VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. - The Ventura County Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (VCLECC), a group of law enforcement agencies throughout Ventura County including municipal chiefs of police, sheriff and district attorney, has illustrated some serious, negative consequences occurring as a result of the recently approved $0 bail system for COVID-19. They, therefore, urge the Judicial Council to modify the zero bail rule in order to better protect the community.
Zero bail was first approved by the Judicial Council of California on April 9 as a way of keeping jail populations low to reduce the spread and possible spike of the COVID-19 virus.
This statewide rule allows most misdemeanors and most low-grade felonies to be released from jail on $0 bail charges after being arrested. Effectively allowing those who commit crimes to return to the streets immediately.
While this rule was approved on the good intentions of protecting the community's health, the VCLECC says it may be doing more harm than good.
"In Ventura County, approximately eight percent of those released on $0 bail have been rearrested on new offenses in fewer than three weeks," VCLECC said in a news release. "Several have been re-arrested more than once, but repeatedly released under the Emergency Bail Schedule (EBS) mandate. One criminal has been re-arrested four times in three weeks. Since the EBS was implemented, released inmates have committed at least 33 new crimes in Ventura County communities."
These new crimes have included serious offenses such as assault with a deadly weapon, auto theft, burglary, arson and elder abuse.
VCLECC said vehicle theft and vandalism, which are eligible for $0 bail, have risen dramatically throughout the county. "Between March 22, 2020, and April 30, 2020, vehicle theft increased 85 percent over the same six-week period in 2019. Felony vandalism increased 25 percent, and misdemeanor vandalism increased 48 percent."
The committee concluded by saying that, while there has not been a single recorded case of COVID-19 in Ventura County jails, there have been dozens of additional crimes and victims to crimes that otherwise may not have been committed.
The committee believes that the zero bail rule has increased the danger to the public in terms of criminal activity. It may also increase the risk of jail employees and the jail population of coming into contact with COVID-19 due to the revolving-door effect these repeat offenders have created.
In order to reduce this effect, the VCLACC suggested that eligibility for $0 bail should depend on the individual's choice to abide by the law. If a person is arrested and released on $0 bail once, they should not be eligible to be released on $0 bail again if they commit another offense.
"Simply adding such a provision to the current list of EBS exceptions would accomplish this result and would notify offenders across California that there are still consequences for criminal activity."
In addition, the committee recommends that anyone who has been convicted of serious or violent felonies in the past ten years not be eligible for release on $0 bail. This would help prevent the chances of someone committing serious crimes while released on $0 bail.
They also suggest that vehicle theft make a person ineligible for $0 bail.
Finally, the committee said that the plan for the zero bail rule to remain in effect for a full 90 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency could continue to put the public in increased danger. They instead suggest the zero bail rule expire at the same time the Governor ends the state of emergency.
The news release was signed by Ventura County District Attorney Gregory D. Totten, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Port Hueneme Police Chief Andrew Salinas, Santa Paula Police Interim Chief Ish Cordero, Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone, Oxnard Police Chief Scott Whitney and Ventura Police Chief Darin Schindler.