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Skid Row Injunction May Go to SCOTUS…Fired LAPD Officers Want Cases Reopened

February 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


IN THE MIDST OF TB OUTBREAK ON SKID ROW, LA AUTHORITIES FILE WITH SUPREME COURT TO OVERTURN RULING ON HOMELESS BELONGINGS

Citing the recent outbreak of tuberculosis in downtown LA’s Skid Row, , the City of Los Angeles will try to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to toss an earlier ruling by the 9th Circuit that prevents the random seizure and destruction of belongings that homeless Skid Row residents leave temporarily unattended on public sidewalks.

The LA Times’ Andrew Blankstein and Alexandra Zavis report on the matter. Here are some clips from their story:

The Supreme Court filing comes after two years of legal wrangling between Los Angeles officials and homeless advocates over a controversial campaign to clean up downtown’s skid row, which has the highest concentration of homeless people in the city.

“We have an obligation to the homeless, as well as to the other residents and businesses on skid row, to ensure their health through regularly cleaning skid row’s streets and sidewalks,” City Atty. Trutanich said in a statement. “The current outbreak of tuberculosis among that most vulnerable population should serve as a stern reminder to us all of just who and what is at risk.”

Carol Sobel, who represents the homeless plaintiffs, said the TB outbreak, which has infected nearly 80 people and killed 11, has nothing to do with the property left on the streets. She accused city officials of deliberately allowing conditions to deteriorate in order to bolster their case, saying: “They have a public health issue of their making.”

The dispute began when eight homeless people accused city workers, accompanied by police, of seizing and destroying property they left unattended while they used a restroom, filled water jugs or appeared in court. The seven men and one woman had left their possessions — including identification, medications, cellphones and toiletries — in carts provided by social service groups and in some cases were prevented from retrieving them, Sobel said.

In a 2-1 decision last September, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the belongings the homeless leave on city sidewalks for a short period of time may be taken only if the possessions pose an immediate threat to public health or safety or constitute evidence of a crime. In such cases, the court said, the city may not summarily destroy the possessions and must notify the owners where they can collect them.

This is a tough one. Homeless advocates had long battled the LAPD, whom they said often confiscated and trashed even those homeless-owned possessions that were tidy and clearly not abandoned, but left very temporarily.

On the other hand, Andy Bales, who heads up the Union Rescue Mission and is a deeply compassionate and dedicated advocate for the homeless, told the LA Times reporters that the 9th Circuit’s ruling has had a destructive effect.

Just days after a cleanup, trash and debris begin to pile up again, said Andy Bales, who heads the Union Rescue Mission on skid row.

“We never, ever had to battle that before the injunction, which has taken skid row back at least eight years to before all the improvements,” he said. “It has emboldened people to leave their stuff everywhere.”

It is not clear whether or not the Supremes will take the case, so all this discussion may be for naught.

(If we get news later today or Friday, we’ll update this post.)


YOUTH INCARCERATON DECLINING WITHOUT HARMING PUBLIC SAFETY

In their just published Kids Count data report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the rate of young people locked up because they were in trouble with the law dropped more than 40 percent over a 15-year period—from a high of !07,637 to 70,792 in 2010, with no decrease in public safety.

The report also recommends ways to continue reducing reliance on incarceration and improve the odds for young people involved in the juvenile justice system.

It notes, however, even with the drop, that most of the kids incarcerated are in for nonviolent offenses, and that African American kids are still locked up with great disproportion (as are Hispanic and Native American kids, but not near to the degree that African American kids experience).

NOTE: The Annie E. Casey Foundation is well known for its Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative that helps persuade counties to try programs other than correctional facilities for certain kids, and to establish small, treatment-oriented facilities for those kids who are locked up, using methods that have been proven effective. The results for counties, like Santa Cruz CA, who’ve become models for AECF’s initiative has been extremely encouraging in terms of drops in youth incarceration and recidivism.


POST DORNER, FIRED LAPD OFFICERS NOW WANT CASES REOPENED.

The Post-Dorner complexities continue. After LAPD Chief Charlie Becker agreed to reexamine the whole of Christopher Dorner’s Board of Rights case that led to his termination, other fired officers don’t see why their cases can’t be reexamined too.

The AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here are some clips.

At least six fired police officers want their disciplinary cases reopened after the Los Angeles Police Department began reinvestigating the termination of a former officer who left a trail of violence to avenge his firing.

Police Protective League President Tyler Izen wouldn’t provide details on the former officers who asked to have their cases revisited, but he said the decision by Chief Charlie Beck to reopen Christopher Dorner’s case is unprecedented and “has left many of our members in absolute limbo.”

[CLIP]

Dorner’s case brings up a significant issue about what to do when allegations of police misconduct are unfounded, said Commissioner Richard Drooyan. Dorner was dismissed for filing a false report alleging his training officer kicked a mentally disabled man.

“How do you make sure that you are punishing anyone who makes a false allegation or makes a false statement, while also at the same time not discouraging people from bringing potential misconduct to the attention of the department?” Drooyan asked.

Deputy Chief Bob Green, who oversees the South LA area, which is predominantly black and Latino, said the Dorner case has reopened “old wounds of trust” in the community….

Posted in Homelessness, LAPD, Public Health | No Comments »

LA Magazine Wants You to Help Catch A Serial Killer

February 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Los Angeles Magazine wants you to help catch a serial killer and rapist
who preyed on both northern and southern Californians between 1976 and 1986, committing, it is believed, fifty rapes and ten murders. He would be about 60 plus years old now. And he has never been caught.

According LA Mag, law enforcement officials believe this serial murderer/rapist—whom the magazine calls “The Golden State Killer” or GSK—is still alive.

The magazine’s March issue has a fascinating true crime feature about the cold case, which has attracted a couple of obsessed cops, and a network of amateur laptop slueths, including Michelle McNamara, who wrote this month’s story about The Golden State Killer. (McNamara also blogs on true crime at http://truecrimediary.com/ and is married to stand-up comedian/writer, Patton Oswalt).

With McNamara’s help, LA Magazine is launching a sort of virtual manhunt to, McNamara writes, “help authorities identify the Golden State Killer.”

Key pieces of evidence are being released for the first time, she says, “including a hand-drawn map, a page of journal-like writing, and a never-heard before recording that investigators believe may be the killer’s voice.”

So, read the story, stare at the clues and evidence, then, if you are so inclined, summon forth your inner Philip Marlowe, your hidden Harry Bosch, your secret Kinsey Millhone, and get on with it.


According to McNamara, tips on the case should be forwarded to either serialkillerclues@ocsd.org or earinfo@sacsheriff.com.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, media | No Comments »

Supremes & the Voting Rights Act…Kids Witnessing Violence…And More

February 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



THE SUPREME COURT COULD STRIKE DOWN PART OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT

The U.S. Supreme court will hear arguments Wednesday about a particular part of the voting rights act that conservatives see as intrusive to state’s rights and liberals see a crucial to prevent state laws aimed at making it harder for minorities to vote.

