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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Talks About Officer Involved Shootings, Community Relations, Changing Cop Culture…and More – by Joe Domanick

March 3rd, 2016 by witnessla

“MAYBE WE’LL BECOME AN EXAMPLE FOR AMERICA”

The LAPD’s Charlie Beck sits down to talk with The Crime Report’s Joe Domanick about policing in Los Angeles—and beyond.

by Joe Domanick

Now in his seventh year in office, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck has both built and expanded upon the reforms that were begun by his predecessor and mentor, William J. Bratton, who was LAPD chief from 2002-2009. In the process, Beck has become something of a rising star in the reformist wing of American policing—-in large part due to his innovative community policing work.

Last October he went to the White House with 130 other top law enforcement leaders to meet with President Barack Obama. The topic was the future of criminal justice reform, and Beck was chosen to speak with the president on the group’s behalf.

But Beck has also come under attack in Los Angeles for, among other things, his handling of controversial officer-involved shootings—which almost doubled in the city in 2015—prompting the local branch of Black Lives Matter to call for his resignation. In dealing with the media, Beck has been deliberate in not making the LAPD about himself—-a rare occurrence in a department ruled for more than 40 years by thin-skinned chiefs. As a result there have been few in-depth interviews with him.

In late January 2016, journalist and author Joe Domanick interviewed Chief Charlie Beck for over two hours.

Domanick has written two books about the department that Beck leads: To Protect and to Serve and Blue: The Los Angeles Police Department and the Battle to Redeem American Policing. (The latter is shortlisted for a 2016 LA Times Book Award). He is also the West Coast editor for The Crime Report.

Beck and Domanick’s free-wheeling discussion covers a host of issues facing the chief and other police executives nationwide, post-Ferguson.

The interview below with Chief Beck has been edited and condensed.


COMMUNITY POLICING

Among the most vital issues Domanick discussed with Chief Beck was community policing – considered the key to fundamental policing reform for the foreseeable future. Their discussion included how best to get “buy-in” for community policing from rank-and-file cops and their often change-phobic unions; and how to get them to leave behind the militaristic attitudes that informed the nation’s ‘wars’ on crime and drugs.

JOE DOMANICK: You use the term “community efficacy” when talking about community policing. What do you mean by that?

CHARLIE BECK: We have to recognize what a strong factor the police [can be] in building communities. It’s a huge responsibility to go into a community that has extreme issues with crime, lack of connection and cohesiveness, to [help solve those problems] and then give the people back their neighborhoods. I can flood any neighborhood with police officers and make it safe overnight. But what I want — and what I believe police can do — is build community [residents’] belief that they are in charge of their own destiny, and can make a difference in how and where they live. I believe that is the next revolution of policing.

JD: How do you do that?

BECK: Our bureau chiefs, area captains, senior lead officers are all involved – that’s about 300 people. They are responsible for [everything from] crime to ….issues like abandoned couches; and for everything in one piece of turf 24/7. And our area captains, through community policing, have total authority to affect quality of life and the way people feel about safety in their commands.

I’m proudest of our Community Safety Partnerships in our housing developments, where officers are assigned not to make arrests but to build community. We pioneered that, and it’s spreading throughout the city. Officers make a five-year commitment to stay there to make a difference in quality of life. And they are not judged on arrest numbers. They are judged on public safety overall, and on community cohesiveness.

We are going to start doing community surveys…Not only city-wide, but community surveys in the various divisions, so we can compare and contrast and measure progress. So [evaluation won’t just be based] on crime numbers, but on how people feel about us and public safety.


CHANGING POLICE CULTURE

At its heart, community policing requires building trust and active, transparent grassroots cooperative relationships with the neighborhood residents being policed. Each controversial police shooting, incident of police abuse, or even of rudeness has its cost in terms of undoing the good being done through community policing. In fact, according to Temple University criminologist Jerry Ratcliffe, it takes between four and 14 positive interactions with police to undo one negative interaction.

JD: Are there any changes, or any training you’ve been doing, to try to keep to the bare minimum officer-involved shootings and other police abuses?

