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Letter to the Editor: Public Safety at Risk

Resident calls for the City Council to discuss the Orange County Sheriff's Department's cite-and-release policy.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter is addressed to Mayor Larry Kramer, but the author, Kim McCarthy, asked that it be published as a letter to the editor as well.

Mayor Kramer,

Though I did not vote for you, I had hopes that a man who served his country in the Navy would be a man who valued his commitment to the families of San Juan Capistrano and the rule of law as you took your seat on the City Council.

Sadly, I was reminded March 6 at Tuesday night’s SJC City Council meeting of what my father has always told me. … "A title does not make a man, his actions do."

I came to you as a concerned homemaker and mother of three residing in San Juan for 11 years. I asked for your help regarding Sheriff Hutchens' "cite-and-release" policy in our city, which is putting all of the residents at risk of accident, injury, and possible death. 

At the Feb. 22 meeting at our Community Center, Sheriff Hutchens stated that she allows her deputies to use their discretion when pulling over a resident for a traffic violation, but that she takes direction from our City Council since we pay $8 million per year for their services. 

Hutchens offered as a justification for the cite-and-release policy the example of a mother and her two children late at night without drivers license, registration or proof of insurance. Hutchens said this woman’s car should not be impounded, that she should be allowed to drive away for her safety at night.

But how safe is it to have this woman driving children around when she's not a qualified driver and has no insurance to cover her children or anybody she may injure or kill in case of an accident (which is highly likely since she's unlicensed)? I suggested that it would be safer for her and especially her children to impound her car as the law states and be driven home by the sheriff. 

Mayor Kramer, at [Tuesday] night's council meeting, I asked you to place on the council agenda a vote about whether unlicensed, uninsured drivers should be cited and released back on our streets… you simply said you would "take it under advisement."  

Mr. Kramer,  when I asked how I would know whether you intended to take action, you arrogantly dismissed me stating, "Check the agenda. If it's there it's there, if it's not it's not." I find disturbing your treatment of your constituents who are only asking for you to protect us by enforcing the law. You spent more time talking about fruit trees than public safety last night; now we know where your priorities lie.

Whether or not you think this is important, what matters is what the voters think. With the election upcoming in November, we should know where you all stand on the issue of public safety, particularly incumbents Sam Allevato and Laura Freese. Therefore, I will continue to push to get this on the agenda. 

