Smogland Radio is a news podcast by and for LA from Los Angeles Public Press. We’ll have reporting that holds powerful people accountable, advice on how to thrive in Los Angeles, and in-depth stories about the issues that affect all of us. We’re hard on this city, because we want it to be better. We may be one of the smoggiest counties in the country, but we don’t have to be.
This week, six scenes from all over Los Angeles (okay, including one in Joshua Tree). Footage of a neighborhood council meeting, obtained through a public records request. An unusual guard animal in El Sereno. A renowned musician at the Día de los Muertos celebration on Olvera Street. Two different stargazing trips — one successful, one not so successful. And an anxious dog at a punk show. We’re REALLY going on a little journey across LA together.
TARZANA — It was just another day in the West San Fernando Valley at the Tarzana Neighborhood Council.
A senior LAPD officer, Daryl Scoggins, had just wrapped up his regular crime update for the month of August. While reported crime was down 6.2% overall in the West Valley, Tarzana only saw a slight decrease of 1.2%. Burglaries seemed to be a problem in their community, Scoggins told neighborhood council members at their Sept. 26 board meeting.
“What can we do about the burglaries?” one board member asked.
Scoggins, as if unsure if he should speak freely, asked the board members if they wanted him to be “dead honest.” One board member immediately answered: “Absolutely, always.”
Scoggins told them to “Vote different,” advocating they vote against the Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon in the next district attorney’s election, which is set for March.
The comments made by a senior LAPD officer are reflective of how law enforcement officials and groups across LA county blame Gascon’s policies for crime in LA County. Experts say not only are these positions inaccurate (Gascon did not implement some of the policies Scoggin’s referenced), but they echo racist views about crime.
The comments also put into question whether he violated ethics rules, which limit city officials’ ability to engage in political activity while on the job. Scoggins is also now the subject of an open personnel investigation, LAPD West Valley Division Captain Brian Wendling said when LA Public Press reached out to him and other LAPD officials in late November. Wendling declined to provide any further comment. LA Public Press also reached out to Scoggins for comment, but has not received a response.
“Unnecessary detention can increase crime”
This exchange comes as shifts are taking place in Los Angeles County around a policy that has kept poor people in custody for alleged crimes, solely on the basis of whether they can afford to pay the bail amount.
Earlier this year, a judge ruled in favor of a preliminary injunction to restore a so-called “zero-bail” policy, that went into effect during the pandemic, allowing for people arrested in connection with nonviolent crimes to be released without needing to pay bail, which are usually in amounts many people cannot afford. The policy, officially known as the “emergency bail schedule,” was put in place in the early months of the pandemic in 2020 by state court officials and was later continued by the LA County Superior Court.
That injunction was granted in the Urquidi v. Los Angeles lawsuit, which was filed by public interest groups on behalf of six individuals who were kept in custody before they had a chance to be informed by a judge of the charges against them and to state whether they agreed with those charges. The plaintiffs said it was unconstitutional for the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department to keep people in custody solely because they could not pay the amounts listed in what is known as a “bail schedule” that the state requires courts to set.
As the lawsuit continues its way through court, LA County Superior Court officials have adopted a policy known as PARP, or the pre-arraignment release protocols that went into effect Oct. 1, and that allows for people accused of nonviolent crimes to be released.
Amid this climate, some law enforcement officials have stoked fears about such policies that remove money bail requirements before release of people accused of nonviolent crimes, as potentially causing crime. The preliminary injunction was granted after the defendants – which includes the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department – did not provide testimony to show this to be true, according to the judge. Plaintiffs submitted expert testimony about empirical studies that show such policies do not lead to more crime, and instead showed that crime would increase when people are kept in custody.
Michelle Parris, director of Vera Institute of Justice’s California office, said there is “robust research that demonstrates that just 24 hours in jail increases the likelihood that someone will be arrested again because of the destabilizing effect of detention.”
Parris said there are studies from New York, New Jersey and Kentucky showing that as people were being released at high rates, most of the people released were not re-arrested, and those places actually also saw a high rate of people returning to appear in court.
Prison Policy Institute created a round-up of 13 places where bail reform was implemented, and found that the release of people during the pretrial stage did not lead to an increase in crime.
Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor in LA, said in July, following the preliminary injunction in the Urquidi case, that she believes “there are those who are well-intentioned and believe that cash bail was needed to keep communities safe. But over the years, the evidence has shown that it’s quite the opposite.”
She felt the judge’s decision was based on the fact it is “fundamentally unjust and unfair to keep people in pretrial custody, just based on the size of their checkbook.”
Krinsky noted that the judge made his decision “after a long evidentiary hearing” and had concluded that “unnecessary detention can increase crime.”