Lawrence Hurley at Reuters explains the central issues that will be heard on Wednesday. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether to strike down a key provision of a federal law designed to protect minority voters.

During the one-hour oral argument, the nine justices will hear the claim made by officials from Shelby County, Alabama, that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed.

The key issue is whether Congress has the authority under the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, to require some states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change would not discriminate against minority voters.

Conservative activists and local officials in some jurisdictions covered by the provision have long complained about it, saying that it is an unacceptable infringement on state sovereignty.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation who formerly worked in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said that the “terrible history” that warranted Section 5′s intrusion on state authority was over.

Adam Liptak at the NY Times has a Q & A that lays out the basic facts of the Voting Rights Act, its history, its importance, and the heart of Wednesday’s question.


ALEX KOTLOWITZ TALKS ABOUT THE PRICE OF PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Author/journalist Alex Kotlowitz has written a must-read op ed for Sunday’s NY Times that I didn’t want you to miss.

Kotlowitz wrote the award-winning classic, There are No Children Here, and was one of the reporters on This American Life’s 2-part series on the affect of violence on the students of Harper High School in Chicago.

The Op Ed is about the effects that witnessing violence has on anybody, and in particular kids who live in high violence areas.

As he makes his point, Kotlowitz uses facts and figures from his home city of Chicago, where violent crime is way up right now. But the same principals he talks about certainly hold true in Los Angeles. Ditto Oakland, and so on.

Anyway, here’s a clip from Kotlowitz’s essay.

EVERY year, the Chicago Police Department issues a report with the macabre title “Chicago Murder Analysis.” It’s a short but eye-opening document. Do the calculations and you realize that in the past 15 years, 8,083 people have been killed, most of them in a concentrated part of the city. There’s one particularly startling revelation that gets little notice: in 2011, more than four-fifths of all murders happened in a public place, a park, an alleyway, on the street, in a restaurant or at a gas station.

When Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old public school student and band majorette who just a week earlier had performed at President Obama’s inauguration, was killed on Jan. 29, she was standing under an awning in a park with a dozen friends. They all saw or heard it when she was shot in the back. One of them, in fact, was wounded by the gunfire. Which brings me to what’s not in the “Chicago Murder Analysis”: Over the past 15 years, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, an estimated 36,000 people were shot and wounded. It’s a staggering number.

We report on the killers and the killed, but we ignore those who have been wounded or who have witnessed the shootings. What is the effect on individuals — especially kids — who have been privy to the violence in our cities’ streets?

I ask this somewhat rhetorically because in many ways we know the answer. We’ve seen what exposure to the brutality of war does to combat veterans. It can lead to outbursts of rage, an inability to sleep, flashbacks, a profound sense of being alone, a growing distrust of everyone around you, a heightened state of vigilance, a debilitating sense of guilt. In an interview I heard recently on the radio, the novelist and Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien talked about how the atrocities and nastiness of battle get in your bones. The same can be said for kids growing up in Hadiya’s neighborhood.

The ugliness and inexplicability of the violence in our cities comes to define you and everyone around you. With just one act of violence, the ground shifts beneath you, your knees buckle and all you can do is try the best you can to maintain your balance. But it’s hard.

There’s lots more, and I recommend reading the whole thing. But here’s one more clip from the end of Kotlow essay:

In the wake of Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting, we’ve talked about stiffer gun control laws, about better policing, about providing mentoring and after-school programs, all of which are essential. But missing from this conversation is any acknowledgment that the violence eats away at one’s soul — whether you’re a direct victim, a witness or, like Anita Stewart, simply a friend of the deceased. Most suffer silently. By themselves. Somewhere along the way, we need to focus on those left behind in our cities whose very character and sense of future have been altered by what they’ve experienced on the streets.


MALIBU/LOST HILLS SHERIFF’S STATION TAKES PART IN “ACTIVE SCHOOL SHOOTER TRAINING

Early this past Saturday, around 30 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies and supervisors from Malibu/Lost Hills Station engaged in an “active school shooter” training on site at Topanga Elementary School in Topanga Canyon.

The LASD teams were joined by personnel from other agencies like the Malibu Search and Rescue Team, writes David Katz for the Malibu Times.

The training was part of the Sheriff’s Department’s ongoing efforts to prepare and train for events involving active shooter incidents at schools or other locations.

More than 30 officers and deputies cycled through several training scenarios involving armed shooting suspects with multiple adult and child victims.

Department sources say such exercises with “training scenarios’ are very valuable in fostering cooperation and communication between agencies likely to be called out, as well as giving officers practice in these high intensity emergencies and their specialized challenges.

(Full disclosure: Topanga Elementary where my son went to elementary school. I’m only sorry I wasn’t there on Saturday morning to observe.)


Photo of LBJ signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, by Yoichi Okamoto, courtesy of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library

Posted in campus violence, PTSD, race, race and class, racial justice, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Sheriff Lee Baca is Named Sheriff of the Year—Perplexing Critics

February 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



On Monday, the National Sheriffs’ Association announced their choice of Sheriff Lee Baca
as “Sheriff of the Year.” The award—which is given “to recognize a sheriff who has shown unusual initiative and imagination in the performance of his/her duty”—will be presented to Sheriff Baca in June at the NSA’s annual conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Given the deluge of problems and bad publicity that have bedeviled Baca and his department in recent years, many were perplexed by the announcement.

In Monday’s statement announcing Baca’s selection, the Association cited his progressive reputation and pointed to such model programs as the Baca’s Clergy Council and his Education-Based Incarceration program (EBI), which Baca believes can help inmates better turn their lives around when they return to the their communities—and which, indeed, has gotten glowing reviews from the inmates who have graduated from EBI classes.

The Office of the Los Angeles County Sheriff manages the nation’s largest local jail system housing nearly 20,000 inmates. Sheriff Baca developed Education-Based Incarceration (EBI) to address the high rate of offender recidivism in Los Angeles County. EBI uses innovative, evidence-based strategies to deliver education and life skills that provide hope and opportunity to offenders who want to live a better life and become contributing members of their communities. The Office also protects the largest court system in the nation.

Sheriff Baca is the Coordinator of Mutual Aid Emergency Services for California Region 1, which includes the County of Orange. Region 1 serves 13 million people.

Sheriff Baca is the founder of Public Trust Policing that includes diverse advisory councils; a Clergy Council of more than 300 ministers, pastors, priests, rabbis, imams, and leaders of every faith community. He also operates sixteen nonprofit youth centers; ten at-risk regional training centers for at-risk youth ages 10-18, and provides dozens of deputies to 240 elementary and middle schools who teach 50,000 children about positive solutions to the problems of drugs and gangs. He operates one of law enforcement’s largest prevention and intervention programs in the nation.

