Three dozen sheriff’s officers and Metropolitan Transit System security officers board the trolley as it pulls into Lemon Grove station. They go car to car, person to person, checking that everyone paid a fare.
If you don’t have one, you’re asked to step off the train for more questioning. In the next few hours, they’ll write a bunch of citations, but the Sheriff’s Department isn’t actually concerned with $2.50 fares.
Its four-month “Operation Lemon Drop” was really about targeting a handful of the county’s 1,175 ex-inmates released from prison under realignment without parole or probation requirements— “the worst of the worst,” as Commander Dave Myers calls them.
The department combs available information to determine which ex-inmates are “prolific offenders” and sets up dragnets in public places they might pass through, like the Lemon Grove trolley station.
It’s an example of intelligence-led policing — analyzing data to direct police resources — but it’s also a major part of the county’s response to realignment, the 2011 law that shifted the burden of incarcerating low-level felons from the state to counties.
The idea is to identify people likely to commit serious crimes, and create an opportunity to arrest them for something else before that happens.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
Two easy fixes to prevent a "Minority Report" type situation: 1. Pay your fair. 2. Do not volunteer information, other than your ID. (the right to remain silent can not be taken away for you. Don't open your month!) Don't allow a search of your person or personal items, unless its a condition of parole, in which case, pay your fair and avoid targeting.
It seems to me that all we really learned from the Sheriff's actions is that only 1% of a random group of people at the Lemon Grove Trolley Station have committed an arrestable offense (as opposed to a citable offense). Three dozen deputies, spending a half day on this "raid," means the County paid over $5,000 in salaries every time it conducted a raid, on multiple occasions over several months. That means over $25,000 for the raids, and most likely even more in planning, intelligence gathering, coordination with other agencies etc. That is, well over $50,000 in order to learn that 1% of those passing through the station committed arrestable crimes.
To really determine efficacy, the Sheriff's Dept. should know what charges were actually filed against those arrested. But it turns out they don't even chart that statistic. Moreover, the effect on public trust in seeing several dozen riot-equipped officers "detaining" riders by ordering them off the train for "further investigation" is disturbing. It's like law enforcement officers just don't understand that tactics like this cost them credibility and public support.
They just did a full-on multi-hour SWAT raid with a helicopter in Olivenhain to bust a few junkies for misdemeanors.
I think the Police have to many cops and need to keep them busy. They need to protect citizens not harass them.
Maybe set up the stations so you must pay before even entering the boarding area. Seems like a lazy way for the police to justify their jobs. Let's just go over here and fill our quota for the week. Meanwhile over in Happy Land La Jolla rich middle class is robbed at gunpoint on the street and pedestrians are being run over while trying to obey the rules. I wish they would stop drivers who never stop for a stop sign and make life dangerous for our kids. Imagine how many tickets you can write that will actually result in the fine being paid and make the city safer.
I would like more detail on what crimes these 186 people were arrested for. You mentioned joints a couple times... were any of them actually arrested for marijuana possession? If so, how many? How many were arrested for felonies? What felonies?
@Jeremy Ogul You ask some good questions. @Andrew Keatts I would be curious if you able to report on crime statistics at and around the Lemon Grove Trolley Station. In the last year, how many crimes have occurred there? How many and what sorts of arrests have been made there in the last year? In other words, what else might have caused the Sheriff's Department to focus on that particular location?
In all my travels on public transportation in the US and Europe (including 4 years of using public transportation almost exclusively), I have never seen police officers conducting ticket checks. It seems to be a waste of resources and I'd like to see some clear proof that it is a cost effective way to reduce crime. It sounds like prisoners were released and were not deemed to be a high risk. Now we round up thousands of people and check their tickets to get at them? So does this give police probable cause to question and search the offender for other possible crimes? Of the arrests made, how will be prosecuted? How many will result in conviction for serious felonies? How many of those are actually these supposed "worst of the worst" they are supposedly targeting? This is the opposite of the idea of community policing and creates more of a militarized police state "us versus them" view. In my area, 2 officers are covering a huge area and good luck getting a quick response when an actual crime is in process unless lives are in danger.
French police regularly rotate among Metro station exits checking all departing passengers to see whether they had paid the fare.
Clearly, some citizens (La Jolla comes first to mind) support police "curiosity": others, not so much. It seems to me that what the Sheriff's Department will need to show is that this program makes the community safer--it's early days, but so far I'm not seeing that (as reported, our crime trends are the same as jurisdictions not using this fairly aggressive form of data-led policing).
I do object to the hyperbolic term "worst of the worst"--we all know that is reserved for Sexually Violent Predators . . . whatever those are.
You don't need to go to Ferguson, Cleveland, or New Jack City to see racist tactics.
Lemon Stop, Drop, & Roll
I suppose that the Sheriff has paid attention to the "successes" achieved by New York's "Stop and Frisk", and may have also taken note of the SDPD 4th Waiver targeting. Both of the foregoing are targeting of Blacks and Hispanics, in effect, and perhaps can be shown to be the intention of both law enforcement bodies. Targeted policing, on the basis of race or ethnicity no matter how cleverly concealed, described or justified, is illegal.
