Chief Reuben Shortnacy
Corcoran Police Department
Effective at 5 p.m. Monday April 13, 2020 Kings County Superior Court, along with all other California Superior Courts, implemented an emergency bail schedule adopted by the California Judicial Council on April 6th as part of its emergency rules.
Under Emergency Rule 4, bail for all misdemeanor and many felony offenses will be set at zero dollars. Exemptions to the new schedule include violent crimes such as murder and rape. However, the new rules permit zero bail for crimes such as child abuse, auto theft, elder abuse, burglary and failing to register as a sex offender. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list of those crimes now eligible under this new rule. In addition to the crimes that I have already mentioned, those who are arrested for crimes such as drug trafficking, theft and fraud will be embolden to commit the same crimes because of the zero bail that is mandated.
This zero bail rule will stay in effect until 90 days after the Covid-19 emergency is lifted by the Governor. It neglected to give any consideration to victims and is a reckless approach in my opinion. Because this emergency rule was retroactive, our Sheriff has had to release numerous inmates from custody. To date there have been 30 inmates released that would otherwise be in custody.
Law enforcement understands the unprecedented impact the COVID-19 outbreak has generated, but we shouldn’t have a blanket release from custody of potentially thousands of inmates state-wide. The impact of that on our communities will be far-reaching. A one-size fits all approach is not a solution.
The Sheriff has taken significant steps to deter the spread of Covid-19 in the jail. As I write this editorial, there are no positive cases of Covid-19 in the Kings County Jail. The in-custody population state-wide has less than the average general population incidents of Covid-19. To release inmates at this stage of the virus evolution puts the public at risk with more potential carriers in social circles. Not to mention the increased threat to public safety in general. It’s a population who couldn’t follow simple rules and now we will expect them to “shelter-in-place.” Even with this order that limits law enforcement, we are working harder than ever to keep our communities safe. Our District Attorney is filing motions on our behalf to try to get the courts to set bail in appropriate cases based on whether the defendant is a danger to public safety, a flight risk, a danger to the victim(s), the seriousness of the crime, and prior criminal history.
The ultimate irony in this decision is that a violation of the shelter-in-place order is a misdemeanor and would be one of those crimes that now has a zero bail. Because of this emergency zero bail order, law enforcement does not have the authority to hold a person in-custody who is violating this order. Only in an extreme circumstance where additional justification can be made would someone now be held on a misdemeanor crime.
We recognize that there are impacts because of Covid-19 and we must adapt and respond appropriately. But we should not have to compromise our safety and security unnecessarily. Our communities have suffered enough. People have been laid off, education has been drastically changed, and businesses have suffered. They don’t now deserve to be victimized even more from those released early from jail or those who will not go into custody in the first place. These crimes significantly impact us all. Policy makers shouldn’t create an opportunity for victimization.