Yet, despite Baca’s long-term interest in progressive projects, and his latest steps toward some reform, critics found the timing of the honor baffling given the sheer number and seriousness of the scandals that have plagued Baca and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in the last few years—including a “persistant pattern” of abuse of inmates by deputies in the county’s jails, accusations of favors doled out to the sheriff’s friends and donors, a possible quid pro quo system of promotions run by the undersheriff, a rash of deputy gangs whose members may or may not engage in worrisome rites and rituals—and more. Several of the scandals have triggered what appears to be an ever-widening federal investigation, and have caused an unusual number of department captains and other high-ranking LASD supervisors to be relieved of duty and/or pushed into retirement ahead of probes into their conduct. Added to all that, a surprisingly lengthy list of supervisors with otherwise good records are suing the department.

“Jaw-dropping,” was the word used by an LA County Board of Supervisors insider in reference to the award.

Robert Faturechi at the LA Times has written a longer story on Baca’s selection. Here’s a clip from its opening:

His department is being investigated by the feds. A county commission examining abuse in Baca’s jails found him to be disengaged and uninformed, saying he probably would have been fired in the private sector. Secret deputy cliques with gang-like hand signs and matching tattoos have surfaced. And Baca has been accused of using his office for the benefit of friends, relatives and donors.

Despite those challenges, Baca has been awarded “Sheriff of the Year” by the National Sheriffs’ Assn.

His spokesman said the honor was appropriate given Baca is “the most progressive sheriff in the nation” and “a guy that works seven days a week.”

“This is his best year because people do their best when they face their biggest challenges and he is excelling,” said sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Baca’s critics disagreed.

“You gotta be kidding,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. “The years of malfeasance in the jails and the blatant failure of the sheriff to address the problems make his winning this award mind-boggling.”

One must apply/be nominated for the award, and have a recommendation from one’s state sheriffs’ organization. Winners are selected by a committee of three made of up of two past winners, and a civilian with knowledge of law enforcement.


Photo credit/Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca | 37 Comments »

A Look Inside Pelican Bay’s SHU…LAPD Lt. Sues for Alleged Retaliation After Whistle-blowing…..The NRA’s War Against Research…and More

February 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



WHAT DOES CALIFORNIA PRISON “SHU” REALLY LOOK AND FEEL LIKE?

Monday, California state legislators began discussing the issue of isolation policy in the state’s prisons. The U.S. Congress has begun examining the same growing controversy about the use of Special Housing Units—or SHUs—in the nation’s federal lock-ups.

KQED’s Michael Montgomery had a conversation with—and video taped—an inmate named Jeremy Beasley, while he was in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU. Beasley is, by his own admission, not the most angelic of guys, but does that mean it is moral or wise or constitutional to house him in the kind of isolation that more and more people, including some prominent conservatives, regard as torture.

Below you’ll find clip from Montgomery’s story. But be sure to watch at least the first 2 or 3 minutes of the full half hour video with Beasley, which you can find here.

(NOTE: Montgomery is arguably more expert on the issue than any other reporter in California. So his dispatches are always worth your time.)

Here’s the clip:

“I haven’t seen the moon since 1998.”

That’s inmate Jeremy Beasley, talking to me while sitting–shackled–in an interview room at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s highest security lockup.

Beasley, a convicted murderer, was clearly surprised by my presence—-he told me he hadn’t met with a visitor since 1994, when he was incarcerated.

It’s not just the moon Beasley hadn’t seen in 15 years. During that time, in fact, Beasley rarely glimpsed the outside world. Before being transferred to another prison, he was held in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, a windowless, bunker-like facility that houses more than 1,000 California inmates.

For 22-and-a-half hours a day, each inmate here is locked, usually alone, in an 8-by-10 feet cell. For 90 minutes the inmate is allowed to exercise in an adjacent room with 25-30 feet high walls. And that’s their entire day — every day.

“I’ve seen guys lose their minds back here,” Beasley tells me.


LAPD LIEUTENANT SUES DEPARTMENT FOR ALLEGED RETALIATION AFTER HE REPORTED ILLEGAL GUN SALES BY METRO OFFICERS

According to the Courthouse News Service, Lt. Armando Perez, a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department is suing the LAPD for retaliation after Perez allegedly discovered that officers from the department’s Metro division were buying special SWAT–labeled guns through the armory that Perez oversaw, and then selling the guns for profit to other LAPD officers, civilians and gun dealers.

Here’s a clip from the story by Elizabeth Warmerdam:

Los Angeles police officers bought and sold guns from the police armory for profit, and told the lieutenant in charge of the armory to “watch his back” after he reported it, the 25-year LAPD veteran claims in court.

Armando Perez sued the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department in Superior Court.

Perez, who joined the LAPD in 1987, claims he was retaliated against, suspended and threatened after he discovered, through his job as “Officer in Charge of the Armory,” that officers in the Metropolitan Division were buying and reselling guns to other officers, civilians and gun dealers….

Perez also alleges that, when the department investigated the matter, no one ever bothered to interview him, but later, he himself was investigated in relationship to his reports on tthe gun sales, and on the subsequent harassment, and was suspended for five days.

Last August, the LA Times ran a story bout the possible gun dealing. Perez alleges that after the publication of the Times story, the retaliation against him got worse.

Read the rest here.


WHAT CONGRESS LEARNED ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE BEFORE THE NRA PRESSURED CONGRESS TO KILL ALL RESEARCH FUNDING

Reasonable people might argue over what kind of gun regulation is helpful and appropriate. But it is difficult for any but the most partisan to defend the intense lobbying by the NRA that, in 1996, persuaded a fearful congress to strangle research into gun violence by the Center for Disease Control, and by the National Institute of Health—both of which, rightly, viewed the nation’s approximately 30,000 gun deaths per year as a public health issue.

The NRA, however, evidently viewed fact-based information as a threat.

Reporters at ProPublica wondered what exactly the CDC had found out with its research before the door to science got slammed. With this in mind, Joaquin Sapien interviewed Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who led the agency’s gun violence research in the nineties when he was the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

You can find the interview here.


CALIFORNIA SUPREMES SAY PARENTS OF WOMAN KILLED BY JEALOUS LAPD DETECTIVE LOST RIGHT TO SUE DEPARTMENT OVER MISHANDLING THE CASE DUE TO STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

The California Supreme Court declined to take the case of Nels and Loretta Rasmussen, whose daughter, Sherri Rassmusen was murdered in the Van Nuys townhouse she shared with her husband, by former LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus. Although Sherri Rassmusen was murdered in 1986, police concluded that she was killed in a home robbery gone bad—despite the fact that, according to the Rasmussens, they provided investigators with information that pointed to Lazarus and, at the very least merited investigation. Instead, the allege, they were rebuffed and deliberately intimidated. It was only in 2009, when DNA left at the scene was matched to Lazarus, that the detective was arrested. Lazarus was convicted of murder in 2012.

Lots of people have the story (like the Daily News) , but the legal-leaning Metropolitan News-Enterprise has a good explanation from a legal perspective.

Here’s a clip:

Sherri Rasmussen, was murdered in 1986. Lazarus was charged following a DNA match to a bite mark on the body, and was convicted in March of last year.