From the writer's numbers, it appears that the Sheriff's efforts yield little. That is exactly what San Diego's data discloses. But, be careful, results do not justify illegal means.
@rhylton Let's remember that the US Supreme Court recently rules the NYPD "stop and frisk" policy unconstitutional. If that's the Sheriff's model, I think he needs to go back to the drawing board for a new one.
Taking California's current population of convicted felons in prison (135,484) and dividing it with the state's current total population (38,802,500), it's fair to say that just .0035 percent of our citizens are serious crooks. So even if only a fraction of Operation Lemon Drop's 1.1 percent arrest ratio results in convictions, it still seems to me that the Sheriff's Department focused its efforts where, statistically, criminals were hundreds of times more likely to be. How is that a bad thing? And if you have ever BEEN to the Lemon Grove Trolley Station this would come as no surprise. I like it whenever I see uniforms there. If you paid your fare or weren't on probation or parole, all that needed to be done was show your ticket stub and continue your journey.
Rough statistical analysis and commentary aside, kudos to the ACLU for its public outreach and efforts to teach trolley riders their constitutional rights. Education is always a good thing.
@Gregor I think the math is flawed here in only using the 135k felons in prison and since those are in prison they aren't riding the trolley in Lemon Grove (hopefully). I have no idea what the total number of convicted felons in living in California is, but it will be higher than 135k, which will move the percentage toward maybe even above the 1.1% number.
And yes, kudos to the ACLU - we should all be aware of all our rights, as "Da Man" is not likely to tell us that during an encounter. Kudos also to VoSD and Andrew Keats for bringing this to light - well done.
Again, yes, the math is rough. And, yes, I am aware of the old adage regarding "lies, damn lies, and statistics". Yet, as often as we complain to law enforcement that they should be "out there catching 'real' criminals", it's apparent to me that, regardless of the ACLU staff member who complained in the VoSD report about NOT being contacted (really?), the Sheriff's Department was doing exactly what we demand of them. Just as importantly, they did so without unnecessarily inconveniencing the 98.9 percent of trolley riders who paid for their tickets, who weren't intoxicated in public, and who weren't otherwise disturbing the peace.
Ok, so I get how this is arguably not race-based. However what the article didn't seem to pick up on is that when you are released from prison, no matter the means, aren't your sins washed clean and you are now "innocent until proven guilty"? This sounds like the Sheriff hoping to get even and throw these unfortunates back in prison.
And by the way, we know about the over-militarization of police across the country. I'll bet if a gang of police show up in body armor and all their weapons, nobody on the civilian side sees this as friendly. The Pope would probably break out in a cold sweat. And who hasn't seen the Eric Gardner video - that was a misdemeanor stop. Recordings of police in a public place are legal - someone ought to capture this little drama.
While reading this article I asked myself what would I do if a LEO was on my train from La Mesa to downtown and stopped me and asked for proof that I paid for my ride on the trolley? What if I didn't
have it? Would I be arrested? Given a citation even though I paid? Would I answer their questions? Are you a gang member? Have criminal record? Where does my 4th and 5th amendment rights begin and end? Or have we lost all those rights when we travel by public transportation?
Mr. Brick: My experience riding the trolley is that you are advised up front that you must pay to ride and if you don't, you are in violation of the law. You are also advised that any law enforcement officer can check any person to see if they have paid the fare. I have observed officers issuing citations to people who they contacted who didn't have a ticket. It's the way the system works. You lose no rights when you travel by this system. You are advised of your rights and responsibilities up front and if you follow them you are not subject to anything beyond a check for a valid ticket.
@richard brick Mr. Brick. you get a trolley ticket when you pay your fare. Just keep it on you until you get off; shouldn't be a huge problem. I've been asked several times to produce my ticket and, tada, passed with flying colors on each occasion.
Just carry your ticket with you at all times while on the trolley. That's all you're required to do. What's so difficult about that?
You are required to carry a driver's license when you drive a car and produce it if stopped. Whether it is a trolley ticket or a license, hanging on to bits of paper & plastic is a price we must pay to be part of a complex society.
@Bill Bradshaw @richard brick I've been wondering how they check the new cards. Now there are cards that you just tap on an electric device. I'm assuming the police have some kind of scanner device now to know that you paid. I used to see the checks back when there were only tickets but now I haven't seem them for a while. Just curious.
Keatts rhetorically asks the important question: is this effective? The follow up question I wonder about is how this arrest rate compares with other forms of preventive law enforcement. Hopefully the department will provide that type of information and we'll see it in a follow up piece.
In what parallel universe are people who are unlawfully riding the trolley without paying their fare in a position to complain about being stopped and questioned?
@Chris Brewster To be clear, even people who have paid their fare are still forced into a police interaction in this sort of operations, and that's something that's only happening in certain communities, because these operations are only happening in places where the data tells the department that prolific criminals are living.
