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    Feather Alert notification system for missing Native Americans touted
    • March 25, 2023

    Law enforcement and tribal officials from across the state gathered Friday, March 24, in San Bernardino to tout the state’s newest emergency notification system, this one designed to alert the public in real time when Indigenous people go missing under suspicious circumstances.

    The Feather Alert system took effect on Jan. 1 as a result of Assembly Bill 1314, authored by Assemblymember James Ramos, D-Highland. California’s law enforcement agencies and Highway Patrol will activate the alerts whenever a Native American goes missing.

    During a news conference at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Ramos said California now ranks seventh in the nation for unsolved Native American homicides and homicides not investigated.

    “The toleration of sitting back and doing nothing is not an option,” Ramos said. “We moved forward with the state Legislature and implemented Feather Alert.”

    Friday’s news conference was followed by a round table summit on the Feather Alert system in the sheriff’s conference room.

    Assemblymember James Ramos, D-Highland, hosted a news conference and roundtable summit on Friday, March 24 at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to announce a state Controller’s audit on the effectiveness of Proposition 47 in San Bernardino and Riverside counties and implemnetation of the new Feather Alert emergency notification system for missing Indigenous persons. (Photo by Joe Nelson/SCNG)

    Charles Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, speaks during a roudtable summit on the new Feather Alert system at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department on Friday, March 24. (Photo by Joe Nelson/SCNG)

    San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus discusses the negative impacts of Prop. 47 and the benefits of the state’s new Feather Alert system during a news conference Friday at the Sheriff’s Department in San Bernardino. (Photo by Joe Nelson/SCNG)

    Capt. Ken Roberts, Amber Alert coordinator for the California Highway Patrol, speaks about the new Feather Alert notification system during a news conference Friday at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department headquarters in San Bernardino. (Photo by Joe Nelson/SCNG)




    Capt. Ken Roberts, Ambert Alert coordinator for the California Highway Patrol, said the Feather Alert has been added to an already robust alerting system that includes the Amber Alert, Endangered Missing Persons Alert, Silver Alert — activated when an elderly, developmentally or cognitively impaired person goes missing and is determined to be at-risk — and the Blue Alert, when a law enforcement officer is killed or seriously injured and their assailant has fled.

    “This just adds to the tool belts to help and assist the allied agencies that investigate the missing persons, and we’re able to get out real-time information to the public,” Roberts said.

    Charles Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, said, “We have created a powerful new tool for protecting tribal communities. Implementation of the Feather Alert is a critical step forward in addressing the deadly epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people in California.”

    He said Indigenous women are murdered at a rate that is 10 times the national average, and Native Americans experience disproportionately higher rates of abduction and violent crimes.

    “When any person goes missing, every second counts,” Martin said. “The public and law enforcement notifications that will be issued by the Feather Alert system will provide communities and law enforcement with critical real-time information.”

    An article published by the University of North Dakota School of Law in 2021, titled “Silent Crisis,” noted that while the number of Native American men, women and children who have disappeared or been murdered is difficult to gauge, data gleaned from the Sovereign Bodies Institute’s database contained 4,754 cases in the U.S. and Canada of missing and murdered Indigenous women as of August 2021.

    Proposition 47 audit

    Ramos also announced the launching of a state controller’s audit on the effectiveness of Proposition 47 in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The law, which reduced some drug possession and property crimes offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, has generated fierce criticism and opposition from the law enforcement community since its passage in 2014.

    The key arguments by law enforcement is that the law, known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, simply has not served its purpose and has led to spikes in crime, mainly property crimes such as commercial burglary and theft.

    Ramos said he took his proposal Tuesday before the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit, which approved the audit. He said the audit is the first of its kind since Proposition 47 was passed.

    “Today, we are gathered in effort to promote the efficiency of public safety in ensuring all our families in San Bernardino and Riverside County are put first,” Ramos said.

    While the law was meant, in part, to ensure offenders participate in drug rehabilitation programs instead of serving long stints in jail or prison, many law enforcement officials said the effort has proved somewhat futile.

    Sheriff Shannon Dicus said the state needs to take a hard look at the overall impact Proposition 47 has had on society and make the necessary adjustments.

    “After nine years, the unintended consequences of Prop. 47 continue to affect the quality of life in our communities,” Dicus said. “We continue to see increases in the homeless population, increases in the number of our residents battling with mental health issues and substance abuse issues, and increases in theft-related offenses.”

    From 2021 to 2022, the county experienced a 36% increase in commercial burglaries, a 55% percent increase in thefts from merchants, and a 25% increase in grand thefts, Dicus said.

    “Prop. 47 was titled the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, and from our perspective, I can assure you, our schools in our neighborhoods are far from any safer,” said Grant Ward, president of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Benefit Association. “It’s time to do something different, and this audit if the first step to getting that done.”

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    One of the things Proposition 47 did was increase the threshold for felony grand theft from $400 to $950, which left many in law enforcement wincing.

    “Thieves can take up to $950 worth of property and only face a misdemeanor charge. These misdemeanors are dealt with through a citation,” Dicus said. “If the suspect is taken to jail, they are released soon after processing, to repeat the process all over again. Unfortunately, theft has been normalized. Thieves now look at this as an easy career path.”

    Dicus acknowledged, however, that for some drug- or alcohol-addicted criminal offenders, jail or drug court is the best option for detoxing, getting into treatment programs and even continuing their education.

    But Proposition 47 sabotages those efforts by allowing offenders to get off lightly, only likely to reoffend.

    “Why would you go into a rehabilitation center when you can just walk out of the court?” Ward asked. “While the original intent of Prop. 47 was, in fact, to bring more treatment to those in need and less jail time, it’s clear that that just isn’t happening.”

    ​ Orange County Register