Sincerely,

Kim McCarthy

Steve Behmerwohld March 08, 2012 at 07:58 PM
As was mentioned in another Patch piece about Tuesday's Council meeting, I also spoke about whether or not to allow our Deputies to use some discretion in carrying out their duties. After I spoke in support of Sheriff Hutchen's policy, several people from Council Chambers came up to thank me for saying what they were also thinking. By the way, when Sheriff Hutchens spoke at the ICE meeting that Ms. McCarthy is referring to, I thought the Sheriff did an excellent job of explaining reasoning behind the policy. The Sheriff's Dept. simply doesn't have the resources (manpower, money or jail cells) to apprehend and incarcerate every person who could potentially be "locked up". I for one, would rather leave some discretion with the Deputy on the scene. I'm sure that if a Deputy was busy booking the "Hypothetical Mother of 2" in the middle of the night (or impounding the car and giving the Mom and kids a ride home in the squad car as Ms. McCarthy suggests), and a drunk driver around the corner was broadsiding another hypothetical family of 4, Ms McCarthy might have something to say about that too. Kim, do you have any documentation or proof, other than hypotheticals and hyperbole, that anyone in town has ever come to harm because of the current policy?
George March 08, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Here is an idea! Why don't we start preventing the Orange County Sheriff's department (deputy Darren Sandberg) from shooting and killing unarmed, innocent men in front of their children? Where was the site and release for the innocent Marine that was shot to death by Deputy Darren Sandberg not too long ago?
V. Duvall March 08, 2012 at 08:18 PM
George this is off point. We are talking about 2 different things here.
V. Duvall March 08, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Steve, we all know that Ms. McCarthy sees things a bit differently than most of us. She will never give anyone any space when it comes to our fellow residents here in San Juan that have no papers. Don't misunderstand, I wish they would all be deported back to where ever they came from but that's not going to happen. You are right on point that Orange County Sheriff's Department has not enough money, dollars and or manpower to arrest everyone. If Deputies were constantly transporting all of the illegal aliens to jail, there would literally be no one left to patrol the streets. There would be no one there when we really need help. Ms McCarthy frequently gets herself into trouble when she starts speaking before placing her brain in gear. Sheriff Hutchins is doing as good a job as can be expected with the funds at her disposal. If the Federal Government was doing it's job at the border and saw fit to give the agencies most in need of $$$ to fight the problem, maybe she could do more but the political party in charge back in DC won't give up the needed $$$. So we are on our own.
Clint Worthington March 08, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Steve, I am really surprised at you. After Sheriff Hutchens gave her example of when the deputies would cite and release a woman with two children in the vehicle with no license and insurance, you then heard the woman in the audience who tearfully told the story of her daughter that was killed by someone who was killed by an illegal immigrant driving a vehicle who did not have a license and insurance. Steve, are you ready to say to that woman that it is ok, for deputies to cite and release someone with no license or insurance. Would you feel the same way if your daughter was killed (I pray this never happens) by an illegal immigrant driving a vehicle without a license or insurance? I don't think so Steve.
Clint Worthington March 08, 2012 at 09:12 PM
V. Duvall, generally speaking, it is the Reserve Deputies that do the transporting to the jail so it does not remove an officer off of the streets. That was confirmed by Sheriff Hutchins at that meeting. What you are saying is entirely not true.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) March 08, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Just to be super clear, "cite and release" does not always mean released at the scene. If someone is being arrested on misdemeanor or felony charges (versus just receiving a ticket), they will be processed at OC's Central Jail and may be released from there. For example, a misdemeanor (first time) DUI suspect will be cited and released ... after sobering up for a while ... from jail, according to a conversation I had this past week with Lt. John Meyer. So depending on the severity of the crime, cite and release can happen from the jail, not just the scene.
Steve Behmerwohld March 08, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Clint, I'm not surprised at you. Are you saying that the drunk driver (who happened to be an illegal immigrant), who killed Shelby Cunningham's daughter, was sited and released. How can you equate this tragedy to anything to do with the topic at hand, which is allowing a Deputy to use some discretion in the field?
George March 08, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Two different things? One thing....... police discretion at the scene. Same discretion that Deputy Darren Sandberg had when he shot an unarmed man in front of his young daughters. dis·cre·tion   [dih-skresh-uhn] Show IPA noun 1. the power or right to decide or act according to one's own judgment; freedom of judgment or choice: It is entirely within my discretion whether I will go or stay. 2. the quality of being discreet, especially with reference to one's own actions or speech; prudence or decorum: Throwing all discretion to the winds, he blurted out the truth.
desimal March 08, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Police on scene should have the discretion. We have a population of unlicensed and/or uninsured drivers that create a risk for us all. Is there a way for them to get licensed? Does it merit impounding or jailing? I think the officer on scene should make the call, but increasing the fine looks to be the only real way to attack this problem with our current framework and immigrant situation. @Steve: Putting up straw-man arguments that the officer arresting the "unlicensed mom" will miss out on a DUI manslaughter is not valid here. Unlike a larger city where this "possibly" could occur, we do not have to make those trade-offs. There is the difference between "cite and release" where this ubiquitous "unlicensed mom" drives home after being pulled over, and where they are taken into custody, jailed, processed and release in a couple hours. I believe Sheriff Hutchens was talking about not taking into custody these violators. I was not there, but if this depiction of events at the meeting is true, I am more disturbed at Mayor Kramer's reaction/comments than what the policy will be.
