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Slaying of four Oakland officers raises concerns about parole system [UPDATED]

March 23, 2009 |  1:53 pm

Lovelle Mixon Lovelle Mixon spent much of the last decade cycling in and out of state prison. His last stint ended in November, when he was released on parole.

When two Oakland motorcycle officers pulled him over Saturday afternoon, he was a wanted man again –- this time for missing an appointment with his parole officer. Authorities now accuse Mixon, 26, of opening fire on the two officers, killing them and later two SWAT officers who stormed the apartment in which he was hiding.

The case is raising new questions about the state’s parole system, which critics have long complained does a poor job of monitoring offenders once they leave prison.

There are more than 16,725 people on the street in California wanted on various parole violations -– including 164 in Oakland and 6,532 in Los Angeles County.

California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, a former mayor of Oakland, said authorities have long struggled to monitor the movements of offenders such as Mixon –- violent offenders with a pattern of reoffending.

“I think that’s one of the darker secrets of the whole prison industry, that the ... people who are let out are not well supervised in many cases, although not all,” Brown said. “The supervision isn’t there. The surveillance isn’t there. The job training and preparation is not there.”

Officials fear the problem will get worse if budget cuts cause the early release of more inmates from jails and prisons.

There are about 140,000 paroles in California, according to the state Department of Corrections. About 12% of them violate the terms of their parole and become “at large.” Warrants are issued for their arrest, but many remain on the streets for weeks and months.

The parole officer handling Mixon’s case was responsible for 70 parolees, 17 of which were classified as being high-risk.

Brown said Oakland police spend much time looking for parolees at large, taking away from their other crime-fighting duties.

“When I was mayor, there was a third of the parolees, from the moment they get to Oakland, they’re on the run,” he said. “That then burdens the police with having to chase them as well as doing their other work.”

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca said his department is also dealing with the burden of tracking paroles at large. Baca said local authorities need to work more closely with parolees to get them reintegrated into community life, including finding jobs.

Ryken Grattet, a UC Davis professor who has written extensively about California’s parole system, called the kind of violence seen in Oakland “extraordinary.”

During 2003 and 2004 there were 254,468 people under parole supervision across the state and they were responsible for 296,958 violations. Only 14,246 of those violations involved violent crimes such as murder, rape and robbery.

"What just happened in Oakland is a really an extraordinary event," Grattet said. "Even for this fairly hardened criminal population, this type of violence is really extraordinary."

UPDATED, 2:50 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the suspected gunman as Curtis Mixon.

-- Andrew Blankstein, Maria L. LaGanga and Garrett Therolf

Photo: Lovelle Mixon. Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation