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Disagreeing With the LA Times Over Foster Coverage: the Sequel

November 22nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



THE LA TIMES AND PROTECTING CHILDREN

On Sunday, the LA Times ran a well-thought out editorial about the kind of self-examination we need to start demanding of LA County’s Department of Family and Children Services—foster care—if its director, Trish Ploehn, is indeed on the way out, as some—including the Times—have suggested.

But before we discuss the new LA Times editorial….

FIRST, A WORD OR TWO ABOUT LAST WEEK’S QUARREL WITH THE TIMES OVER FOSTER CARE COVERAGE

To recap: on Friday afternoon, I wrote nearly 2500 words in Part 2 of a rebuttal to David Louter’s rebuttal of what Daniel Heimpel and I wrote last week in criticism of elements of the Times’ recent coverage of DCFS in particular, and the California foster care system in general. (Part 1 of WLA’s rebuttal to the LA Times rebuttal is here.)

When I reread my newest tortuous, point by point, response to Louter’s response, while I thought it well-researched and reasoned, it bored me to the point of screaming and I believe would have bored you too.

So I didn’t post it.

Here’s the bottom line: I criticized the LA Times, as did Daniel Heimpel—not because the Times reported on the horrific incidences of kids being killed while under the eye of DCFS, along with the department’s ongoing dysfunction, which of course was essential to investigate—but for failing to do so in such a way that would not, erroneously, give the impression to panicky policy makers that the solution was to take lots more kids away from parents and push them into the foster care system. We were concerned that, in an effort to cure one terrible set of wrongs, the Times risked triggering a reactive policy that would do damage to thousands of kids who would be shoved unnecessarily into a callous and often life-ruining system.

Among the specific problems that Heimpel and I focused on was the fact that the Times pulled out of context a single set of numbers—one of many figures in a series of reports issue by Charles Ferguson, the official state evaluator for the 2007-instituted foster care funding strategy known as the Title IV-E Waiver.

The numbers in question were these: In the year following the start of the waiver, among kids who were in a household where there was some kind of substantiated case of abuse or neglect, re-abuse of those same kids rose from 9.6 percent in 2007 to 11.4 percent in 2008, the year following the beginning of the waiver. Taken alone and out of context of past years, those stats suggested that the waiver system was causing a lot more kids to get hurt than in the pre-waiver days.

However, in the five years before the waiver began, the re-abuse rate went as high as 11.9 and bounced consistently in the 10 and 11 percent range, a set of facts that changes the meaning of those 2007-08 numbers radically.

Of course anything but a continuing drop toward zero in re-abuse is deeply dismaying, and tells us that DCFS is not even close to adequately protecting children. But misreading that isolated rise as a sign that the waiver is causing more kids to get hurt, wreaks havoc with any kind of reasoned and fact-based analysis.

(If you want the details go back to the original critique of mine here, Heimpel’s here, the Times article in question here, and Charlie Ferguson’s report here. FYI: I talked at length to Ferguson late last week, who confirmed that, without context, the use of the stats was misleading.)

However, instead of addressing those central issues, Louter ignored our main areas of criticism, like the use of the Ferguson report, and quarreled with minor points. (Which, as I said above, I spent time madly refuting, until I got a grip on myself.)

Louter also attacked Heimpel and me personally, saying we would choose to keep kids in abusive homes, just to serve some whacked out ideological notion that demanded kids be kept out of the system, no matter how great the cost. (So would we let them get killed too, or just let them get abused? I’m curious where Louter imagines I/we would draw the line.)

He also said that, if we had our collective way, “a news organization that finds evidence of mismanagement or poor execution of policies should say nothing for fear of how a panicked bureaucracy might respond.”

This is, of course, laughable.

So, instead of having a productive, if contentious, conversation, Louter went straight into defense mode and proceeded to throw random projectiles at us (metaphorically speaking).

(NOTE: While Louter’s additions to the dialogue were irritating at best, I did have a couple of productive private conversations with reporter Garrett Therolf. While we still disagreed on much, the mutual exchange of information and perspectives could not help but be a good thing.)

….WHICH BRINGS ME TO SUNDAY’S LA TIMES EDITORIAL ABOUT DCFS…

….which was refreshingly smart, nuanced, well thought out, and detailed.

