There are limits on what the law and government agencies can do to protect the public. Though I’ve been a cop for 30 years, nearly every day of which has been spent on the streets of Los Angeles, I can recall only a handful of times when I was able to interrupt a violent crime in progress, either by responding quickly to a radio call or by coming across it randomly while on patrol. You’ve heard the expression: when seconds count, the police are minutes away. It’s trite but no less true.
But there are some things the government can do, and it’s all the more unfortunate when laws already on the books are ignored to result in tragedy. Such was the case in Los Angeles recently, when a failure in the criminal justice system had fatal consequences. On December 2, four people were shot to death in Northridge, in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. A suspect was identified and arrested, and detectives learned that by all rights he should have been in jail at the time of the killings.
The suspect, Ka Pasasouk, had been arrested for possession of methamphetamine, a felony in California, and an officer for the L.A. County Probation Department wrote a report outlining why Pasasouk was ineligible for probation or a drug diversion program: he had an extensive criminal record, including an arrest and conviction for robbery. Given these facts, Pasasouk should have been prosecuted for the drug charge and sent to prison. Instead, a deputy district attorney offered a plea bargain that put Pasasouk back out on the street. Two months later, the D.A.’s office now alleges, he shot and killed four people.
Even when the criminal justice system is functioning optimally (but does it ever?) these lapses can occur. We in the trade have a name for people who rely on the police and the justice system to keep them safe: we call them victims.
It may sound uncivilized, but so be it. When the Bad Guy shows up with a gun, there are just two questions to be asked: where is the nearest Good Guy with a gun, and how long will it take him (or her, as the case may be) to arrive, get a sight picture, and if necessary squeeze the trigger? Everything else is wishful thinking.