BECK: The organization has changed its philosophy – its internal philosophy, not just its external stated philosophy – dramatically…This past summer we put our entire operations force [about 86 percent of the LAPD] through 10 hours of preservation-of-life training. The focus was to reinforce the necessity to preserve human life as our primary objective. We are following that up now with many hours of scenario-based training, about 32 for the entire force. We did the philosophy and now we are doing the application.

We now select people for success within the structure that we have created. I’ve been the chief almost seven years now. and Bratton was the chief for seven years before me. Literally. we have got two generations of cops. The vast majority of patrol cops were hired by me, [most of the rest by] Bratton. And [this structure is] all they have ever known.

JD: How has the police academy training changed in terms of your desires for community policing. As you know Bratton gave a lot of officers, including yourself, kind of carte blanche to start to think about these things.

BECK: We have changed the training in the last couple of years to be more all-inclusive. We don’t silo our topics. We include de-escalation of force training and communications skills and everything that they do. I have a civilian employee with a doctorate in education that runs my academy. She is absolutely focused on making sure that we do as inclusive a job as we can with our recruits.

We’ve also begun to bring the academy classes later in their careers—at their one, two-and-a-half and five-year points [of service] for more in-service training on the exact topics we’ve been talking about. We believe that is the most effective way for them to learn, because they already are in the same learning group, with shared interests and experiences.

They already have a pecking order and their social group is already done. In any kind of training, all those things have to get resolved before any learning occurs. So we are bringing them back and their academy cohorts for training on this exact topic. That is called the LAPD University. We are totally redoing the way that we look at in-service training in order to apply the right kinds of lessons at the right time in their career.


DISCIPLINE

JD: One of raps against you from some within the LAPD is that your discipline is inconsistent. Do they have a point?

BECK: Sometimes folks forget discipline is not solely based on the act. There are termination offenses no matter what kind of record you have. But discipline is certainly influenced by an officer’s history. A person who makes a mistake over and over is going to receive much harsher discipline than somebody who makes it for the first time.

JD: What do you mean when you talk about a ‘mistake of the heart’ and a ‘mistake of the head’?

BECK: A mistake of the heart is malignant. Doing something with evil intent is very different than doing something because you made a poor decision with good intentions. A mistake of the heart is planting dope on somebody. A mistake of the head is miscounting narcotics when you book, it and [us] finding out that [that the total is wrong.] Mistakes of the heart, I can’t tolerate. Through training and reinforcement a lot of the mistakes of the head can be rectified so they won’t reoccur.

JD: Aren’t there are some ‘mistakes of the head’ that need to be strongly disciplined as an example to other officers?

BECK: I do fire people for mistakes of the head. Drinking and driving is a mistake of the head. It is not because you have a malignant heart. I fire people for that to set an example. Not the first time but certainly the second time.


PROSECUTING OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

JD: In 2015, there were a number of LAPD shootings of the kind where you sit up on your TV couch and say, “Wow! I can’t believe they just shot that guy.”

Recently you’ve sent to the D.A. the case of the fatal LAPD shooting of Brendon Glenn [a young, unarmed black man who was shot in the back in Venice, Ca.] with a recommendation to prosecute the officer. How does that differ from some of the other controversial LAPD officer-involved shootings? Is it a rare occurrence in this or any city for an officer to get referred for an indictment in a shooting incident?

BECK: First of all, I have done this many times in other instances. I have [recommended] prosecuting police officers for murder and everything below that, as [an Internal Affairs] detective and as chief, I’ve aggressively prosecuted police officers. Usually that’s not for actions conducted while on duty, (but) sometimes it is. Recently we had a case prosecuted where an officer kicked somebody unnecessarily. That was captured on video. It didn’t result in a death. I don’t shy from that. I don’t like prosecuting cops but that doesn’t stop me from doing it.

JD: Nevertheless, the LAPD has a high rate of officer-involved shootings, compared to other police agencies.

BECK: We make many, many contacts, and have maybe the most gang violence. There are consequences to that. When you have the most interactions and the most radio calls and the most arrests, you are going to have the most opportunities for [officer-involved] shootings. You can’t compare us to an agency half our size and say ‘why do you have more shootings?’ Of course we have more shootings. We have more of everything.

