A.M. Splash: Santorum in Fairfield; Hoodies for Legislators; Berkeley Police Chief Free Speech Controversy

Republican leaders and voters, frustrated by their party’s prolonged presidential contest, are increasingly coalescing behind front-runner Mitt Romney. Yet Rick Santorum on Thursday urged conservatives not to forsake their principles under pressure. He did so by conjuring the memory of Ronald Reagan, still the conservative icon, at an oddly symbolic place: the jelly bean factory that created the former president’s favorite treats.

California lawmakers donned hoodies Thursday in the Capitol to express outrage over the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black teen shot to death by a self-styled neighborhood watch leader in a case that has generated an impassioned national debate about race and justice. The lawmakers, led by the legislative Black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander caucuses, adjourned in memory of Martin as pressure grew around the country for Florida authorities to file charges against the alleged killer, George Zimmerman.

On Tuesday, minutes after the end of a Berkeley Police Department promotion ceremony, reporters rushed over to interview Chief Michael Meehan. The journalists were not interested in details about the promotions. Instead, they pushed their microphones and cameras close to Chief Meehan and pressed him for more information about his decision to send a sergeant to the house of an Oakland Tribune reporter in the middle of the night on March 9 to press for changes to an article about Chief Meehan’s department’s response to a crime.

The federal government will begin closing hundreds of Bay Area deportation cases in June, allowing some illegal immigrants a partial reprieve if they have strong community ties and no criminal record. The Executive Office for Immigration Review this summer will suspend the daily schedule of the San Francisco immigration court, one of the busiest in the nation, to allow a team of federal attorneys to scour the entire caseload for low-priority deportation cases to drop, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security obtained by this newspaper.

Inspector Ken Esposto is looking forward to retirement after 31 years on the San Francisco police force. He has spent the past seven of them working mostly by himself, staring at a computer screen in a closed room. Earlier this month he began training his replacement, Officer Andrea Weyl, an energetic 33-year-old who is willing to trade the excitement of chasing criminals on the street for Esposto’s lonely work.

City leaders here are confronting a rash of murders even as they consider a bankruptcy filing that could bring further cuts to an already shrunken police force. This city of 292,000 residents 80 miles east of San Francisco reported 58 murders last year, up from 49 in 2010, and more than double the 24 in 2008, placing it among dozens of U.S. cities seeing a reversal in the long national trend of falling crime. And like other cash-starved cities, Stockton has recently laid off police officers.

Nine public elementary schools in San Francisco and six on the Peninsula were among the 2012 California Distinguished Schools announced by the state Thursday. The 387 schools were recognized for innovative programs helping to close the achievement gap between the test scores of black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers.

Today’s $540 million lottery jackpot is being called the largest prize “in the history of the world,” and the milestone isn’t lost on fortune-seeking San Franciscans. At 19th Avenue Liquors in the Sunset district — identified by the California Lottery as one of The City’s lucky vendors due to having sold winning tickets in 1987 and 1996 — there has been a tenfold boost in sales of Mega Millions tickets. Owner Elias “Big Lou” Shamieh said the line could be out the door and around the corner by the end of the workday today.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration vowed Thursday to continue pushing forward elements of the federal health care overhaul in California, even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes it down. If the court does rule the federal law unconstitutional, state Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley said California should at least consider enacting its own universal health care legislation, including requiring every Californian to buy insurance.

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