The Rasmussens sued in July 2010, while Lazarus was awaiting trial. They alleged that they had told the LAPD the day after the murder that they suspected their son-in-law’s ex-girlfriend was the killer, although they did not know her name at the time.

The dead woman’s husband, John Ruetten, identified Lazarus as his ex-girlfriend and told the investigators that she was an LAPD officer. The LAPD, the Rasmussens alleged, ignored evidence that Lazarus had stalked and confronted Sherri Rasmussen, focusing instead on an untenable theory that the killers were two unknown Hispanic men who had committed burglaries in the area.

That theory, they said, was discredited in 2005 when DNA obtained from the bite mark was tested and determined to have been left by a woman, although it took another four years before Lazarus was linked to the bite mark.

The Rasmussens sued the LAPD for civil rights conspiracy and sued Lazarus for wrongful death.

There’s more, so read on.


PHOTO CREDIT: The above photo is a screen capture taken from Michael Montgomery and KQED’s video accompanying the story about the Special Housing Units (SHUs) in California’s prisons.

Posted in Bill Bratton, guns, law enforcement, Probation | 1 Comment »

South LA Community Meeting on LAPD & Dorner…Paul Tanaka Running & Not Running for Gardena Mayor…and Facts Vs. Fears on Realignment

February 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Last Wednesday night, a gathering of South LA community members met with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck
and several members of his command staff to discuss the concerns, angers, old wounds and fears relating to the Los Angeles Police Department that the situation with Christopher Dorner had brought to the surface. The meeting was moderated by Skipp Townsend, head of 2nd Call, a non-profit that helps parolees, at risk youth and others turn their lives around.

When notice of the meeting went out, community organizers used Facebook to urge attendance: “Get involved or don’t complain,” they said.

LA Times columnist Sandy Banks was at the event and wrote an unusually sane and thoughtful story on the myriad complex emotions that swirl in the wake of the Dorner nightmare, many of which were talked about last Wednesday night.

Here are some clips from Banks’ story:

I expected fireworks in South Los Angeles this week, when LAPD Chief Charlie Beck showed up at a community meeting to talk about Christopher Dorner, the ex-cop turned killer whose manifesto cast the department in an ugly light, resurrecting decades of buried wrongs.

The crowd at the Vermont Avenue community center was small, about 100 people. But the line to speak stretched from the stage to the back of the room. Some came for answers, some just to vent.

There were stories of ugly street stops and police harassment. Half a dozen people — black, white and Latino — said they’d had family members injured or killed by cops. An old man carried a poster of Dorner. A young man told Beck that the LAPD’s legacy runs so deep, “babies cry when they see your uniform.”

They had read Dorner’s manifesto, which blamed his firing from the LAPD on racists, liars and cowards. There were nods all around when one man declared, “I don’t defend what Dorner did, but like many in the community, I believe what he said.”

But no voices were raised, no insults hurled. Nearly everyone prefaced their comments to Beck with some version of “thank you for coming.”

[BIG SNIP]

A lot has been made of the ways the LAPD has changed since Rodney King and Rampart. The institution is more accountable, with video cameras in patrol cars and officers equipped with microphones. And the ethnic makeup now reflects the city’s demographics: 43% of officers are Latino, 35% white, 12% black, and 9% Asian American. Twenty percent are women.

Still, it’s unrealistic to believe that the LAPD has cleared its ranks of bullies and bigots.

Beck acknowledged that in South L.A. this week. “You will never have a perfect department,” he said. “We hire from the human race and we hire the best people we can, and sometimes they make mistakes.”

Some officers can be redeemed through discipline and training, but those with a “malignant heart” have to be let go, Beck said.

But how do you see into an officer’s heart and who determines its darkness? And how does an officer wind up fired for reporting misconduct?

[BIG SNIP]

Clearly, given his actions later, his was a “malignant heart.” Dorner was unfit to be a police officer.

But the account of his termination is troubling enough that it makes me wonder if the process was used to seek truth or simply to root out a troublemaker.

It looks like a Catch-22: Officers are subject to discipline for not reporting misconduct. But if you make the claim and it doesn’t stick, you can be fired because your bosses doubt you.

That’s a message with the potential to punish a whistle-blower. It seems to validate the “no snitching”

[BIG SNIP]

I can’t imagine how painful it must be for the LAPD’s rank and file to absorb this blow to the family. I understand the rumbling among officers who feel that giving any credence to Dorner’s claims risks turning a maniacal killer into some sort of martyr.

But I’ve also heard from officers who feel shamefully relieved that Dorner expressed publicly the frustrations some have been carrying privately for years.

Read the rest.


LASD UNDERSHERIFF IS RUNNING & NOT RUNNING, CAMPAIGNING BUT NOT CAMPAIGNING FOR MAYOR OF GARDENA

For the last few months, LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who also happens to be the mayor of Gardena, has been not running for a third term as mayor, although he didn’t manage to make the not-running decision until he’d already put his name on the ballot.

More recently, he has modified his stance and now says that he isn’t going to campaign, and doesn’t want to run, but will be happy to accept the job as mayor if people really, really, really want him so much that they can’t help but elect him.

(There are two other candidates. One who is on the ballot as well as Tanaka. Another is a write in who didn’t sign up originally because he thought Tanaka was running.)

A few days ago, Tanaka reiterated this message that he is not campaigning to Daily Breeze reporter Sandy Mazza. And then he went on to list for Mazza all the reasons one might want to vote for him. To wit:

Tanaka’s main argument for re-election is his record. Since he first captured the mayor’s seat in 2005, the city has added about 35 police officers, balanced its budget, put away $10 million in a rainy day fund, and negotiated an affordable repayment for a crippling $26 million debt racked up from two failed city initiatives in the 1990s.

“My record speaks for itself,” Tanaka said. “The decision for people to make is, `Do you like what you’ve seen in the last eight years?’ We’ve erased the deficit, gotten back in the black, and increased our surplus.”

Also, although Tanaka isn’t running or campaigning, his good friends at the Gardena Police Department are raising money and campaigning for him, according to Mazza.

WitnessLA has reported extensively on Tanaka’s longstanding habit of soliciting/accepting campaign contributions for his mayoral campaigns from Los Angeles Sheriff’s department members whose careers he has had the power to affect. These revelations have, in turn, been a cause for concern and criticism by the members of the LA County Board of Supervisors, the Citizens Committee on Jail Violence, and finally—indirectly—by Sheriff Baca.

And then there is the LA Times’ recent story about an odd incident in which the sheriff’s department, namely Tanaka, used the Gardena PD to surreptitiously ship a bunch of bullet proof vests to Cambodia.

So, what does all this have to do with the Gardena mayor’s race? Oh, who knows. Likely nothing. It is simply that, as the undersheriff has demonstrated himself to be a man who often has a purpose for his actions other than what is publicly stated, it hard not to wonder what all this running/not running business is really about.


