A modification to California’s prison realignment program has made thousands of newly freed criminals exempt from warrantless compliance searches by police, making it more difficult for officers to check for illegal items like drugs, guns, and stolen property.

The search exemptions are not regularly included in law enforcement databases so street cops say it’s virtually impossible to know whether someone stopped for questioning or visited for a probation check can be legally searched absent other probable cause or a search warrant.

In one recent San Fernando Valley case a judge dismissed the felony prosecution of a career criminal because the evidence had been obtained in a compliance search -- later deemed illegal because the subject had been released from jail with no search conditions.

“Under AB-109 we were under the impression that all [parolees and probationers] had search conditions, but on this case, this individual, did not have search conditions,” said LAPD Sgt. Jessie Garcia, who supervises the Mission Area’s parole compliance unit.

Many law enforcement officers have complained they only discovered this loophole by accident and no training has been provided by county probation departments – charged with managing the realignment caseload.

An AB-109 flow chart provided to some police administrators notes the chance some criminals given probation sentences would not be subject to warrantless searches and advises officers to check with probation officers to verify the terms of a criminal’s release.

“If we are supposed to supervise these AB-109s, and they put the responsibility on us to supervise them, how can we supervise these people if we cannot get into their house,” asked another officer – who said he was shocked to learn about the exemption.

-- Eric Leonard