“It pulls people away from, often, housing, treatment and support that puts them back into the community, further destabilizes them and puts them at greater risk of future criminal contexts and future harm to themselves and others,” she said.
LA County Superior Court officials recently released a report looking at the first several weeks of data after their pre-arraignment release protocol was released. They said their findings showed their new PARP process to be effective.
“Despite a significant amount of misinformation circulating regarding the new bail policy’s impact on public safety, we are encouraged that the first three weeks of data reveal the new system is actually keeping communities safer,” David Slayton, the court’s executive officer, said last month in a statement.
Slayton said the court’s current release process under PARP “ensures that those who present a significant risk are held while those who present little to no risk are released prior to trial.” He said that this is done by “providing individualized risk assessments for many of those arrested in Los Angeles County prior to their release, rather than arbitrarily releasing individuals based on whether they can afford a certain amount of money bail.”
Salil Dudani, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Urquidi lawsuit, said that while the court’s pre-arraignment release process is a “crucial step,” they are pursuing their litigation. They contend the current bail schedules and the court’s new protocol “still uses unconstitutional money bail on a wide variety of offenses” and LA’s criminal justice system “continues to jail far too many people pre-trial.”
Dudani said their lawsuit aims to “end unconstitutional bail practices” that go against public safety.
“LA urgently needs further reforms to reduce the jail population, stem the tide of jail deaths, and invest in alternatives to incarceration that deliver real public safety,” he said.
The pre-arraignment protocol applies to a slice of a larger period, called the “pre-trial” phase, in which people are held in custody, often unless they pay bail. Once the person sees a judge, money bail can be officially set for them. The setting of bail in amounts that people cannot afford was ruled to be unconstitutional in the Humphrey case, which was a lawsuit that applied to judges, rather than the police and Sheriff’s departments. According to a study by UCLA professor Alicia Virani, however, that ruling did not lead to changes.
These bail policies have a significant effect on who is in jail. In LA County jails, a high percentage of those in custody are in this larger pretrial period. For example, in a recent “correctional services daily briefing” report from Tuesday, Dec. 12, about 51% of those in custody had not had their cases adjudicated, or in other words they were being held pre-trial. Vera Institute has created a page that explains Los Angeles County’s jail data. This page also links to the reports on people who have died while in custody, which are extremely high. So far this year, as of the publication of this story, 45 have died in custody, which is almost four people a month, or one death every week. Recently the ACLU settled a lawsuit in which they pointed to “barbaric” jail conditions. Among the terms the county agreed to were to limit how long people can be detained in the intake facility and how long they can be handcuffed to chairs and benches.
Policies around this pre-trial period affect Black and Hispanic/Latinx people disproportionately. According to jail data, more than half of people in jail are Hispanic/Latinx, even though they make up less than half of the county’s population, and nearly a third of the people in jail are Black, despite Black people making up around 8% of LA County’s population.
As changes are happening around bail, there is also a conversation around how risk is assessed when people are released, and what rules and conditions are put in place for people who are released.
According to another study by Virani, the use of electronic monitoring devices has exploded in recent years.
“One of the studies that I’ve done showed an increase in electronic monitoring of 5,250% for people who are in the pretrial phase of their case from 2015 to 2021,” Virani said. “We don’t have recent data, but I can only assume that the numbers have continued to go up and certainly with these new policies, we may be seeing more electronic monitoring and that’s really troubling.”
Back in Tarzana
Back in Tarzana, the story about bail was told a bit differently. As the discussion continued at the neighborhood council meeting, Scoggins launched into his theory that the reason for the burglaries was that LA County residents had laid the groundwork for it by what they supported at the polls in recent elections.
Scoggins blamed the state of crime in their area on burglaries being made “nonviolent,” that voters made this happen, and that this was due to a “directive” by District Attorney George Gascon.
All of these assertions are inaccurate, but are not unique — they echo law enforcement across LA County. For example, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union for LAPD officers, blames the zero-bail policy for an increase in “smash-and-grab” robberies.
The District Attorney’s office does not have control over whether a particular crime is deemed nonviolent – that is laid out in the penal codes. Gascon’s directive, which was rescinded by the time Scoggins was speaking, also called for prosecutors not to pursue bail for nonviolent offenses, which is different from the larger policy that the courts put in place around release and the bail schedule, including when it adopted an emergency policy during the pandemic of not applying money bail to non-serious and nonviolent offenses, and its current PARP policy.
“You gotta remember, we voted — the people made it a nonviolent crime.”
He says this move was due to a “Gascon directive.” He then throws out a commonly heard refrain, “no bail? A ticket and release on nonviolent crime.”