CRIME CONTINUES TO DROP IN LOS ANGELES AND MOST CALIFORNIA COUNTIES, EVEN THOUGH CRITICS INSIST THAT THAT REALIGNMENT IS CAUSING A RISE IN CRIME

On Sunday, the San Jose Mercury News ran an op ed that compares some of the realignment fears with facts.

Here are a couple of clips:

There are two major complaints: One is that crime rose as realignment cut the inmate populace by more than 24,000. The other is that some criminals are being released earlier than before the program began in October 2011, in part because local jails in a few counties are overcrowded.

A typical gripe comes from Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the state’s largest police union. “Our members are terribly concerned that we are allowing people out of prisons who are likely to recommit crimes and victimize the people of our city,” he said in a telephone interview.

He claimed probation departments have lost track of some former prisoners, but could offer no specific examples. “All I have is anecdotal information,” he conceded.

It turns out that only one of those big gripes has any proven merit: In a few counties, Fresno being a prime example, prisoners are often released after serving minimal jail time. But sheriffs and the state Department of Corrections insist the releases never involve violent or sexual criminals and that ex-convicts get the same level of parole and probation supervision they did before.

As for crime being up? Well, in LA violent crime isdown for the 10th year in a row, as the essay points notes:

….dropping 8.2 percent to a total of 18,293, with significant decreases in robbery and aggravated assault. There were 152 gang-related homicides — the fewest in more than 10 years.

But property crime was up slightly in L.A., by 0.2 percent, with Police Chief Charles Beck attributing the uptick to a 30 percent increase in cellphone thefts. Beck said some of the small increase in property crime might be due to realignment.

In surrounding Los Angeles County, homicides were at 166, the lowest number since 1970,

Murders are up in Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco—which could be due to realignment.

Or not.

“Taken together, those three cities lost more than 850 police officers to budget cuts in the past three years, which may help explain some of their homicide increase.

The other dozen reporting cities in the region had 24 percent fewer murders during that period, and, overall, Bay Area slayings remain well below historic highs.

Let us hope that sometime in the next year we will have the results of some kind of study that involves serious numbers crunching and analysis to tell us—from a fact-based, rather than fear-based perspective—exactly how AB109 has affected the state and counties.

Joan Petersilia’s team at Stanford University is, we know, working on study. But it seems to be a slow process.


Photo/Najee Ali

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, Police, race, racial justice, Realignment | 8 Comments »

CA Prisons Letting Some Prisoners out of Solitary…..George Will on Solitary as Torture… Denver Schools Attempt to Break “School to Prison Pipeline”….

February 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


As more and more civil rights organizations and some lawmakers, push for a reexamination of prison policies that keep certain inmates
in solitary confinement for years, even decades, in October the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) revised its own policies regarding what can land an inmate in the SHU—or Special Housing Unit—which is solitary confinement. Since then it has been slowly letting some SHU inmates back into the general population.

Critics say the the revised policy doesn’t got nearly far enough.

Yet it’s a start.

The LA Times Paige St. John has more on this story.

Here’s a clip:

Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton this week said the agency has so far reviewed 144 inmates who were placed in the SHU because they allegedly associated with prison gangs, an activity that now no longer merits segregation. Of those reviewed, she said, 78 have been released into the general population and 52 have entered the “step down” program. An additional seven inmates have been retained in segregation, Thornton said, “for their safety,” and the remaining 10 have agreed to debrief, the term the corrections department uses for providing prison investigators information on gang activity.

Thornton said the department intends to eventually review all SHU inmates for possible release, though there are about 1,200 in segregation at Pelican Bay State Prison alone, some held there more than 20 years.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a federal lawsuit against the state contesting the indefinite stays, and Amnesty International last year released a report contending SHU conditions are inhumane.


GEORGE WILL WRITES ABOUT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AS TORTURE

Conservative columnist George Will writes a strongly worded column about why solitary confinement qualifies as torture.

Here’s how it opens:

“Zero Dark Thirty,” a nominee for Sunday’s Oscar for Best Picture, reignited debate about whether the waterboarding of terrorism suspects was torture. This practice, which ended in 2003, was used on only three suspects. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Noting that half of all prison suicides are committed by prisoners held in isolation, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has prompted an independent assessment of solitary confinement in federal prisons. State prisons are equally vulnerable to Eighth Amendment challenges concerning whether inmates are subjected to “substantial risk of serious harm.”

America, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of its prisoners. Mass incarceration, which means a perpetual crisis of prisoners re-entering society, has generated understanding of solitary confinement’s consequences when used as a long-term condition for an estimated 25,000 inmates in federal and state “supermax” prisons — and perhaps 80,000 others in isolation sections within regular prisons. Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel.

Federal law on torture prohibits conduct “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” And “severe” physical pain is not limited to “excruciating or agonizing” pain, or pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.” The severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.

Supermax prisons isolate inmates from social contact. Often prisoners are in their cells, sometimes smaller than 8 by 12 feet, 23 hours a day, released only for a shower or exercise in a small fenced-in outdoor space. Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds.

I was happy to note that Will references “Hellhole,” the excellent 2009 article New Yorker article by surgeon/writer Atul Gwande that explores whether or not solitary confinement is torture. (If you’ve not read it, I strongly, strongly recommend it.)


DENVER SCHOOLS LEAD NATION WITH SMART DISCIPLINE POLICIES

This article by Julianne Hing in Colorlines Magazine has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Already home to one of the most progressive school discipline policies in the country, Denver has set out to best even its own record. On Tuesday, Denver Public Schools and local and county police departments inked a five-year agreement specifically designed to limit student interaction with the juvenile justice system. The agreement offers a rare example of a school system that is bucking the national trend toward criminalizing student misbehavior.

Just two months after the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., and in a state that has had its share of mass shootings, the Denver pact comes at a pivotal point in the national debate on firearms and school security.

The school system had already articulated a commitment to minimizing police contact with its students. But because of a lingering zero-tolerance framework that required harsh and automatic penalties for student misbehavior, the 15 officers assigned to the city’s schools were functioning as disciplinarians, meting out suspensions, expulsions and tickets for minor infractions like chewing gum, fighting in the schoolyard and exposing their tattoos.

The new agreement—the result of a collaboration between law enforcement, school officials and a Denver-based community organization called Padres y Jovenes Unidos—turns the concept of minimal police contact into an official, districtwide policy.

“This is a historic collaboration between a school district, a police department and an organization [that] represents parents and young people of color who are most impacted by these policies,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group that partnered with Denver-based Padres y Jovenes Unidos to secure the agreement.

With the new agreement, police officers are now being directed to know and observe the difference between disciplinary issues and criminal acts. Law enforcement officials have agreed that they will only respond to serious offenses. The district will use restorative justice practices to address routine student misbehavior.

“It’s not, ‘You did something wrong, go home for five days and watch television,’ ” Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the Washington Post. “It’s, ‘What did you do wrong? Who did you harm? How are you going to make them whole, and what are you learning from this?’ ”


SOCIAL TRENDS DRIVING GUN AND GANG VIOLENCE

The Atlantic’s Ta-nehisi Coates has a very interesting discussion about trends in gun violence with the Chicago Crime Lab’s Harold Pollack.