Here are a couple of clips:

….Moreover, though child deaths are the most tragic consequence of DCFS ineffectiveness, the county abounds with stories of children left in squalid conditions, inexplicably reunited with dangerous parents rather than remaining in the hands of caring foster parents, or otherwise mistreated. Thousands of children emerge from foster care in this county healthy and bound for productive futures; for too many, however, it remains a perilous system, frightening and mean.

The service that today’s DCFS provides is alarmingly uneven. Some of its 18 field offices are well regarded and fully staffed, and appear to be successfully protecting children. Others have vacancies and long backlogs in processing even emergency cases, as well as a toxic combination of burned-out workers and inexperienced ones. In one recent period studied by the county, the West San Fernando Valley regional office processed all of its emergency referrals on time, while the Compton office missed the 60-day deadline in more than 60% of its cases (and that deadline is twice as lenient as in most parts of California, where foster care agencies are expected to handle emergency referrals within 30 days). One likely cause of Compton’s inexcusable backlog: Nearly a third of the city’s social workers have been on the job for less than two years.

Discipline is similarly spotty, and the county’s recent study concluded that directors of the regional offices spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with problem workers, another symptom of mismanagement. The county needs to set clear expectations for its employees, and it needs to fire those who fail.

The rest is equally substantive, with an eye toward how complex and tragic this foster care mess really is. Moreover, the Times presented their points in such a way that begs for more conversation with an eye toward real solutions.

Thank you, LA Times editorial board. Please keep it coming.

Posted in Foster Care, Los Angeles Times | 4 Comments »

The LA Times Replies to Criticism Over DCFS Coverage – Part 1

November 19th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Late afternoon on Wednesday, Assistant Managing Editor David Lauter,
who oversees state and local reporting for the LA Times, responded to the concerns and criticism raised this week by me, Daniel Heimpel and others about some of Garrett Therolf’s reporting for the Times on child deaths within the foster care system and what those deaths suggest about the functioning of the system itself.

I appreciate the fact that David Lauter took the time and thought to craft a detailed response. Dialogue on issues this crucial and complex should be very much welcomed by all of us.

I have also exchanged emails and a phone call with Garrett Therolf, which I appreciate as well.

Naturally I have some disagreements with what David Lauter wrote.

Since it is the wee hours of the morning as I type this (and a puppy will soon get me up very early), I’m going to present Louter’s response—and my response to his response—in two parts.

You’ll find the first half below. I’ll have the second half very soon. So check back.


THE LA TIMES REPLIES (AND WLA REPLIES BACK) – PART 1

LOUTER: In writing about these topics, The Times has ventured into an arena where emotions run high. Social workers dealing with abused and neglected children labor at one of society’s most difficult jobs, often facing an array of bad choices from which they must try to choose the least bad. On the subject of when — and how often — to remove children from their parents and put them in foster care, many people who work within the system have deeply held ideological positions honed over years of debate.

In recent weeks, some officials in the county bureaucracy as well as some writers who have a long-standing position in favor of keeping children out of foster care — even if that means leaving them with abusive parents — have taken to criticizing The Times’ stories.

WLA: Boy is that ever a straw man you just set up and knocked down, David. Nowhere in anything I’ve written even marginally suggests a “position [longstanding or otherwise] of keeping children out of foster care”—especially if that means leaving them with abusive parents. The notion is beyond preposterous.

However, I am very much against removing kids from a parent or parents who are non-abusive and basically decent, and deeply traumatizing the children in the process. I have seen that happen a depressing number of times over the years, several of those instances while reporting at very close range.

DCFS—foster care—is an essential agency. We all know that. When parents can’t or won’t take care of their children safely, we in the greater community must step in and protect the child’s well being. Often that means removing a child from his or her parents either temporarily or permanently. At other times, it means helping a struggling family right itself rather than shattering it, with the kids the most shattered of all.

LOUTER: The critics have raised some statistical issues, on which they are simply mistaken. We detail the facts below.

Many of these critics also make an argument about what they call “social worker panic.” According to this line of thinking, a news organization that pays attention to policy or management problems at a child welfare agency generally will make matters worse because social workers, feeling themselves under scrutiny, will invariably overreact, putting more children at risk. Presumably, in the view of these critics, a news organization that finds evidence of mismanagement or poor execution of policies should say nothing for fear of how a panicked bureaucracy might respond.