“So every time we arrest one, guess what? They get a ticket, at least,” he said.
Toward the end of the discussion, Scoggins was asked to clarify what he meant about voting differently, and give suggestions for which other candidates to vote for instead. The current district attorney, George Gascon, is running for re-election against eight challengers.
One board member asked, “So when you say vote different, is there somebody that’s running that is going to change that?
Scoggins responded, “You gotta remember, Gascon ran on, that’s what he is going to do. And people voted him in.”
At this point, another board member, Bruno Hernandez, who had not yet spoken during the now nearly five-minute-long discussion, jumped in.
“Look, I don’t think all of this is appropriate,” Hernandez said. “I don’t really care about his political views … I don’t care who he would want us to vote for.”
Hernandez then added, “There’s a reason why Gascon did get elected. It had a lot to do with racist cops like this.”
In an interview several weeks after this meeting, Hernandez told LA Public Press that he thought it was inappropriate for Scoggins to give his thoughts on the district attorney’s race. There are strict rules against engaging in political activity at neighborhood council meetings, which members are regularly reminded of, he explained.
Hernandez has served three terms on the Venice Neighborhood Council, and had just started a term on the Tarzana Neighborhood Council. He said they take ethics training regularly, and know that they cannot endorse candidates.
“I know that you’re not supposed to do that,” he said, referring to Scoggins counseling members on how to vote in the district attorney’s election and giving his opinions on Gascon. “And even myself, as a board member, I’m not supposed to express, like, my own personal political views.”
LAPP has learned that a complaint was filed with the City Ethics Commission on this exchange, alleging that Scoggins had violated rules against engaging in political activity while in his capacity as a city employee. The Ethics Commission, however, cannot confirm whether they have received complaints and any ongoing investigations.
The complaint alleged that Scoggins was engaging in political activity while on duty, was likely in uniform, and “in a room or building that is owned by the City or primarily paid for or used by the City and occupied by a City official or agency employee in the discharge of City duties, namely the room in which the Tarzana Neighborhood Council’s board meeting was being held.”
Whether Scoggins indeed broke ethics rules still needs to be determined, but sections of the LA Municipal Code speak to Hernandez’s and the Ethics complainant’s concerns around political activity by city officials. One of those sections is LAMC Sec. 49.5.5 (B), which says city officials and agency employees “shall not engage in political activity” in certain situations like when they are “on duty for the city,” as well as in a way that makes it seem like the person is speaking on behalf of the city, which could include engaging in this political activity “while wearing a uniform or official city insignia” or while they are “using a city title or position.”
Another section, the prior one — LAMC Sec. 49.5.5 (A) — says that city officials, agency employees, and others “shall not misuse or attempt to misuse their positions … to create or attempt to create a private advantage or disadvantage, financial or otherwise, for any person.”
Tarzana Neighborhood Council president Len Shaffer did not provide comment on the transcript of the Sept. 26 meeting. He instead referred LA Public Press to his original email providing the meeting recording to us, in response to our public records request.
Salil Dudani, one of the lawyers representing people who were held on cash bail in the recent consequential case on bail, Urquidi v. Los Angeles, disputed Scoggins’s description of how arrests work. (The Urquidi case was filed against the county and city of LA, the LA Sheriff’s Department, the Sheriff of LA County, the LA Police Department, and the chief of the LAPD.)
Dudani said that it’s “not even true that people arrested for burglary in LA are released without money bail.” Scoggins’ “comments are blatantly untrue,” he said.
“Money bail is not prohibited in burglary cases in LA,” Dudani said. “Regardless, it has been statistically proven over and over again that eliminating money bail leads to less crime, not more.”
In the case Dudani is involved in, the judge requested that both sides bring evidence about how releasing people without cash bail would affect public safety. The side Dudani represents, along with other groups, like Public Justice, gave examples of studies showing that crime increases when people are held in custody, and that crime goes down when cash bail is removed.
The judge in turn commented in his ruling siding with the plaintiffs Dudani represents, that despite several attempts to request similar evidence from city, county, LAPD and LASD officials, those officials provided nothing.
“There is no actual evidence that bail reform has led to increased crime,” according to Dudani, who said that the issue has been “studied intensively by academic experts in cities across the country.”
What those experts found was that “bail reform decreases crime, because putting people in jail just because they’re poor causes people to lose their jobs, separates them from their children and loved ones, and so destabilizes their lives that they become significantly more likely to commit crimes in the future.”
“It’s completely irresponsible for any public official to blame bail reform for crime even though every academic study concludes it’s a myth,” Dudani said. “Doing so is like denying climate change or the need for vaccines: the science is crystal clear, and it makes everyone less safe to pretend otherwise.”