Here’s a clip:

Like everyone, we at The Atlantic have spent the weeks since Newtown thinking about the role of guns in America. In our ongoing effort to broaden the conversation, I spent some time talking to Professor Harold Pollack, who co-directs the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago. Pollack is one of the foremost voices on gun violence from a public health perspective. Pollack and his colleagues at the Crime Lab have done yeoman’s work in helping us understand how guns end up on the streets of cities like Chicago, and how precisely they tend to be used.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Hi, Harold. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us over here at The Atlantic. We’ve had several off-line conversations which have been illuminating to me. I greatly appreciate your willingness to take some time to do this for the Horde, as we say on the blog.

Harold Pollack: It’s great to correspond with you, Ta-Nehisi, regarding what can actually be done to reduce gun violence. I’m a big fan of your work. I should mention by way of self-introduction that I am a public health researcher at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Here in Chicago, we have become the focus of much national attention because we had our 500th homicide [of the year in 2012]. We’re sometimes called the nation’s murder capital — though this mainly reflects the fact that we are a big city. We’re more dangerous than L.A. or New York, but we’re actually in the middle of the pack when it comes to homicide rates. Still, we’re dangerous enough. The declining homicide rates in many prosperous and middle-class neighborhoods casts a harsh light on the high rates facing African-American (and to a lesser-extent) Latino young men on the city’s south and west sides. Lots to talk about. I am looking forward to talking. So let’s get to it.

I don’t know if I’ve told you how I come to this issue, but I should say for everyone reading this that I am from Baltimore — the West Side, as we used to call it. I came of age in the late 1980s and early 90s, a period in which violence spiked in our cities. I don’t know if Chicago today is as bad as it was in, say, 1988, but this was a period of deep fear for everyone in the black communities of Baltimore. And the fear was everywhere.

It changed how we addressed our parents. It changed how we addressed each other. It changed our music. The violence put rules in place that often look strange to the rest of the country. For instance, the mask of hyper-machismo and invulnerability — the ice-grill, as we used to say — looks strange, until you’ve lived in a place where that mask is the only power you have to effect a modicum of safety.

I’m in my late 40s. I was a typical suburban kid graduating high school outside New York. It wasn’t as tough for me as it was on the west side of Baltimore, but crime certainly touched my life. On one occasion, I was in Washington Heights on my way to an AP class at Columbia University. A group of middle-school or early-high-school kids jumped me in the subway station, and they attempted to wrest away my watch. My high school sweetheart had just given it to me; I didn’t want to give it up. So a kid grabbed me by the hair and smashed my head against the concrete floor until I finally relented. As you know, my cousin was beaten to death by two teenage house burglars a few years later.

So I remember very well both the fear and the anger that accompanies one’s sense of physical vulnerability. Of course this anger often comes with a race/ethnic/class tinge that poisons so much of what we are trying to do in revitalizing urban America.

Read on.

Posted in Gangs, guns, prison, prison policy, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, torture, Uncategorized, Violence Prevention, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Eat Pizza, Donate Money to Families of 2 Fallen Police Officers

February 21st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



Next week, Monday-Thursday—February 25-28—California Pizza Kitchen has kindly offered to give 20 percent of your dinner check,
drinks included, to the families of Riverside Police officer Michael Crain, and San Bernardino Sheriff’s Detective Jeremiah MacCay, both of whom were allegedly killed by Christopher Dorner.

Detective MacKay was killed in a shootout with Dorner in Big Bear. Michael Crain and his partner were ambushed by a man assumed to be Dorner. As Dorner had no particular beef with Riverside PD, there seemed to be no reason behind the shooting, other than the fact the men were police officers.

Detective MacCay and Officer Crain each leave behind a wife and two kids.

The fundraising offer will be honored at any California Pizza Kitchen anywhere in the state, from February 25-28—all day.

The deal is you have to print out the flyer I’ve linked to here and present it to your server.

Pizza and generosity. A good combo.

NOTE: The money raised is being overseen by the Riverside Police Officers’ Association and the Sheriff’s Employee Assistance Team.

Posted in law enforcement, Life in general | 21 Comments »

Sheriff says Extra $61 Million Needed to Keep LASD Jails Safe…Supremes Contemplate FOIA Restrictions…and More

February 21st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT NEEDS ANOTHER $61 MILLION TO KEEP ITS JAILS SAFE

According to a report issued Tuesday by Richard Drooyan, the lead attorney for the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, progress is being made in reforming the department’s jails, but a pile of money—namely $61 million—is needed to keep the scandal-plagued facilities safe.

Since the LASD’s budget it, at present $2.7 billion, that means that an additional 23 percent is needed solely for the jails to make such improvements as having an adequate number of supervisors in the facilities and creating an investigative process that works.

While it’s genuinely heartening that force inside the jails has dropped, particularly “significant force,” and it’s understandable that more supervisors are needed, but $61 million worth?

We have other questions about the matter, but they can wait.

In the meantime, Elizabeth Marcellino from the City News Service has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

….One major change was hiring of an assistant sheriff responsible for the custody division.

Terri McDonald, formerly the undersecretary of operations for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is set to start work on March 18, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. McDonald will report directly to Baca.

“What we saw was a real gap in accountability between the jail facility and the sheriff. Now they’ve taken the first step,” Drooyan said. “I think things are moving in the right direction.”

Several of the people running the jails during the time frame reviewed by the commission are no longer with the department, including Daniel Cruz, formerly a captain at Men’s Central Jail, and former Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh, once responsible for overseeing the jail system.

Both Cruz and Cavanaugh retired Jan. 1.

Drooyan said the sheriff and his department have been responsive to his requests, and that all of the recommendations that do not require significant funding should be implemented in 30-60 days.

But “in many ways, the toughest ones to implement” are still under way, Drooyan told the board. They include hiring additional supervisors, finalizing enhanced penalties for excessive force and revising the investigative process.


SUPREME COURT WRESTLES WITH STATE RESTRICTIONS ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

Robert Barnes at the Washington Post has the story.

Here’s a clip:

Virginia is virtually alone among the states in blocking those from beyond its borders from using its Freedom of Information Act to get state documents and records.

The question before the Supreme Court on Wednesday was: So what?

The court spent a spirited hour debating whether Virginia had a good reason for making a distinction between its residents and out-of-staters, or whether the state even needed one.

Two men — Mark McBurney of Rhode Island, who wanted to examine records from the state child support enforcement division, and Californian Roger Hurlbert, who operates a business obtaining real estate tax assessments — challenged what their Washington attorney, Deepak Gupta, called Virginia’s “discriminatory access policy.”

Gupta said it violated a provision of the Constitution meant to put residents of the states on equal footing, and also the dormant-commerce clause, which guards against economic protectionism.

