The UCLA Shooting, Compton’s Confounding Homicide Spike, The Push for More Relative Caregivers in LA, and Juvie SolitaryJune 2nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker
MURDER-SUICIDE AT UCLA
On Thursday morning at UCLA, an unnamed man shot and killed a well-liked 39-year-old engineering professor, William S. Klug, and then killed himself. The gunman has not yet been identified. Klug was described by those who knew him as a loving father, who taught his son’s Little League team, and exemplified “courage, loyalty, and character.”
As early news traveled across campus that shots had been fired, students and law enforcement feared an active shooter situation.
The LA Times Editorial Board says that once news broke that it was a murder-suicide, and not another high-casualty campus shooting rampage, America shrugged off the all-too-common firearm tragedy. Here’s a clip:
The massive police and emergency response proved unnecessary, but there was no way the LAPD could have known that when the panicked call came in. And this is where we are – the anticipation that a shooting on a college campus was going to turn out to be a mass tragedy, and that a major city’s law enforcement response is geared up for that eventuality.
In this case, it was only two dead. Murder-suicide in a small office. And so America shrugs. Just another incident in the daily parade of gun violence that defines contemporary America. And so two families, and two circles of friends, and a community of students and faculty are left to their grief, and their confusion, and maybe a touch more fear than usual at the recognition that violence can and will strike so close to home.
Ultimately, we should be glad this was a tragedy for fewer people than feared when the phrase “campus shooting” first popped up on screens. But that society will just shrug this off is tragic in its own way. That the nation accepts gun violence as commonplace, as a reasonable trade-off for some romanticized view of every gun owner as a soldier against tyranny, is the continuing tragedy.
And so the deaths will mount.
For more information on the shooting, head over to KPCC.
SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS TO COMPTON’S RISING HOMICIDE NUMBERS
So far in 2016, there have been three times as many murders in Compton as there were this time last year. Nearly half—seven—of those killings occurred in May, alone.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the majority of the murders have been gang-related.
Last September, the US Department of Justice announced that Compton as one of five cities that would receive two years of help from the feds, through a program called the Violence Reduction Network. Through the program, the sheriff’s department (which has jurisdiction over Compton) is receiving, personnel, and other support to reduce gun violence, sex trafficking, and other serious crimes.
So far this year, Oakland—another city that has received assistance from the feds via the Violence Reduction Network—has reduced homicide by 40% compared with the same period last year. Other cities have had similar successes, with the exception of Chicago, where gun violence numbers are up 50% this year.
In response to the murder spike, the LASD has increased the number of deputies deployed to Compton and launched a campaign calling on community members to call in tips.
The LA Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz and Angel Jennings have more on the issue. Here are some clips:
The violence threatens to undo some of the progress the city has made in recent years to shed an image that has been associated with gangs and crime. And the shootings are testing a pledge made by federal authorities in October to help the city curb crime by providing extra resources to “make meaningful and long-lasting improvements to the daily lives of Compton residents.” At the time, the announcement of federal help was hailed as a “game-changer” by Compton Mayor Aja Brown.
At a town hall meeting last week, city and local law enforcement officials reassured anxious residents that they were doing all they could to combat the problem. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department says it has boosted patrols. And city leaders said the federal program, the Violence Reduction Network, has already begun providing much-needed training and resources that will help deter crime.
“We want people to know that we’re looking out for you,” said Satra Zurita, a local school board member who is helping the city manage the federal program. Zurita and her sister, City Councilwoman Janna Zurita, knew the mother of one of the recent homicide victims. “It hits very close to home.”
In Compton, Satra Zurita said the federal partnership has helped get some “gang-bangers, pimps and young girls off the street.” The attention of multiple agencies, such as the Department of Justice, the FBI and the district attorney’s office is positive, “because you are communicating and resources match up,” she said.
Recently, the city applied for a $1-million grant from the Justice Department that would provide technology that detects and pinpoints the location of gunshots when they occur and youth intervention services over three years. In addition, Compton is working on an application for a smaller grant that would offer training for authorities who deal with those who are mentally ill.
“People think that the [federal program] comes and cures all,” Zurita said. “But what it does is provide expertise and resources, and that helps in the long run.”
The recent violence has yet to hit the levels seen more than a decade ago, when Compton recorded more than 70 killings in a single year. Since then, homicides have fallen dramatically. Last year’s tally of 13 killings was the lowest in more than a decade, according to figures provided by the Sheriff’s Department.
After the LASD took over the job of policing Compton in 2000, after the Compton Police Department was shut down by the City Council.
There is no clear answer as to why homicide numbers have surged this year,
but CityLab’s Brentin Mock says ongoing sheriff’s department scandals likely aren’t helping to build community trust.
Mock also points out that while the grant money from the federal program was supposed to go to youth intervention services, it’s not clear how much of the grant is being spent on policing Compton, versus bolstering youth programs. Youth Justice Coalition and other advocates have called for more funding to help LA’s at-risk kids succeed through education, employment, mentoring, rehabilitation, and other much-needed programs and services.
