Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore
Police Commission President Eileen Decker
Police Commission Vice President Shane Murphy Goldsmith
Police Commissioner Dale Bonner
Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff
Police Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa
100 West 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer
City Hall East, Suite 800
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Sent via Email
RE: COVID-19 Containment in Los Angeles
Dear Southern California Police Chiefs,
Heightened concern over the COVID-19 pandemic has gripped our communities. Just this month, a state of emergency was declared in response to California’s first COVID-19 death. Each day, the number of people infected with the virus in California continues to rise. Our major universities and secondary schools have suspended classes, employees are being encouraged to telecommute, and consumers are stocking their homes with enough food, water, and medical supplies to survive a multi-week quarantine.
However, insufficient preparation has been taken to protect against the spread of COVID-19 through one of the largest and most vulnerable institutions in our community, the jail system, or exposure to the virus by and from police officers at points of citation and arrest. The individuals crowded into our jails are medically vulnerable and held in close contact with each other, without frequent and adequate access to water and soap. In a context where medical care is deficient, housing conditions are squalid and individual needs are neglected, this is a recipe for the rapid spread of disease.
This situation puts our entire county at risk. Each day, jails, unlike prisons, see a large number of people arrested and confined, while many others are released back to their community. The revolving door of incarcerated individuals, coupled with the daily influx of jail staff, vendors and medical professionals who return home, provides multiple avenues for COVID-19 to enter the jail and exit back into our neighborhoods and homes.
Moreover, the processes of detention and arrest by themselves limit the ability of affected people and law enforcement to exercise recommended precautions such as avoiding or limiting all physical contact; staying several feet away from other people; and washing hands after coughing, sneezing, or coming into contact with potentially exposed surfaces, objects, or people. Being forced to appear in public spaces such as courts due to a citation can lead to similar exposure to public health risks.
COVID-19 poses the greatest risk to the elderly and those who are immunocompromised because of preexisting medical conditions. People in this age group are at the greatest risk for COVID-19, yet pose the least public safety risk to our communities. By keeping vulnerable individuals behind bars, we are increasing the likelihood that COVID-19 will not only spread throughout the jail system, but that the virus will be routinely transmitted to even larger populations outside jail facilities.
Finally, when vulnerable individuals are released from county jail facilities, it is imperative that we ensure that they are not forced into houselessness. Our houseless community is at heightened risk of not only contracting COVID-19, but of dying from the virus.
Given the urgency of this situation, we call on police agencies to act immediately to protect the lives of California residents – including not only those arrested and taken into custody, but also officers, jail staff, and the family members and communities of all these individuals. With COVID-19 threatening the health and lives of untold numbers of Californians, arrest, transport, and confinement in a jail facility for even a few hours, could turn into a death sentence for many.
To this end, we urge police agencies across Southern California to act in accordance with the following recommendations:
- Discontinue ticketing, detaining, and arresting people for low-level offenses and “quality of life” crimes, except in extraordinary circumstances. Such minor offenses pose at most minimal threats to public safety, which are far outweighed by the health risks to both the individuals and the larger community that are created by jailing people or requiring them to appear at crowded courthouses in a few weeks, potentially during the height of the pandemic’s effect in Los Angeles.
- In particular, discontinue the filing of criminal charges or infractions related to a person’s unhoused status and other enforcement actions criminalizing houselessness, including offenses prohibiting sleeping in public, camping, or storing possessions in public. Stop towing RVs and other vehicles that people are using for shelter for debt collection, unpaid registration, minor parking violations, and in other cases where there is no public safety need. People experiencing homelessness currently struggle with the increased risk of disease spread and potential for increased severity of symptoms of the disease itself. Crowding into temporary shelters subverts the goal of social distancing. People living on the streets or in vehicles should be allowed to mitigate these risks without being subject to criminal law enforcement.
- If police do take enforcement action, limit the number of people arrested, booked, and detained in close proximity to other people, where they may be exposed to coronavirus or expose others, by:
- Issuing citations instead of arrest and booking for all people accused of misdemeanors, absent an extremely compelling reason for custodial arrest, like the imminent risk of serious physical harm to another person, or unless otherwise required by law;
- Default to charging a misdemeanor for all “wobbler” offenses, pursuant to Penal Code section 17(b), absent such a compelling reason to arrest on a felony charge that outweighs the health risk of incarceration, in order to allow citation and release pursuant to Penal Code section 853.6;
- Issuing citations instead of arresting and booking people for warrants related to any crime that are not serious or violent felonies, absent a known risk of serious physical harm to another person;
- Issuing citations instead of arresting and booking people for technical violations of probation or parole that do not involve allegations of serious physical harm to another person;
- Immediately releasing people held in police station jails with a citation to appear in court, unless they are accused of a serious or violent felony and there is a known risk of serious physical harm to another person.
- Provide quality health-care to all persons in your custody, including transferring to a hospital any person who is too ill for jail medical staff to effectively treat.
- Coordinate with your local jurisdiction’s medical staff to identify those in police custody who are most potentially vulnerable to Covid-19, and develop a plan to prioritize their rapid release.
- Ensure that all holding cells within locked facilities are not over-crowded and that prisoners have sufficient space to practice appropriate social distancing. Perform regular and thorough cleaning of all lock-up facilities, police vehicles, and items that are used by multiple people for arrest or booking. Ensure that all prisoners have access to adequate sanitary equipment and hygiene supplies and are instructed on proper cleaning habits.
- Extend paid sick leave to all employees, including those with temporary/part-time employment status. Ensure that officers and other employees are given sick leave as necessary and are not allowed to work while sick.
We cannot wait for confirmation that COVID-19 has entered our jails and communities before acting. police departments to take immediate and decisive steps now to save lives. We will support you in taking the bold, but necessary, action to protect the health of every Californian, including the most vulnerable.
ACLU of Southern California
Advancement Project California
All of Us or None
Bend the Arc
California Coalition for Women Prisoners
Children's Defense Fund California
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights
Dignity and Power Now
Drug Policy Alliance
Fair Chance Project
Families United to End LWOP - FUEL
Freedom for Immigrants
Frontline Wellness Network
Human Rights Watch
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Los Angeles Public Defenders Union
March and Rally Los Angeles
National Immigration Law Center
National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles
Never Again Action - Los Angeles
Reform L.A. Jails
SEIU Local 99
Southern Christian Leadership Conference - Southern California
Stop LAPD Spying
Success Stories Program
The Bail Project
The Justice Collaborative
The Strategy Center
The Youth Justice Coalition
Trans Latin@ Coalition
White People 4 Black Lives