WLA: “... Presumably, in the view of these critics, a news organization that finds evidence of mismanagement or poor execution of policies should say nothing for fear of how a panicked bureaucracy might respond…”

Seriously? That’s really the point you think I/we were making? That if a reporter or a news organization finds evidence of wrongdoing y’all should just keep quiet?

You’re kidding right?

Oh, I get it. A second strawman propped up and whacked to the ground.

For the record, I’ve never used—or thought of using—the term “social worker panic,” but be that as it may.

The panic we were concerned about is among policy makers, pushed by a public panic, and thus public pressure—a notoriously toxic combo that has historically produced lousy policy, and a wake of collateral damage.

No one suggested that you report less,. I/we are urging you to report better, and with the kind of nuance and context that could lead to positive policy changes, not knee-jerk reactive pressure to “crack down” in this or that, with children harmed in the process.

[MORNING NOTE: Not that I'm suggesting you are urging the crack down, just that it can be the by-product when readers and policy makers do not have the broader view. We've seen it happen repeatedly in the realm of criminal justice.]


LOUTER: We’ll let readers decide for themselves whether that line of argument seems reasonable.

WLA: That would be the false argument you’ve just advanced?

LAUTER: In the meantime, we’d like to set the record straight on some serious statistical issues that have been carelessly bandied about by some critics of The Times’ stories.


PART 2—THE FACTS AND FIGURES—COMING shortly. (Here’s a link to the whole reply by David Louter.)

Posted in Foster Care, Los Angeles Times | 25 Comments »

Must Reads – Thursday

November 18th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


PRISON FRENZY AND DRUG WAR A HUGE DRAG ON THE ECONOMY A NEW REPORT SAYS

Denver Westword writes of a new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research called Ex-Offenders and the Labor Market.

According to statistics compiled by the Justice Policy Institute, the number of inmates in state prisons for drug offenses increased by 550 percent over the past two decades. While the billions spent on incarcerating drug offenders is already well-documented, Schmitt’s study seeks to gauge the impact of millions of ex-offenders, no longer readily employable because of their felony records, hitting the job market.

The figures are alarming. Roughly one in 33 working-age adults has been in prison. (For males in the 30-34 age range, it’s more like one in ten.) Because a felony conviction has a dramatic effect on job prospects — even for low-paying jobs that require little education — the study’s authors estimate that the swelling population of ex-offenders lowered employment in 2008 by as much as 1.7 million workers, costing the economy as much as $65 billion in diminished output.

The report’s authors suggest sentencing reform (naturally, anyone sensible would).


ACLU SUES STATE OF MICHIGAN SAYING THAT LIFE SENTENCES FOR KIDS CONSTITUTE CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT

This is one of a number such challenges around the country. The ACLU hopes to push this case through to SCOTUS. The Detroit Free Press has the story.

The ACLU sued the State of Michigan today on behalf of nine people who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole for crimes they committed as juveniles

[SNIP]

“These life without parole sentences ignore the very real differences between children and adults, abandoning the concepts of redemption and second chances,” Deborah Labelle, lawyer for the ACLU of Michigan’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative, said in a statement accompanying the suit.

“As a society, we believe children do not have the capacity to handle adult responsibilities, so we don’t allow them to use alcohol, join the Army, serve on a jury or vote — yet we sentence them to the harshest punishment we have in this state — to die in adult prisons,” Labelle added.


FOUR LOKO BANNED IN THIRD STATE

Evidently getting drunk and over-caffeinated by drinking a single canned beverage is not terribly good for one’s health. (Well, there’s a shocker.)

Neon Tommy’s Callie Schweitzer has the story of the new idiotic drink that has just been banned in Washington State in addition to Michigan and Oklahoma.

(Schweitzer reports that one 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko is said to contain the equivalent of four or five beers and the caffeine in two cups of coffee.)


NO INSIGHTS YET INTO THE MYSTERY OF RONNIE CHASON’S MURDER

As many in LA did, I’d known PR maven Ronnie Chasen for years. Not well at all. Mostly professionally. But enough to like and respect her.

That she was shot five times and killed on a Beverly Hills street seems bizarre and incomprehensible.