V. Duvall March 08, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Clint, that is not true. Reserve deputies usually only work Friday and Saturday nights. Here in the area of Sc, SJC and DP there would be only one pair to transport for the tri city setup. Do you have any idea how long it takes to transport one person to the OCJ and process them? A long time. They could probably 4 trips a night, that's just over 1 per city per night. In the mean while if there were just one more crime during that time, the on duty deputy would need to go, thus leaving the city short. I don't want that in my city.
socalfam March 09, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I too was at the forum and and I thought Sheriff Hutchins did a terrible job trying to defend the indefensible policy of citing and releasing people who have no license and no insurance. These people are driving what amounts to a lethal weapon (just ask that poor woman whose daughter was killed by an illegal immigrant drunk driver) - and are being released back ont he street to endanger the public again. If the driver has no identification, how do we know whether the person might have an arrest warrant for say, rape or murder or drunk driving? The answer is, we don't - and neither do the sheriffs. It doesn't even make sense; it's flat out dangerous. My sense is it's not about protecting law-abiding citizens; it's political. The attitude I got from the sheriff is that as long as she and her deputies get our tax dollars for worthless programs like GRIP and sheriffs who spend the majority of their time generating revenue by issuing traffic citations to LEGAL citizens for traffic infractions, the rest of us can go pound sand. I think it's disgusting. No wonder our country is in such trouble.
Steve Behmerwohld March 09, 2012 at 12:48 AM
socalfam, you are absolutely correct. All the problems in our Country (and the world for that matter), are because of the OC Sheriff's Dept. cite and release policy.
Alberto Barrera March 09, 2012 at 04:31 AM
It will be interesting to see whether or not Eric Holder will sue California for taking immigration into its own hands with The California Opportunity and Prosperity Act.
socalfam March 09, 2012 at 06:03 AM
I never said all the problems in our country are because of the sheriffs cite and release policy - but you knew that. I'm guessing that despite your sarcasm, you're probably smart enough to know that I was referring to the attitude of the sheriffs dept that the law is not equally applied - there are two sets of rules; those for law-abiding legal citizens and those for illegal immigrants.
socalfam March 09, 2012 at 06:04 AM
Opportunity and prosperity for who?
Steve Behmerwohld March 09, 2012 at 06:20 AM
socalfam, And you are an expert on the attitude of the Sheriff's Dept. how?
Joel Peshkin March 09, 2012 at 07:09 AM
It would be nice if they had found a way to issue some kind of "special" drivers' license to the undocumented.
Clint Worthington March 09, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Steve, if the Sheriff Hutchins quit citing and releasing and actually took someone to jail requiring bail to get out, people driving without a license and insurance may think three times before doing so. Life could have possibly turned out different for Shelby's daughter had this happened.
Clint Worthington March 09, 2012 at 04:25 PM
When I spoke to the deputies they told me that the Reserves generally transport them to the jail. In addition, it is not Friday and Saturday nights that they work. Granted it is easier to find someone to work those times, however,there are allot of deputies that do have time off during the week and do volunteer there time for that .
Clint Worthington March 09, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Steve, you were at the meeting. Sheriff Hutchins explained to the audience the two sets of rules. Those for law abiding citizens and those for illegal immigrants. There is the attitude. You were there.
Clint Worthington March 09, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Why should an illegal immigrant have a "special" license. What is wrong with following our laws and rules? Are we asking too much?
V. Duvall March 09, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Sorry Clint. You are wrong about the transportation. I don't know who you spoke to but Reserve transportation is only Friday and Saturday here in San Juan.
Joel Peshkin March 10, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Clint, Right now, unlicensed undocumented drivers get off with nothing for minor offenses. If they have a bright green "driving document", then they can get a ticket, pay a fine, go to traffic school, etc... just like you and me.
Clint Worthington March 10, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Exactly Joel. Nothing happens to them.
jim capistrano March 10, 2012 at 10:33 PM
The reality is that these illegals, who are here to work for their families and ours, are here to stay. It is counter-productive to ban them from having a drivers license tied to insurance coverage. The mentality of a group of people, no matter how large, that believes that punitive measures will have this sub-class of people disappear, is beyond me.
V. Duvall March 11, 2012 at 01:09 AM
That's basically what I said in my first comment Jim. They are not going anywhere. I think it would be more productive to make them take and pass the driving test like the rest of us, maybe then they would know the right way to drive and be subject to the rules just like the rest of us. We all have to have insurance and they would too.
SJCNative March 11, 2012 at 09:22 PM
What is wrong with obeying the laws of our country?
jim capistrano March 15, 2012 at 05:01 PM
...because some laws are stupid. Period. Example A is the law making marijuana a class I illegal drug...on the same par as heroin. There is a quote attributed to Napoleon I which he stated that ..."stupidity in politicians is not an impediment"...the same politicians who "make" our laws...

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