But Gupta ran straight into Justice Antonin Scalia, who coincidentally is one of four justices who live in Virginia. Scalia said he remembered the advent of “government in the sunshine” laws that popped up around the country, starting in Florida, during the 1960s.

“It seems to me entirely in accord with that purpose of these laws to say it’s only Virginia citizens who are concerned about the functioning of Virginia government, and ought to be able to get whatever records Virginia agencies have,” Scalia said. “What’s wrong with that reasoning?”…

Read on.


RETHINKING AMERICA’S PRISON POLICIES

A bunch of new NPR reports about how states are reconsidering their prison and sentencing policies as out of whack from a cost/benefit perspective.

Here’s the introduction to the an excellent overview on WBUR’s ON the Point. (The program itself deserves a listen.

The USA is number one in the world when it comes to the number of people in prison. Bigger than China. Bigger than Russia. America’s prison population is tops. 2.2 million. Bigger than fifteen American states. And its incarceration rate is number one. Three times – triple – any other nation’s. All that American imprisonment is very expensive. And very debatable when it comes to effectiveness, fairness – to justice itself. Now states across the country are reconsidering the mandatory sentencing policies and more that filled those cells. This hour, On Point: slimming down American prisons.

Here’s a link to two more stories on NPR’s All Things Considered as part of their series, “The Legacy And Future Of Mass Incarceration.”

Posted in Freedom of Information, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, prison, prison policy, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court | 7 Comments »

Icky Power Struggle at LA County Probation Continues: Now the Supes Wade In—But Not Together

February 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FOUR—NOT FIVE—SUPERVISORS WRITE A LETTER

Okay, when we last left the cheery topic of LA County Probation, the county’s probation-chief-eating union heads, and the agency’s head guy, Chief Jerry Powers, were engaging in a spitting match via the medium of dueling letters to the board of supervisors, all of which we covered here.

Now WitnessLA has acquired a brand new letter that the Supes have written back to the unions telling them, in essence, to get a grip and cooperate with Chief Powers.

However, while four of the Supervisors signed the letter, Mark Ridley-Scott did not. But we’ll get to that part of the story in a minute.

(Here’s a copy of the letter: Letter from Supervisors to Unions )


AGAIN, THE BACK STORY

To refresh your memories about the cause of the spitting match: Powers was complaining to the board at a Supes’ meeting last month, that—due to restrictions imposed by existing contracts with the four probation workers’ unions—-he couldn’t hire the needed number of probation officers to fill 248 still-open slots that must be filled to handle the additional parolees who, because to the provisions of AB109—AKA realignment—are daily landing on the County’s probation case loads for supervision, rather than in the care of state parole.

In response to Powers’ public complaints, the unions wrote a rather nasty letter to the Supes in which they expressed their “collective outrage,” and accused Powers of causing “a public safety crisis” to “circumvent our union contracts.’ Powers complaints were nonsense, the union people said (although their language was not anywhere near as friendly as mine). There were plenty of trained and experienced probation employees ready and willing to be promoted into those AB109 positions.

There is reportedly only one problem with that POV: with a few exceptions, most of those who would be appropriate—from a civil service perspective—for those promotions, are working in the county’s deeply troubled juvenile probation camps, which are understaffed to begin with, and assuredly cannot afford to lose any trained and competent personnel.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-AWAY BAD OLD DAYS

It’s important to recall that LA County’s probation camps are a bare three years away from the scandal-a-week days when they had personnel written about in the LA Times for goading kids into engaging in “gladiator fights’— a sort of LA County juvenile probation Fight Club. AND during that same 2010 period another 18 staffers were charged, according to the Office of Independent Review’s Michael Gennaco, with crimes including cruelty to a child, sex with a minor, prostitution, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting an officer and battery. (Sadly, I have only named a few of the that year’s horrors.)

While the camps and the halls have improved at least marginally since then, according to the report by federal monitors last fall, there is a depressingly long way to go. To be specific, the feds report that the camps still have staff that can’t manage to stop slamming kids against walls, making young probationers assume stress positions as punishment, can’t keep kids reasonably safe from aggressively pounding each other, and can’t keep adequate track of what kid is being given what medication and has received what mental health services.

In our own digging around, we’ve heard even worse reports of staff misconduct.

Yet, as we said, it’s better than it was. Thus the camps cannot afford to have any of their frail progress threatened.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Please allow me to make it clear—as always—that there are many wonderful, dedicated, honorable, talented people who work for LA County probation, people who give way more than they are asked to do on a daily basis. Some are people I know personally. But it is not their good work that is at issue here.)


THE STAFFING ISSUE

Of course, the staffing issue wouldn’t be a problem if Powers could replace some of those staffers promoted out of the youth camps and into the AB109 positions with nice bright-eyed and bushy-tailed applicants with master’s degrees and an affinity for kids—even law-breaking kids. That’s what Santa Clara County Probation does to staff their much lauded juvenile facility, the James Ranch (where kids are helped, rather than slammed against walls). But, according to union rules, the positions must only be filled from within, usually by the next people in the food chain, who are, by definition, less experienced and less trained, and who may or may not have a talent for working with youth.

To add to it all, as we mentioned before, the camps are already understaffed—a problem caused, in part, by the fact that an insane number of those working for probation are not actually….you know….working. According to last year’s report on the agency by the Office of Independent review, 400 of the agency’s 5,630 employees are on some type of medical leave, “Another 353 employees are … on modified duty.” I’ll do the math for you. That means more than 13 percent of Probation’s workforce are not, at least at the count last year, on the job full time—or at all.


THE BOARD WADES IN

To get past this depressing, multi-directional logjam, Powers would like to have the option of hiring some people for the AB 109 positions from the outside—like say laid off parole officers. The unions replied that hell will freeze over first, or words to that affect. Powers then responded by writing his own outraged letter to the Supervisors.

Union supporters further reacted by, behind closed, accusing Powers of being a union busting carpetbagger who’s made no effort to get along with the collective bargaining units, has no commitment to LA, and only took the job to up his retirement rate.

At the same time, Powers supporters called the union leaders power-hungry thugs who make running a functional department all but impossible.

And so, finally, the board waded into this melee with its letter, which was at least some kind of positive move.

“The Board wanted and needed to make it clear that if the union had a beef it was with the Board and not with Jerry Powers,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky wrote to me in an email. “We brought Jerry in to turn this very troubled department around, and he is doing exactly what the Board has asked him to do. The Board majority is committed to fixing the Department from within through assertive and urgent reform, but to be successful, the department head must have the authority to make the necessary changes.”

Well, yes. It stands to reason that someone has to hold the tiller of the ship; otherwise it will simply continue to run aground.

As we’ve observed earlier, Powers— while frankly less visionary in his outlook than we would like) —seems, at least, determined to clean up the place and make it behave with a modicum of professionalism. For instance, last year Powers got rid of some of the worst of the agency’s supply of bad apples, resulting in the arrest of around 40 department employees this year—which was more than either of the two previous administrations managed to do. (Yes, you read right: 40 employees arrested.)