Here’s a clip from the CityLab story:
In 2015, Compton received a $1 million grant when it was selected to become one of the pilot cities for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Reduction Network. This means more money, equipment, and trainings on how police can pinpoint or even predict where shootings are likely to happen to help target their monitoring practices. Beyond the sheriff’s department, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration are all setting up shop in Compton, a city of fewer than 100,000 residents.
The L.A. Times reports that this also means more funding for youth intervention services. However, neither the sheriff’s department nor the federal agencies have been forthcoming about how much funding is going towards policing versus youth programs.
That lack of transparency is troubling given the historical distrust between communities of color and police, which the L.A. county sheriffs have not done much to change. Some believe that the homicide reports are being played up as a ploy to justify the further militarizing of a police force in ways that might further incense these communities. Compton’s murder rate may have tripled since last year, but the 15 killings in the city this year is far below what the landscape looked like a few decades ago, when homicide numbers were closer to 100 annually.
Hamid Khan, campaign coordinator for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, tells CityLab that such murder reports entail “a certain level of sensationalism.”
“When talking about the levels of violence, we have to look at how many resources are allocated to policing the community as opposed to what’s provided for what public safety really looks like for these communities,” says Khan. “More money is budgeted for policing versus how much money is budgeted for youth programs, but [Compton is] still being written about like we’re back in the ‘80s again.”
LA COUNTY SUPES STEPPING UP EFFORTS TO DRAW IN RELATIVE CAREGIVERS AS END TO LONG-TERM FOSTER CARE GROUP HOMES LOOMS
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to explore ways to increase the number of relative caregivers and boost family members’ engagement in the lives of kids in foster care.
The motion, submitted by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, directs the head of the Department of Children and Family Services and the Interim Chief Probation Officer, in collaboration with the Office of Child Protection and the courts, to look at what’s working elsewhere in the nation (like partnerships with community-based organizations), in order to develop family-finding programs.
The board’s proactivity on this issue is particularly important as the state starts to roll out major child welfare reforms, including the elimination of long-term group homes. Relative caregivers will likely become crucial to the new law’s successful implementation.
The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has the story. Here’s a clip:
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and others point to evidence that shows that living with relatives or other non-related extended family members can have behavioral and educational benefits for children, as well as an increased likelihood of permanency.
“I want the first placement to be the best placement,” Kuehl said. “The reason I want to move it up in time so that we’re looking right away for relatives and appropriate family friends is that the children are already seriously traumatized by the removal. If there are any family members or family friends that they have a connection with, we can really mitigate those traumatic events.”
Under the sweeping congregate-care reforms (CCR) outlined in Assembly Bill 403, California is poised to restructure the way it provides care to the nearly 58,000 children in its child-welfare system. Starting in 2017, California counties will be encouraged to seek family-like settings for these children. Instead of group home placements, children will be placed with foster families or in short-term residential treatment centers when clinically necessary.
In the near future, that means the county must find more homes for these children. Los Angeles County hopes to it can make up the difference with more relative caregivers, an area where it has seen some success.
According to data from the California Child Welfare Indicators Project at U.C. Berkeley, almost 44 percent of children in the county’s child welfare system were living in the home of a relative at of the start of the year.
This number is well above the national average of 29 percent and the state average of 36 percent.
“We want all kids to be placed with relatives if at all possible,” DCFS Director Philip Browning said. “Congregate care reform is going to require that we be much more sensitive to making placements with relatives.”
WILL THE SENATE APPROVE A BAN ON JUVENILE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT?
Today, the California Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 1143, a bill that would end solitary confinement for kids locked in juvenile detention facilities.
The bill would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).
The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) is supported both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union.
A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year. Last month, LA County moved to drastically restrict the use of solitary confinement in juvenile camps. Proponents hope that the move will influence the state legislature to pass the revived bill.
“This bill protects the basic human rights and dignity of youth residing in local jails and juvenile camps,” said Leno. “It also protects public safety by ensuring that youth get the educational and rehabilitative opportunities they need to come home with the best chance of success in life.”
In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee, Mark Bonini, president of Chief Probation Officers of California, and Sue Burrell, the policy and training director at the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, explain why this bill, which took five years of negotiating for consensus between advocates and corrections officials, is such a crucial step toward protecting vulnerable kids. Here’s a clip:
SB 1143 is the product of five years of robust and sometimes challenging dialogue. At first, we disagreed about terminology and the operational impacts of the bill. But it became increasingly apparent that all of us were more concerned with the greater purpose, and by listening to one another, we were able to develop a mutually satisfactory set of best practices.
The bill creates a statewide definition for room confinement in county and state juvenile correctional facilities – the placement of a youth in a sleeping room or cell alone with minimal contact from staff. The bill also calls for such confinement only being used after less restrictive options have been attempted, unless there is a threat to the safety or security of staff or other juveniles.
It is generally limited to four hours and requires that specific steps be taken to reintegrate the young person back into regular confinement as soon as possible. Finally, the bill bans the use of room confinement as punishment or convenience or when it compromises the mental and physical health of the young person.