?" Rojas asked.

One of the checks on the ride along was for a man whose crimes were all drug-related. He told Eyewitness News the program was built for people like him who need help, not prison.

"I was in a bad place, but now it's heading toward a better place," he said.

But his father told us that his son has refused the rehab classes and won't get clean. He's fed up and thinks his son should go back behind bars.

"Everybody was happy, really. As soon as he moved, all the problems went away," his father said.

Copyright © 2022 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.