Brent King, father of slain San Diego County teen Chelsea King, is due at the governor’s office Wednesday to lobby for the SAFE Task Forces in California called critical to the success of Chelsea’s Law.
The concept for counties establishing SAFE (Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement) Task Forces was part of Chelsea’s Law, named after King’s daughter and signed into law in 2010. The San Diego SAFE Task Force includes agents from the state Department of Justice as well as local law enforcement. These agents are among 91 sworn peace officers from the state Division of Law Enforcement who are due to lose their jobs in February.
Also among the 91 are agents who worked on the now-disbanded Major Crimes Team—a collection of highly specialized investigators who supported local agencies on major cases of homicide, drug trafficking, sex predators and gang activity throughout California. The cutbacks of all these agents, which date back to the 2011-2012 budget, have drawn serious concern statewide.
“It’s critical for the safety of our communities to maintain and enhance the SAFE task force,” King told Patch recently. “It dismays me that our tax money is being used to chase down aluminum can recycling fraud and Medi-Cal fraud, instead of protecting us to the best level available with regards to known sexual predators. As someone who has felt the failure of the system, I want to make an attempt for common sense to prevail.”
King was referring to the way some agents from the Major Crimes Team have been placed in aluminum recycling and Medi-Cal fraud programs while they await their layoffs.
Sara Fraunces, a spokeswoman for the King family, told Patch the SAFE Task Forces statewide have a direct connection to the success of Chelsea’s Law.
The task forces audit registered sex offenders for compliance with court orders and they work in conjunction with law enforcement. Sometimes audits lead to arrests and the checks have helped with investigations of kidnappings and rapes in San Diego County, sheriff’s Lt. Jim Bolwerk told Patch.
Chelsea’s Law imposes a sentence of life without parole for the most violent sex offenders as well as increased limitations on sex offenders on parole.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Jerry Brown, Elizabeth Ashford, told Patch recently, “Our office is certainly sympathetic to the King family, as they’ve suffered a terrible loss. Deep cuts across state government agencies are, unfortunately, necessary, given California’s multi-billion dollar deficit.”
Local law enforcement told Patch that state agents have a lot of connections and sway when it comes to getting specialized equipment and getting lab work done, especially on weekends, holidays and overnight. In many cases, that kind of immediate attention can make all the difference in apprehending criminals. Agents can also cross county lines, which makes them a valuable resource.
Statewide, agents of the Major Crimes Team have helped investigate the deaths of Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Laci Peterson and Sandra Cantu. In San Diego County, they assisted in cases including slain teens Chelsea King and Amber Dubois as well as the death of Rebecca Zahau in Coronado, the homicide of Carlsbad resident Kathy Scharbarth and the staged disappearance of an El Cajon woman, Sara Rafou, according to law enforcement sources and court records.
The agents are victims of a $71 million cut to general fund support for the Division of Law Enforcement. At the time the 2011-2012 budget passed, there was still six months of revenue to keep the agents in their jobs, but now the layoffs are imminent.
In June 2011 Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a statement saying the cuts would eliminate many, if not all, of the 55 state task forces targeting criminal gangs and drug trafficking organizations.
“These budget cuts handcuff the state Department of Justice’s ability to fight gang violence and disrupt the flow of drugs, guns and human beings across our border,” she stated.
“The cuts were devastating,” a spokeswoman for Harris, Lynda Gledhill, told Patch this week.
Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) told Patch from Sacramento on Tuesday, “While the attorney general and I don’t always agree, I respected the truthfulness she showed by calling out Gov. Jerry Brown for crippling California’s statewide anti-gang and drug trafficking operations.”
Initially, 203 state agents were due to lose their jobs, but the number has been reduced to 91 through the closure of three offices and other internal cost savings. That figure could continue to change, according to the attorney general’s staff on Tuesday.
Six state agents worked on the Major Crimes Team in San Diego County. Two additional state agents are still working on the SAFE Task Force, pending the layoffs expected next month.
In an email to Patch, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis described the Major Crimes Team as “highly-trained and experienced agents who were instrumental on the Chelsea King murder investigation and John Gardner Task force.”
Gardner was convicted in the deaths of Chelsea and another San Diego County teen, Amber Dubois, in 2010.
“The cutbacks will affect our ability to investigate and prosecute sexual predators, hate crimes, human trafficking, gang crime, cross-border violence, kidnapping and murders,” Dumanis told Patch. “It’s disappointing that the legislature didn’t allow the Attorney General to determine where to make budget cuts with her own agency, which may have spared these particular investigative resources.”
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore echoed Dumanis’ concerns.
“My concern is that the governor directed the attorney general to make the cuts. We asked him to let her make the cuts within her own department herself. At least he’s trying to make honest cuts and not using smoke and mirrors like (some of his predecessors). The analogy is that the Board of Supervisors might make cuts to my funding but they don’t tell me where to make the cuts in my department.”
Gore said that having state special agents involved in the Chelsea King investigation meant that law enforcement was able to “work around the clock and have access to the Department of Justice lab in northern California.”
Regarding the state agent who is commander of the local SAFE Task Force, Gore said, “It has been valuable to have a DOJ person lead the SAFE Task Force in San Diego, but the Sheriff’s Department will likely run it now. I won’t let it go away.”
The 2011-2012 state budget showed a $26.6 billion dollar deficit. Gov. Brown’s proposed 2012-2013 budget, released this week, indicates a projected $9.2 billion deficit. (Summaries of both are attached to this story, along with a letter from Brent King to the governor.) There is a restoration of some of the money, however jobs remain on the cutting block.
Here is the language from the budget provided to Patch by the Governor's Office:
From the Budget A Pages: "The 2012 Budget Act eliminated $71.5 million in General Fund support for the Division of Law Enforcement. The Budget partially restores the Division of Law Enforcement and creates the California Bureau of Special Investigations through an augmentation of $11.8 million ($4.9 million General Fund and $6.9 million other funds) beginning in 2012-13. Specifically, this funding would allow the DOJ to continue special investigations, prosecute foreign crimes, and address a backlog of entries in the Armed Prohibited Persons System."
The commander of the San Diego County SAFE Task Force, David Collazo —who faces a potential February layoff—told Patch that agents across the state are hoping funds will be found to keep all of their jobs.
“No one wants to get laid off, especially in this economy. With all the other agencies laying off, there’s really nowhere to go,” he said.
Deputy District Attorney Bob Amador is one of the DA’s two liaisons to law enforcement. He told Patch that the state agents who have worked in San Diego County over the past three years have provided “significant assistance, increasing law enforcement manpower by 20 percent.”
La Mesa Police Chief Ed Aceves told Patch how the Major Crimes Team helped during the disappearance of Sara Rafou. “They did phone traces for us. There’s no way we would have solved that crime in that 12-hour time frame without them. They’ve helped us on a couple of homicide cases and a robbery over the years. They’re an invaluable team and we’ll all miss them in San Diego.”
Retired San Diego sheriff’s homicide Lt. Dennis Brugos, who has a 30-year career in law enforcement, summed up for Patch the type of personality exhibited by the state agents he has worked with.
“To go into this line of work, you have to be passionate about solving a case,” Brugos said. “These guys were passionate.”
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego) introduced Chelsea’s Law into the legislature. Patch contacted his office for a comment but he was not available within the time constraints of this story.