The LA Times reports that Beverly Hills police still have little idea what happened and why. They are hoping that video tapes from local businesses will help.

The Wrap has more.


THE FEDS LOOKING INTO SAM ZELL’S EMPLOYEE STOCK DEAL

“Well now, this could get interesting fast,writes LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick of the Chicago Tribune’s report about the U.S. Labor Department investigation of the Tribune Company employee stock ownership plan that played a bit part in the $8 billion leveraged buyout that gave Sam Zell control of the company in 2007. Roderick writers that Court filings show that the Internal Revenue Service also has audited the ESOP, ‘which Zell employed in the novel transaction to shield Tribune Co. from sizeable tax obligations once it went private…’”

Yep. It could get really interesting.


HARRIS’S LEAD OVER COOLEY STILL GROWING

Harris is around 30,000 votes ahead as of very early Thursday morning.

Posted in ACLU, Must Reads | 17 Comments »

Is the LA Times Coverage of DCFS in Danger of Endangering Kids?

November 17th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The headline above may sound a bit alarmist,
but a growing number of those knowledgeable about LA’s foster care system—and foster care in general—are asking that same question but in far harsher terms.

Richard Wexler, director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, has written a bunch of blog posts angrily criticizing the Times’ coverage of the issue.

In an op ed published in late October Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich accused the Times’ coverage of fueling panic.

Still more is being said by others behind the scenes.

The most recent person to publicly criticize the Times coverage is award-winning journalist, Daniel Heimpel, who is now the director of the nonprofit, Fostering Media Connections.

Heimpel’s article for the Huffington Post on Tuesday accuses the LA Times and its reporter, Garrett Therolf, of cherry-picking stats and numbers out of context, or outright misreporting facts to fit an incendiary thesis that risks doing damage to the kids it purports to want to protect.

Moreover, Heimpel’s research and reporting-on-the-reporting—including re-interviewing people quoted by the Times— is much too solid and detailed to ignore.

First some back story: The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf covers the troubled Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services—or DCFS—and other county issues. DCFS is an extremely challenging beat and Therolf has had a number of high profile, front page stories in the last year about kids who have been killed by those who should have protected them.

Certainly it is essential for the paper to write about these horrifying deaths, but tragedies without context can lead to a panicky public, which can, in turn, lead to very bad policy.

Instead of context, however, Therolf followed up a dramatic string of stories that suggest that DCFS has deliberately hidden the number of kids who have died on its watch.

As I reported last month :

Therolf laid much of the problem at the feet of a comparatively new program called the Title IV-E Waiver, under which LA County agreed to cap the sum of funds it can receive for foster care services, no matter how many kids it takes into its care. The “waiver” as it is called, was part of a series of reforms put in place in the last decade, this one aimed at fixing the previous system that in essence fiscally incentivized the county to take kids away from their families—because the more kids taken away, the more bucks the county received.

As predicted, the capped funds waiver system has gotten the Department of Family and Children Services to take fewer kids out of their homes. Instead, DCFS has pushed to help the kids and their families toward health and safety without removal—thus allowing the children to remain in place, but still under county supervision.

The Times suggests that more child injury and deaths have resulted.

Unfortunately, according to a number of sources and experts, many of Therolf’s supporting facts range from very fuzzy to downright inaccurate—and seem to be immune to correction—all of which Daniel Heimpel details in his story.

Here’s how it opens:

Los Angeles Times’ reckless coverage of child deaths threatens the very children we trust it intends to protect.

Publishing the details of a child’s death must only serve one purpose – to save the next child. That righteous goal requires a newspaper’s ability to stare the human evil that allows children to die squarely in the face, understand it and describe how to surmount it. Anything less invites dangerous irresponsibility.

Through the summer and into fall, the Los Angeles Times has ratcheted up coverage of the County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), asserting an increase in the number of children who have died on the Department’s watch. Many of these stories are laced with the names of children and the brutality of their deaths. But for all the words, all the horror, the reader is left without any context to what the numbers mean and without any explanation of how to make the dying stop.

Instead, one finds the upward trend in child deaths built on contested, murky numbers, requests from sources to correct errors disregarded and the theory explaining the suggested jump based in conjecture, its only anchor a data point taken widely out of context. The Times’ myopic, misleading and reckless reporting has sparked a misinformed panic, posing a very real threat to many of Los Angeles’ most vulnerable children. And on a grander scale, if this incomplete coverage is unmatched by sober analysis, it threatens the very reforms that have helped so many foster children up to this point.