SO WHY NOT SIGN THE LETTER?

Since the board’s letter to the union heads seemed like a positive move in the face of a bad situation, I asked Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas why he’d chosen not to sign it.

I knew that Ridley-Thomas is considered, by his critics, to be perhaps too beholden to the unions, which contributed heavily to his election campaign, and thus be reluctant to criticize them. On the other hand, no other supervisor’s office has been more active in pushing for intelligent reform in the county’s juvenile probation facilities. Moreover, he has repeatedly called for the Department of Justice to come in and slap probation with a federal consent decree, which would, by definition, trump a host of union rules and objections.

“I’m concerned that a battle between labor and management portents a set of problems I hope we can avoid,” he said when I broached the question. “I think a more constructive role for the board is to challenge both the Chief Probation Officer and the bargaining units to work out a way to work together for the good of the youngsters in those camps and halls. To pick one side over the other does not facilitate consensus.”

Ridley-Thomas also said that he believes a first step would be to look for a clear statement of mission, and a set of “deliverables” from Powers—specifically having to do with a plan to reduce recidivism among the AB109 adult probationers, and to articulate “a mission that is fundamentally tied to rehabilitation” regarding the juvenile facilities.

“Both sides have to get back to a mission that they can agree upon before we can move forward. And they both have a obligation to find a way to work together. To me, nothing else is acceptable.”


SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

We at WitnessLA are definitely for some kind of aspirational goal setting at LA County Probation. Otherwise it seems like we’re left solely with a law enforcement agency, and not a particularly interesting law enforcement agency, but one whose highest calling is to prevent further crimes and/or misbehavior—by either its probationers or, frankly, its staff.

So where are we, exactly? Will the supes letter promote forward movement by giving Chief Powers the backing he needs to lead the department out of its newest morass, as Zev Yaroslavsky hopes? Or will it simply further the fight, as Ridley-Thomas fears?

And how do we get Powers and company to come up with some kind of achievable 10-point plan—or whatever—that places rehabilitation, and lowering recidivism rates at the top of the list of goals. You know, where are our “deliverables?”


THESE AND OTHER QUESTIONS REMAIN

So stay tuned.



AND IN OTHER NEWS….LASD UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA SAYS THE ENTIRELY WEIRD STORY OF CAMBODIA-SHIPPED BULLET-PROOF VESTS IS MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Sandy Mazza at the Daily News has the story. Here’s a clip:

A Los Angeles County supervisor is seeking a “rigorous” re-examination of a decade-old issue in which the city of Gardena acted as an intermediary for the Sheriff’s Department to sell ballistic vests to Cambodia.

The sale was scrutinized at least twice in the past 10 years because it was so unusual but, despite appearing convoluted, nothing illegal or improper was found.

This week, after recent news reports again questioned the transaction, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for another audit of the purchase.

Former Sheriff’s Department Assistant Sheriff Larry Waldie negotiated the sale, according to Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is the current mayor of Gardena.

At the time, Cambodia was rebuilding its country and police force following Khmer Rouge communist party rule, Tanaka said. The Cambodian foreign consulate asked Waldie if it could purchase 473 ballistic vests that the department would not use because they were either expired or used, he said.

Tanaka was in his second year as a Gardena city councilman and was also the sheriff’s chief of administrative services. Waldie asked for his help because he didn’t believe Los Angeles County could sell directly to a foreign country, he said.


FORMER STATE SENATOR GLORIA ROMERO SAYS OPEN UP POLICE DISCIPLINE RECORDS

Romero’s Op-Ed ran in the OC Register. Here’s how it opens.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck channeled a significant public policy implication from Christopher Dorner’s murderous rampage when he announced he would reopen the investigation into Dorner’s 2009 firing from LAPD. Beck’s words were haunting: “I hear the ghosts of the past of the Los Angeles Police Department. I hear that people think that maybe there is something to what he says, and I want to put that to rest.”

To do that will mean that the Legislature must revisit the damaging 2006 California Supreme Court decision in Copley Press Inc. v. Superior Court of San Diego. On a technicality, the court all but cemented secretive police operations. Ultimately, information on misconduct under color of authority – and any resulting discipline – must be a matter of public record.

I know this issue firsthand. In 2007 I introduced Senate Bill 1019, written to rectify the harm of the Copley decision and restore public access to information, which had been California’s practice for decades.

The Copley Press, then the publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, sued over the decision of the San Diego County Civil Service Commission to close the hearing of a county sheriff’s deputy appealing a termination notice. The commission also refused to explain why the deputy was fired.

After the Copley decision, police discipline records throughout California that had previously been open to the public, including LAPD boards of rights hearings, were sealed. Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office bowed to the political pressure of the police lobby and mandated full closure of hearings. Los Angeles was left with, for all intents and purposes, a police force that dealt with its own members in secret.


FROM JUVENILE PRISON TO JUVENILE JUSTICE LAWYER

This story by Meredith May in the San Francisco Chronicle is a redemptive delight.

A group of incarcerated teenage boys at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton slouch in plastic orange chairs, arms crossed, scowling at their tie-clad visitor, whose lecture will eat into their TV time.

Francis “Frankie” Guzman, a 32-year-old lawyer and recipient of a prestigious Soros Justice Fellowship to advocate for juvenile justice, gets right to the point.

“How many of you read ‘Lord of the Flies’? It’s like that in here, right? But which one of you is leading? Do you really want to follow that guy?”

Guzman speaks like he knows what he’s talking about, and the boys, ages 14 to 17, take notice. There’s a perceptible shift as they sit up a little straighter.

Guzman knows exactly what it’s like to wear khaki pants every day and sleep in a cell. When he was 15, he and a friend stole a car and robbed a liquor store at gunpoint in Southern California, resulting in six years behind bars inside the California Youth Authority.

It was the culmination of a childhood defined by tragedy in East Oxnard, an enclave of farmworkers and day laborers where gangs, family and community had blended together over the generations, blurring the lines between loyalty to the street and to the self.

“Kids don’t make smart decisions,” Guzman said. “But ultimately, you are not the worst thing you have done. The weakest thing I did made me the strongest person I am today.”

Read on!


AN INSANE INCIDENT WITH A TEN-YEAR OLD AND A SQUIRT GUN

Donna St. George at the Washington Post has the story of the 10-year-old arrested for his toy gun on the school bus.


MIDDLE SCHOOL BOOBIES BRACELET CASE GETS A SECOND HEARING BY COURT OF APPEALS

We are very pleased to note that the Boobies Bracelet case gets another hearing Wednesday! This time by the entire 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Maybe the court, like me, simply is amused by writing it: (Boobies Bracelet, Boobies Bracelet, Boobies Bracelet. Ahem, sorry.) Nah. More likely, the court is concerned with the First Amendement issues the case represents.

Anyway, rather than having me explain the case, read the story for yourself here at The Daily Call with a story by Peter Hall.


Posted in children and adolescents, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation, unions | 7 Comments »

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