Mr. Keatts: Of course people who have paid their fare are still forced in a police interaction. That's how the trolley fare system works. Everyone who rides the trolley (and I count myself in that group) is made aware that they must pay their fare on the honor system, but are subject to being required to show proof of that upon request to law enforcement. My experience is that the enforcement officers, including sheriff deputies, go through the car and require each person to show proof of payment. It's the same system on AMTRAK, European trains, and so on. The idea that checking fares is more prevalent in certain areas is nothing but logical policing in my view. My only concern would be if I were to show proof I'd paid (i.e. my ticket) and they still questioned me.
@Andrew Keatts @Chris Brewster For someone who has paid their fare, what is the difference between the interaction here and the interaction with a typical fare enforcement officer? I've been asked for proof of fare by MTS security before. What would be the difference in this case? Other than being in a police uniform rather than an MTS security uniform, if I have paid my fare is the officer going to ask me anything more than "let me scan your Compass card?"
Mr. Keatts: Be serious. There's no legal limit of intoxication for riding the trolley. If the CHP pulls you over for speeding and you come up with warrants you may be arrested. Similarly if you aren't paying your trolley fare and are found to have warrants you may be arrested. What's the difference?
@Chris Brewster But there is a law against public intoxication; it requires no BAC threshold, just the appearance of intoxication.
Mr. Mongan: Not in practice. I used to enforce that "law." Police officers can hold you if you are unable to care for yourself, but they cannot cite you. They simply take you to detox to dry out.
@Chris Brewster I was wondering if you were that Chris Brewster!
I'm not disagreeing with you regarding normal practice, but actually, Penal Code 647(f) allows a misdemeanor arrest (not detox) if, along with apparent intoxication, the arrestee interferes with the public. It is subject to subdivision (g), which authorizes the detox placement, but detox is only required if the officer is "reasonably able to do so." In a mass detention situation (like a task force descending on a trolley), sparing an officer to drive someone to detox can be argued, and therefore a misdemeanor arrest allowed. Subdivision (g) also doesn't apply if there is a suspicion of intoxication because of drug use, or both alcohol and drug use. I've seen officers go either way.
Mr. Mongan: There is law and there is case law, which can invalidate the laws on the books. I am unaware of any circumstance in which an officer can arrest for simple intoxication, which I think was the implication of Mr. Keatts. There is no question in my mind that if someone is assaulting others they can be arrested, but I don't think that was what was implied.
@Chris Brewster Keatts simply offered another reason for law enforcement contact, like slurred speech. You jumped to intoxication. I offered the statute which would apply, which I also pointed out that I'm not disagreeing with your regarding normal practice.
But all this is beyond the original scope of his comment, and the article is not about "normal practice" Both ticketed and non-ticketed riders are subjected to police questioning in a terrifically oppressive environment, all so they can arrest about 1% of all those questioned.
Mr. Mongan: I understand and appreciate your point of view. I simply disagree that being asked to produce your fare card creates a terrifically oppressive environment any more than, for example, a DUI checkpoint.
@Chris Brewster There is a huge difference.
For a DUI checkpoint there is a published location days beforehand, warning signs as you approach, and you are asked if you've been drinking. Maybe, based on attitude and objective signals (slurred speech) you are sent over to a secondary area for identification and further interview. The initial contacts are typically polite and informative.
For the Trolley, dozens of heavily armed and riot equipped officers stop all passengers from leaving as the train pulls into the station, without warning. Proof of fare is demanded, not requested, while additional questions are thrown out about parole, weapons, destination, employment, etc. And for all that, they discover that about 1% are people worth arresting.
@Chris Brewster It's not a valid comparison of anything; as I said above, DUI checkpoints require notice, whereas the Trolley stops are akin to a raid. Moreoever, the primary purpose of a DUI checkpoint (according to MADD) is deterrence and education.
In any event, I've found no stats from California regarding the efficacy of DUI checkpoints. Law enforcement will contend that each arrest amounts to one less drunk driving death, but that's just hyperbole and "what if" argument. According to an Arizona Daily Star study of Pima County (Tucson area) checkpoints in 2007, less than 1/2 of 1% of drivers stopped were arrested, and of those about half had the charges dropped or dismissed later.
Mr. Mongan: Thanks for those stats. Sounds like about the same percent of contacts v. arrests if they are correct. There are definitely difference in these two program. In one case, anyone who rides the trolley understands they may be stopped and checked for their valid fare at any time. Therefore, law enforcement doesn't need cause to contact them. So long as the person has a valid fare and no further questioning takes place, it would seem to comport with the requirement of riding the trolley. You've stated that even people who have a ticket are questioned further, but I have not read that that is the case.
I agree that in the case of DUI checkpoints the general area they may be in place are advertised in advance, but I would hazard a guess that very, very few people pay attention to that and even for those who do, information that there will be a DUI checkpoint in Pacific Beach, for example, only allows you to avoid the entire area. I'm no expert on the reason DUI checkpoints are considered legal, but clearly they allow anyone who inadvertently comes upon them to be checked, without reasonable cause. Ironically, many of these checkpoints are in areas of the city with more affluent people who are going to bars, such as PB or the Gaslamp; whereas the trolley example seems to be a less affluent population.