DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE COOLEY at WVRC on January 28th
Jim Crane led the Pledge. PP DON NELSON gave the Invocation, based on the Michael Josephson Institute, on KNX radio. But first, he allowed us to sit but NOT to chew!
"Rotary is not the only fine service organization that positively influences society, but one program feature I especially admire is its rigorous and vigorous commitment to high ethical standards and service above self. Rotarians are encouraged to use a decision-making guide called The Four Way Test that directs them to think, speak and act in a manner that promotes truthfulness, fairness, goodwill and strong friendships, and making decisions that benefit all concerned. The universal appeal of this moral foundation is demonstrated by Rotary’s growth from a small club in Chicago to a huge global enterprise with more than a million members…"
However, noble rhetoric and good intentions aren’t always enough to overcome the fears, temptations, and rationalizations that can divert us from the path of virtue. Still, The Four Way Test is a powerful foundation for a better society, and it is impressive that Rotary’s ardent advocacy of service and ethics has resonated around the world with so many men and women in business and the professions. Most people really do want to live a worthy life of virtue. As we struggle to cope with the horrendous results of a less honorable approach to business by far too many executives and politicians, it may be helpful to teach and advocate Rotary’s simple prescription: Be honest, fair and concerned with the well being of all concerned.” It won’t surprise any of you to be reminded that PP DON was a long-time member of the Board of the Josephson Institute. And Thank You, DON. And we now learn that none other than LENNY is a tried and true tennis fan. In furtherance of this revelation, Prexy ED was able to produce an outback hat, which, he assured us, LENNY would be wearing as he watched the Australian Open. With this background, LENNY then took us through “I love to Go To Rotary” from the pen of RICK BROUS.
We had two Visiting Rotarians. Jim Snead, from the Santa Fe Club, was with us again this week. And our Speaker, Steve Cooley, of course belongs to LA Five. We had both - a present and past Ambassadorial Scholar present MASAKI NAKODA, who is from Japan, and our recent Scholar, Meloni Gandhi, who spent her time hear and in and around Singapore. She then presented us with her large collection of Rotary Flags, displaying each one as they were named. We look forward to her report on her studies. PP STEVE SCHERER had three Special Guests Abraham Caroms, coming from PP MIKE GINTZ, Elliott Heinz, and Colby Smith, a Westwood dentist. PP MIKE NEWMAN brought a lawyer from his firm, Marcus Chang. Those at the Head Table included LEAH VRIESMAN, PP CHRIS BRADFORD, ELLIOTT TURNER, and the other side of the table held PP STEVE SCHERER and our Speaker, District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Here were of course announcements:
We will be dark next Thursday, meeting instead with the Santa Monica Club on Friday the 5th, at the Doubletree Hotel, 1707 4th between Olympic and Pico. The speaker will be John Dean and his title is “Keeping History Honest”. Sounds interesting!
Saturday Feb. 13th is the Valentine’s Day Brunch, at Lawry’s, starting at noon. Get your reservations in soon, please. Haiti Earthquake Relief is shown on the Rotary District 5280 Website, and how you can help. The District Conference will be May 13th to the 16th, at La Quinta in the desert. You can register now.
PP STEVE SCHERER provided a detailed introduction to our Speaker, Steve Cooley, who is a close friend. This is his second visit to WVRC, and today, he and his wife are moving from the Toluca Lake to Palos Verdes but he isn’t tempted to go home early to help! LA County DA Steve Cooley is in his third term in this office and is looking forward to a possible run for State Attorney General later this year. He has achieved his goal of establishing the LA County DA office as the premier prosecuting office in the U.S. He has hired bright young attorneys who are specialists in DNA, public corruption, extradition, fraud and gang prosecution. His first term saw a massive reorganization of the office, based on his 27-year experience as a prosecutor, plus six years as a reserve officer in the LAPD. He has been relentless in his pursuit of lawbreakers within the public justice system. His Public Integrity Division has prosecuted politicians whose misconduct had gone unpunished for years. He also formed the Justice System Integrity Division which led to prison terms for crooked lawyers. In recognition of the importance of scientific advances in crime prevention, he created the Forensic Science Section, where DNA record-keeping and availability has made a major difference. He is the co-author of Prop 69, California’s data-based DNA storage and retrieval system. Because of his persistence, in 2005 the Mexican Supreme Court overturned a previous statue, now allowing extradition of serious criminals. A recent creation is the Criminal Justice Institute, which provides high quality justice instruction to justice professionals. He has entered the race for State Attorney General, and the Primary will be June 8th. Steve is a native of Los Angeles, and a graduate of Cal State LA and USC Law School.