Then in the rest of the story, he takes apart large chunks of Therof’s reporting, point by point.

For example, he shows how Therolf built much of his thesis (that when DCFS began removing fewer children from their families, this resulted in more injuries to kids) around a single figure taken egregiously without context from a 120 page report–nevermind that other crucial numbers could be construed to say the opposite.

Elsewhere Heimpel writes that “headlines starting in mid-October cite “confidential documents” showing the numbers of child deaths resulting from abuse and neglect rising from 18 in 2008, to 26 in 2009 and stating that there were already 21 maltreatment deaths within the first eight months of 2010. ” But what the Times neglected to explain was that the state definition of death by abuse and neglect was broadened under a new state law to include suicide, drownings and other unintended deaths.

The Times also ignores the stats reported by the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) “the one consistent outside auditor of child deaths over the past three decades,” which showed the number deaths of children with DCFS histories actually dropped from 20 in 1998 to 14 in 2008—further suggesting that the 2009-2010 rise was an artifact of the mandated redefinition, not that more kids were dying.

Perhaps that pesky fact would have made for less compelling headlines.

In addition, Heimpel notes other things—like the matter of Therolf reporting that Michael Gennaco, head of the county’s Office of Independent Review , “found [DCFS] inappropriately hid dozens of cases [of child death] from public view. ”

Except that, according to Gennaco, who is generally a straight shooter, he said no such thing, nor did he have findings of such.

Gennaco went so far as to send an email (which I have obtained) to the LA Times to clear up the error, and which the Times and Therolf ignored.

Instead, within a week, Therolf published a new article in which he reported what Gennaco says he did not say.

And there is a lot more.


Listen: I realize that all of these articles-–Daniel Heimpel’s included—can seem like so much inside baseball to those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the foster care politics.

But much is at stake when the state’s largest newspaper starts using some high profile tragedies to push—without adequate factual basis and no visible thoughtful consideration—for a change in policy that would result in more kids snatched unnecessarily from non-abusive families into the trauma that is foster care.

“In the name of helping children,” said Heimpel when we talked on Tuesday about the Times’ coverage, ” it may very well result in a lot more children to be hurt.”

I asked Heimpel what he hoped would come of his criticism of Therolf and company.

He paused. “Sober thought and analysis,” he said finally. “That’s what I hope this moment brings.”

Posted in Foster Care, Los Angeles Times | 7 Comments »

Race and Gender Affects Treatment of Parole Violators

November 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


On Sunday, the LA Times reported that the U.S. Justice Department
believes that the Los Angeles Police Department could do a lot more to combat racial profiling by its officers.

In this regard, the LAPD is hardly unique.

On Monday, the well-respected Washington DC-based Sentencing Project released a report that talks about the troubling extent of the problem of racial profiling throughout the country.

In particular The Sentencing Project spotlighted a new study by Joan Petersilia, along with Jeffrey Lin and Ryken Grattet, which has found that non-law-breaking elements like race, ethnicity and gender greatly affect the likelihood that parole violators will be re-imprisoned.

The results found by Petersilia and her colleagues indicate that men and parolees of color are more likely than women and white parolees to be returned to prison.

It is important to know that Petersilia is arguably the best regarded expert on parole and reentry in the nation, and not someone who arrives at a conclusion lightly.

“Using data from the California Parole Study,” writes the Sentencing Report, [Petersilia and company's] analysis suggests that parole boards in California exercise a significant amount of discretion in deciding which parole violators are returned to prison and which are permitted to remain in the community. The authors assert that the findings are evidence of a conscious or unconscious bias by parole boards…”

More at the Sentencing Report.

NOTE: On Tuesday, the LA Times editorial is all about the issue of racial profiling.


MEANWHILE, DETAILS UNFOLD ABOUT THE MURDER OF THE RIVERSIDE POLICE OFFICER

The more we hear about the murder of Riverside police officer Ryan Bonaminio,
the more painful the story becomes.