Dudani said that Scoggins linking the bail reform policies to the district attorney’s office is inaccurate, because it was the Superior Court judges who enacted policies to allow for people to be released, depending on the type of offenses they had.
The LAPD officer, Scoggins, also says at one point in the discussion that repeat offenders are released, which Dudani said is untrue. The idea that people who are arrested multiple times are being released does not reflect what was in the emergency policy that judges adopted during the pandemic, and that was extended due to the preliminary injunction in the Urquidi case, he said.
Jamarah Hayner, a spokesperson for Gascon’s re-election campaign, also pointed to the inaccuracies in Scoggin’s comments, and described the statements by Scoggins as “cavalier.”
“It is perpetuating misinformation because we’re not hearing them really trying to get the facts of the case,” she said. “If you’re gonna have a conversation about what the penal code is, it needs to be a really long conversation, because that is what the public is asking you to do.”
The exchange also included inappropriate language that relied on dehumanizing, patronizing, and racist characterizations. During the nearly five-minute long discussion, one neighborhood council member described the criminal justice system treating burglary suspects in the manner of a “catch and release,” a phrase associated with fishing. Scoggins also characterized the state of enforcement policies as being too lenient, using an analogy about a mother punishing a child for trying to taking cookies out of a jar without permission:
“You gotta remember, so, when we’re younger, mom says no cookie, right? Can’t have a cookie. Now, if mom was sitting there with a feather duster, and when you put your hand in the cookie jar, she’ll hit you with that. You’re going to say, ‘hmm, that didn’t hurt. I’m going to give myself another one.’ Right? Well, that’s what we’re doing. Before we were sitting there with a ruler. And when mom hit you with that ruler, it hurt. You’re going to say, ‘I’m not going to do that again.’ Gotta remember that. There’s no punishment for them.”
In his interview with LA Public Press, which took place about a month after the neighborhood council meeting, Hernandez softened his statement about Scoggins being a “racist cop.” He said he does not know Scoggins well enough to say that, but he explained he was “triggered” by the language that was used during the exchange, particularly Scoggins’s use of the “stick” analogy, referring to the cookie jar story.
Hernandez said that sent him back in time three decades, to 1991 when LAPD officers severely beat Rodney King, a Black man, after the police stopped him on the road near Hansen Dam. The acquittal of the officers in the beating case prompted the LA uprising in 1992.
“I’m 48-years-old,” Hernandez said. “So that took me back to Rodney King, officers beating a guy with a baton. Like telling somebody you hit somebody with the stick to teach them not to do something. Like I don’t think a police officer should be saying that. I think it’s a horrible analogy to use.”
Hernandez operates a group called STP that started the Venice Art Walls. He says he now has a diversion program he runs that’s based out of Tarzana, which is why he joined the neighborhood council.
Hernandez said he started working more on diversion because he was listening to participants in his mural program share stories about the obstacles that the justice system places in their way as they try to return to their lives and be part of their communities and families.
He said that he heard stories from participants in his mural program of how they struggle financially or could not get adequately paying jobs to feed themselves and improve their lives, and about how people often plead guilty solely because they could be released from jail faster. Those stories led to him feeling compelled to do much more than provide an artistic outlet for people.
“We always promote different alternatives to vandalism, to destructive behavior,” Hernandez said of the mural program.
“And you keep seeing the same thing over and over and over again. How can we not get involved and how can we not try to help people out and through that? That’s when we decided … this is a space we need to be into,” he said. “While art is beautiful … I still care about art … I’m still all for that, but I feel like what’s urgent is the criminal justice system, is navigating through the courts.”
Krinsky, the former federal prosecutor, heads Fair and Just Prosecution, an organization that works to elect progressive prosecutors. She said there needs to be a better understanding about the drivers of crime, rather than narratives that rely on exploiting people’s fears.
She said that crime is often driven by various factors not captured by the type of reports LAPD officers give. “You know, I think often it’s poverty, it’s trauma, it’s substance use challenges, mental health challenges, houselessness, intergenerational cycles of incarceration — a whole host of things that different groups have been looking at, [in terms of] ‘How do we attend to those issues?’” she said.
“Sometimes the views of communities that are most directly impacted by crime get drowned out,” Krinsky said. “I think it’s important for communities to be engaged and co-own their vision of justice, and they should listen to all perspectives … and be guided by data and a wide array of expert views, and not be overly influenced by one stakeholder in the criminal legal system over another.”
“So communities need to be involved and they need to be informed. And, you know, hopefully, not unduly influenced by a fear narrative that in some instances has a tendency to overcome the conversation,” she said.