DA Cooley began by saying he had considered the alternatives, but had decided he wouldn’t return home early to help his wife with their move today. As he said, he works for us! He wants to talk about both the good and the bad as far as what is happening in criminal justice today. The best news is that our crime rate is at an all-time low. These statistics are gathered and then published by the FBI, and they do a good job. LA County has 10.4 million residents, and this year will record in the low 900s the number of murders committed. This compares to the late 1900s when the rate was about 2500 per year. In LA city, the worst period was the 1970s and 80s, with over 1000 annually going back to 1850, before we became a state, the rate was about one per day, with a population of just 8,000! There are many theories on why our present crime rate is so low and he opened it up to audience response. The increase in incarceration numbers was first given, which Cooley agrees with. There are now about 172,000 prisoners in the state, and when he came into the Department there were something like 27,000. Another suggestion was the early education program in the LA City schools about gangs, and Mr. Cooley agreed there also. The gang subculture continues to be a real problem. Someone else suggested the decline was because the general population is getting older, and Mr. Cooley noted that the most crime-prone age is between 15 and 35. More police on the streets produces more arrests, and that helps. Question do marijuana stats figure in these numbers No, they are separate. The crimes of which we are speaking are those against persons, or property. Thus, while they are down, those stats are not part of the reported crime rate. He noted that anything that keeps kids off the street sports, after-school activities, the band, intervention programs they all help. And the bad news is, while our crime rate is low, we also have the highest recidivism rate in the country almost 70% return to prison within three years of release. And because of recent court rulings, we will be seeing a larger number of freed felons, those released before serving their full time.
Another aspect of good news is how we are doing in the Forensic Science Division of your justice system. Not only LA but the entire state has made great progress in using scientific advances in fighting crime. We have the best DNA data-base law in the country which Cooley co-authored and it continues to make a huge difference. It now lists over one million individuals, which are subject to identification by their DNA. Our ability to identify smaller and smaller amounts of DNA continues to improve we can now get what is needed from a print on a keyboard, for instance. These advances mean we can reopen previously dormant cases but the total number is discouraging. We are now able to file a case against John Doe, using his DNA to eventually make a full ID, thus converting him to William Smith, or whatever his real name may be.
He expects to see continuous improvement in the way law offices can utilize DNA tracking and evidence-collecting. This will not only better protect all of us, but will help to exonerate those who are not guilty of a charged crime. Of course, the development here is always subject to department budgets, which are sometime radically influenced by political considerations. He gave an example of a serial rapist in Long B each, who sexually assaulted 33 women over time. Since the DNA recovery program was not then in effect, his ‘spree’ continued. In another instance, there was a female murder what went unsolved for years but the DNA finally arrived to help solve a very old case. He asked, What is AFIS? It is automated fingerprint identification system, and in the last decade, every state in the Union has records now going back for the last fifty years. (And in a moment of levity, which YOE cannot resist, I must report that my Navy fingerprints, taken in 1944, have so far escaped that data base, Thank Goodness!). But, more seriously, the ability of the fingerprint system to aid identification is constantly increasing. He gave an example of two police officers in 1957 who made a routine traffic stop for a car running a red light. The driver got the drop on them, and killed them both. That case went unsolved until about four years ago! The fingerprint ID system was what did it. In the file, they found two partial fingerprints, which, when combined, eventually led them to Gerald Mason, who was then 70 years old. He is now awaiting execution.
On a somewhat less serious crime, Cooley spoke about a city official who was not living in the area he represented. His example was Vernon the mayor didn’t want to live there, just be in charge. He wanted the power of controlling what Cooley described as a very wealthy city nut he preferred to live in Hancock Park! As a minor sidelight, the DA’s office has never lost a public trial on integrity in the nine years Cooley has been in charge. Question what is the greatest challenge facing law enforcement officers today? Money is the answer there is an awful amount of waste in government. There is a whole lot of fraud out there. One example a couple of years ago, California paid for more wheelchairs than were made in the whole state that same year! Two other areas of frequent fraud child care, and in-home assistance. Cooley’s office fired a Deputy DA two weeks ago he billed the state for in-home assistance to his mother, who lived in LA, while he was attending law school full time in San Diego.
Audience question is your office involved in the Gang Sweeps that take place often? Most of the Gang Sweeps are a multi-agency operation, so it is mainly run by law enforcement. Do you have great opportunities to hire the best people? Our hiring ratio is 1 hire to 23 applicants, so we get good people. The biggest problem we have, really, is technology in this room, right now, there are 40 or 45 computers in operation. We must be able to keep up with everything being digital today. Where do you stand on marijuana medical use? I am against it. It will lead to greater use LA County has 900 licensed dispensaries, which is more than the total in the entire United States outside of LA. Maybe we are VERY sick!! (laughter). A recent survey of those entering these dispensaries showed that 75% of them were male, mostly between 20 and 40 years of age. He feels strongly that any illusory taxes you might receive are not worth the associated problems you create with widespread marijuana use. What do you think about the widespread advertising of prescription drugs now appearing? Well, most of them relate to one subject, right? (laughter). Would you at some point consider being appointed a judge? No first, the pays not as good (again, laughter) and I really love what I’m doing right now. Steve Cooley, thanks for a most informative visit please come back anytime.
There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.