Here’s the newest and here.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, LAPD | 32 Comments »

CA Supremes Rule That Illegal Immigrant Students May Pay In State Tuition

November 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


At approximately 10 a.m. Monday, the California Supreme Court handed down a unanimous ruling
concluding that undocumented immigrant students will remain eligible for in-state tuition fees at the state’s colleges and universities, instead of having to pay the higher rates that those out of state must anti-up.

The ruling will assuredly be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and there is no doubt whatsoever that SCOTUS will hear the case.

Interestingly, the ruling was written by Justice Ming W. Chin, considered to be the one of the most conservative justices on the panel, if not the most conservative—so conservative on certain social issues, in fact, that certain progressive activist groups urged voters to mark the NO box next to his name this past November 2. [Access the ruling here.]

(Go Justice Chin. You done good on this one, dude.)

Maura Dolan at the LA Times has more at LA Now. KPCC has quickly put together a show on the ruling. And there will be lots of longer stories later on today.

I’m off to USC shortly but I’ll revisit the issue tonight.


UPDATE – 8:55 pm: The longer articles are coming in. And there will likely more analysis in the next day or so. But for the basics of the ruling, the LA Times’ Maura Dolan, along with Larry Gordon, still has the best rundown.

Posted in Education, How Appealing, immigration | No Comments »

First All Female Class of Community Intervention Workers Graduates

November 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday night, LA’s Professional Community Intervention Training Institute,
headed by Aquil Basheer, graduated 35 newly-trained and certified “community peacekeepers/violence prevention specialists” including the first ever all female intervention team in the nation, a small, happy cluster of whom is pictured above.

City Council Member Tony Cardenas, LA City Fire Chief Millage Peaks and other officials, plus several hundred community members were gathered at the African American Firefighters Museum at 14th and Central Avenue to cheer on the graduates.

It was a genuinely inspiring night.

I’ll have the full story later in the week.

Posted in Gangs | 1 Comment »

Is the LAPD Working Hard Enough to Root Out Racial Profiling?

November 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


After the federal consent decree, which was put in place in 2001,
was lifted from the LAPD last year. However, the U.S. District Court judge who administered the thing asked the U.S. Justice Department to continue to officially keep tabs on the department in the area of racial profiling, to make sure that adequate progress was being made.

According to a letter obtained by the LA Times, the DOJ folks don’t think the LAPD is doing enough at all. Chief Charlie Beck thinks that the Justice Department is operating on old information. And the Police Commission members don’t agree with each other on the issue.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story:

The U.S. Department of Justice has warned the Los Angeles Police Department that its investigations into racial profiling by officers are inadequate and that some cops still tolerate the practice.

As evidence of the ongoing problem, Justice officials pointed to two LAPD officers who were unknowingly recorded during a conversation with a supervisor being dismissive of racial profiling complaints.

“So, what?” one said, when told that other officers had been accused of stopping a motorist because of his race. The second officer is heard twice saying that he “couldn’t do [his] job without racially profiling.”

The officers’ comments, Justice officials found, spoke to a “perception and attitude of some LAPD officers on the street” and suggested “a culture that is inimical to race-neutral policing.”

Read the rest here.

Assuredly there has been improvement in the department in this realm, however, based on conversations I’ve had in East and South LA in the last couple of months, weeks and days, I would suggest that a great many members of the city’s most crime ridden communities would nonetheless agree with the Feds, more than they would the Chief on this one.


AN OFFICER RESIGNS AFTER BEING ACCUSED OF USING THE LAPD DATABASE TO HELP A KILLER FIND THE WITNESSES AGAINST HIM

This you’ve-got-to-be-kidding level story is also from the LA Times, also by Joel Rubin, together with Jessica Porter.

Here’s how it opens:

A rookie Los Angeles police officer has resigned amid allegations he illegally tapped into a law enforcement computer on behalf of a gang member who was recently convicted of murder.

The officer, Gabriel Morales, 25, was seeking information on two key witnesses who testified at the gang member’s murder trial, according to court records. Morales had been dating the gang member’s sister for several years.

The law enforcement database that police say Morales accessed contains a wide array of personal information on people, including home addresses. Authorities said he made printouts of the information he found.

The gangster reportedly made a little visit to one of the key witnesses and strongly suggested he not testify.

LAPD Union Prez Paul Weber has, to his credit, condemned the alleged actions in the strongest of words.

