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Are Criminal Justice Reforms to Blame for Whittier Police Officer's Death?

Following the death of a 27-year veteran Whittier police officer, some are questioning whether recent criminal justice reforms are responsible. Earlier this week, Officer Keith Boyer was fatally shot by Michael Christopher Mejia, a career criminal with a long criminal record. Mejia had been released on parole just over a week earlier.

In 2010, Mejia was sentenced to four years in state prison - two years for a robbery conviction and an additional two years for a gang member special enhancement. Mejia was paroled in January of 2014, but returned to prison in July 2014 for a two-year sentence for grand theft auto and vehicle theft. He was released from Pelican Bay State Prison in April of 2016, but went in and out of jail several times for violating his release terms. He was again arrested on February 2 for violating the terms of his release and sentenced to 10 days. He was released on February 11.

Prior to the shootout with Whitter police, Mejia is suspected of fatally shooting his 46-year-old cousin and stealing his car. Mejia rear-ended another vehicle and had pulled over when Officer Boyer responded to the scene to help. Mejia stepped out of the car and as police officers patted him down, he pulled a gun from his waistband and began shooting. According to Mejia's family, he struggled with meth addiction and had been using since his release. Sheriff's Homicide Lieutenant John Corina described Mejia as "a hardcore gang member" in a recent LA Times article.

Some, including Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper, blamed recent criminal justice reforms such as Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 47 for Boyer's death. Assembly Bill 109 was a response to a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding, and called for the move of a substantial number of inmates from state prisons to county jails. The measure also allows some inmates to serve a "split sentence," where some time is spent on probation instead of incarceration. Passed in November 2014, Proposition 47 reduced some drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Mejia was not affected by either reform. His criminal convictions happened before Proposition 47 and were too serious to have been affected. Additionally, Mejia was not affected by Assembly Bill 109 as he served his full state prison terms as defined by law. Mejia's 2010 four-year prison sentence was reduced by up to 15% for good behavior, which is a standard practice.

Still, some wonder whether these reforms are responsible for increases in crime. Police unions have asked United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to look into the effect the two measures have had on crime and public safety, and Los Angeles County supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn have called for an investigation into Mejia's release and subsequent supervision by the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

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