As well he should. Police have enough trouble getting witnesses to testify against gang members on a good day. Actions such as those of which Gabriel Morales is accused, set back witness cooperation by miles and miles.


POLICE LT. HAS A NEW IDEA FOR REDUCING CRIME AND TERRORISM

The LAPD’s Lt. Sunil Dutta thinks police departments around the country could do a better job in many ways in protecting national security than DHS. He has an Op Ed for the Daily News that explains his idea.

Here’s how it opens:

WE have failed to learn the lessons from the biggest terrorist attack on American soil.

Post-Sept. 11 reviews established that government agencies entrusted with providing security and intelligence for our country had failed. These failures of intelligence and proactive prevention resulted in the World Trade Center bombing, the Fort Hood shooting, and the attempted bombing in Times Square and of an airplane on Christmas Day. Furthermore, during the times of catastrophic events, as evidenced during the Hurricane Katrina and Deepwater Horizon disasters, our public safety system has failed to provide comfort or confidence to the people.

Despite the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, spending billions and moving pieces around, no substantive transformative changes have occurred in the homeland security arena in the last nine years.

There are approximately 18,000 local police agencies in our country, employing just under 800,000 sworn officers. From the DHS, which encompasses 22 different agencies, to the CIA, FBI, state and municipal police agencies, our law enforcement system is beset with conflicts of interest, turf battles, gaps in intelligence sharing, insular mentality, and uneven quality of service to the communities….

Read on here and tell me what you think.

Posted in LAPD, law enforcement | 13 Comments »

Harris Holds Slim Lead for 4th Day…As the Counting Continues

November 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



After Steve Cooley had been lodged in the lead
for most of last week, by Friday when a bunch of LA votes were counted, Kamala Harris suddenly passed Cooley, but she only pulled a little over 5,000 votes ahead.

Saturday and Sunday her lead widened to a little more than 14,000. (This morning it’s at 13, 796.)

As the provisional ballots continue to be tabulated, everyone is watching is the disposition of the 200,000 or so still to be counted in LA County, by far the largest pocket of votes still outstanding.

On the other hand, Cooley is LA’s hometown guy, so…..

And so many of us will remain glued to the slow motion spectacle as it unfolds.

Here’s the chart for the areas have yet to be counted.

The vote has to be certified by December 10, so you’ll be happy to know this cannot go on forever.


This weekend, the LA Weekly noted that the Harris and Cooley’s campaigns were each accusing the other of bad behavior in the tabulating process. The story is here.

Posted in elections | 1 Comment »

Must Read (and Watch): the Friday Edition

November 12th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


WHAT KILLED AIYANA STANLEY-JONES?

Former NY Times Pulitzer winner, Charlie Le Duff, writes about the death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones. But the story is about a zillion more things than the single tragedy of a little girl being killed when Detroit SWAT burst into the wrong apartment and shots for reasons that are still not adequately explained, except that the cops were busy filming a reality show, so maybe got over-hyped up on the Hollywood drama.

Le Duff, who has long been able to write like an angel when he wants to, (and he wants to here), has also woven into the story’s causal threads the multi-leveled miseries of Detroit, as he writes about what one tragedy can teach us about the unraveling of America’s middle class.

Look: you just need to read the thing.

Here is how it opens:

IT WAS JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT on the morning of May 16 and the neighbors say the streetlights were out on Lillibridge Street. It is like that all over Detroit, where whole blocks regularly go dark with no warning or any apparent pattern. Inside the lower unit of a duplex halfway down the gloomy street, Charles Jones, 25, was pacing, unable to sleep.

His seven-year-old daughter, Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Jones, slept on the couch as her grandmother watched television. Outside, Television was watching them. A half-dozen masked officers of the Special Response Team—Detroit’s version of SWAT—were at the door, guns drawn. In tow was an A&E crew filming an episode of The First 48, its true-crime program. The conceit of the show is that homicide detectives have 48 hours to crack a murder case before the trail goes cold. Thirty-four hours earlier, Je’Rean Blake Nobles, 17, had been shot outside a liquor store on nearby Mack Avenue; an informant had ID’d a man named Chauncey Owens as the shooter and provided this address.

The SWAT team tried the steel door to the building. It was unlocked. They threw a flash-bang grenade through the window of the lower unit and kicked open its wooden door, which was also unlocked. The grenade landed so close to Aiyana that it burned her blanket. Officer Joseph Weekley, the lead commando—who’d been featured before on another A&E show, Detroit SWAT—burst into the house. His weapon fired a single shot, the bullet striking Aiyana in the head and exiting her neck. It all happened in a matter of seconds.

“They had time,” a Detroit police detective told me. “You don’t go into a home around midnight. People are drinking. People are awake. Me? I would have waited until the morning when the guy went to the liquor store to buy a quart of milk. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.”

But the SWAT team didn’t wait. Maybe because the cameras were rolling, maybe because a Detroit police officer had been murdered two weeks earlier while trying to apprehend a suspect. This was the first raid on a house since his death……


KPCC REACHES OUT TO INMATE FAMILIES TO EXPLORE THE IMPACT OF LONG AND FREQUENT LOCKDOWNS IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

This is a chronic problem that has gotten worse with the state’s budget woes, as prison dorms and cell blocks are repeatedly put on lockdown after lockdown as a way of saving money in the face of staff cuts (in addition to all the other reasons that prisons are put on lockdown, sometimes questionably, often for way too long.).

Lockdowns mean no visits from family, no phone calls, restricted movement or activities—meaning little or no yard time or anything else that might be deemed constructive or rehabilitative.

I hear about lockdowns all the time anecdotally from family of inmates or from the inmates themselves (once the lockdown is lifted). But there is virtually no reporting on the phenomenon.

So to gather information, KPCC’s Sharon McNary is putting out the word on the web to families:

If you live, work or have loved ones in a California state prison, please help our reporters understand the impact of inmate lockdowns from your perspective.

What do you know about the causes and fallout of prison lockdowns? Who is helped or harmed when the movement, phone access, visitation and other activities of thousands of inmates are restricted for weeks, sometimes months at a time?

Your responses are confidential, nothing you share here is aired or published without your permission. A reporter or producer may call or write for more information.

I look forward to the stories that will come out of this reporting.


THE DAILY BEAST MARRIES NEWSWEEK? UM, OKAY, I GUESS.

Here is the wedding announcement issued by DB’s Tiny Brown:

Some weddings take longer to plan than others. The union of The Daily Beast and Newsweek magazine finally took place with a coffee-mug toast between all parties Tuesday evening, in a conference room atop Beast headquarters, the IAC building on Manhattan’s West 18th Street. The final details were only hammered out last night.

What does this exciting new media marriage mean? It means that The Daily Beast’s animal high spirits will now be teamed with a legendary, weekly print magazine in a joint venture, named The Newsweek Daily Beast Company, owned equally by Barry Diller’s IAC and Sidney Harman, owner (and savior) of Newsweek. As for me, I shall now be in the editor-in-chief’s chair at both The Daily Beast and Newsweek….

And so on.

As media theorist and prof Jay Rosen tweeted last night after the announcement: “Still waiting for the media reporter who would explain the logic.”

Yeah, I’m kinda there with Rosen on that matter.

Meanwhile, an amusing trending topic on Twitter Thursday night was #oddmediamergers.


JON STEWART AND RACHEL MADDOW FOR AN HOUR

As you likely know—or at least you oughta know—Jon Stewart was on the Rachel Maddow Show for nearly an hour Thursday night.

The full hour video may be found here.

I found it riveting.


A NOTE ABOUT THE ABOVE PHOTO: After spending nearly four months in a dogless household following the death of my beautiful 16 1/2 year old wolf dog this past July, I decided it was time to add a new four-footed beast to the family before I got too used to clean rugs and not having to wipe off muddy paws during the rainy season. Enter Lily-the-mini-wolf, who is 8 weeks old as of Thursday and has been residing at my house since late Saturday night.

She and her litter-mates were snatched by a rescue agency from a horrid circumstance involving idiots breeding 50-plus half-starved wolf-dogs in a single house, Lily being one of the 50. She somehow lost half of her tail in the awful place.

I fell in love with the little creature instantly.

Life—in spite of the not sleeping issue and the mistaking of the laptop cord for a chew toy issue—is decidedly better with a new puppy in the house.

(The cat’s a bit unsure about the addition. But he’s coping.)

Anyway, so there you have it. Thank you for listening.

Posted in bears and alligators, Must Reads, wolves | 78 Comments »

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