Then the other piece is we have a geographic or demographic that is more violent than others then police are going to come in contact with that violence. And you are going to have an increase in police use of force.

JD: Why do officer-involved shootings take so long to adjudicate? One just took 13 months. Your critics say you’re just taking your time until public outrage has settled and the incident is off everybody’s mind.

BECK: Should we adjudicate it before the autopsy is done? Autopsies take three to four months. Should we adjudicate them before all the witnesses’ statements and everything else is done? We do homicide level investigations on every one of these [officer involved shootings]. Then after the investigations, the [LAPD] Inspector General looks at them, [the department’s] Use-of-Force board and the Chief of Police look at them, and then the police commission has to rule on them. And all of that takes time. They have to review 48 shootings [in 2015] and multiple other uses of force.

Which part of this scenario do I skip? It was designed by the [1991 Warren] Christopher Commission and the [U.S Justice Department’s] consent decree, in response to what people saw as a department that was [out of] control. And we follow it scrupulously.

JD: Does the Los Angeles District Attorney ever investigate LAPD officers without the recommendation of the department first?

BECK: We present every officer-involved shooting to the DA for review. Every one of ‘em. Nobody else does that. No matter how good they are. They all go to the DA for review. And the DA responds as a roll out tape that goes to every officer involved shooting scene at the time it occurs and has for years.

JD: Before, if the LAPD didn’t send it over to them, they didn’t do any investigation. It’s not that way anymore?

BECK: No. We send every one of them over there, and they are invited – we have a DA assigned to each one of the investigations.

JD: So if the DA wanted to, she could initiate her own investigation—after you send it over—and indict, even though the department is not asking for the indictment?

BECK: Absolutely.


BLACK-ON-BLACK VIOLENCE

JD: If I were a police chief I would talk about violence among poor African-American young men every day, and why nothing is being done except more repression and mass incarceration, in terms of long-term investment to remedy the situation.

BECK: You’re absolutely correct. A small minority of the population commit— and are victims of—the vast majority of crime. Much of that is tied to circumstances of birth and race and many other things. [We’re] about changing that dynamic. It’s the hardest thing to do in policing. But if you create a sense of social efficacy and a belief that a community is in charge of its own destiny you can reduce violence and crime.

I always struggle with how hard I am going to lean on the fact that 42 percent of our homicide victims are African Americans, [whose population is less than 9 percent of Los Angeles]; and 40 percent of the suspects arrested for homicide were African American. [But] just railing on why nobody will fix the problems in [our] poor communities— I don’t know how much that will get me. I think everybody understands [the causes].

JD: But people don’t understand that. It’s been hard for many, many white people to grasp.

BECK: Well, it’s very true [about the circumstances]. We have to have the conversation about what is killing our youth – because that is what this is—our youth. We all have to recognize that some of our communities are much more prone to violence than others. And we’ve got to find a way to fix that.

But everybody [in a department] has to pull together. And [even then] everything we do can be unwound by one Neanderthal [cop] that treats people badly in the wrong situation.

JD: Well, I have come to understand that you’ve had to bring the troops along. And police unions are a powerfully resistant political force.

BECK: Of course. That’s why I get frustrated with my union when they go hard right on some of these issues. I need their members to believe in [what we’re trying to do], because that’s how we’ll get better, and maybe we’ll become an example for America. Maybe.


STOP & FRISK

JD: Is your department still doing roughly the same [high] amount of stop and frisks?

BECK: Well, I hate that term, of course. Our detentions are reduced, our overall arrests have been part of a continuing decline. A lot of that is due to a de-emphasis through the courts and through law and even internally [due to a de-emphasis] towards narcotics arrests and some other lower-level types of arrests that have caused those numbers to go down. Our stops have declined on a similar level, but we still make a lot of stops. There are still multiple hundreds of thousands of year.

JD: In our previous discussion for this interview you were talking about how “explanation” in policing–stops goes a long way towards easing the tension during a stop. Your ability to articulate why you stopped somebody has a lot to do with how people feel about it.

BECK: One of the great things about the body cameras and the in car video is that supervisors are able to review that [interaction] period, and see how effective their officers are at it, and make adjustments. One of the reasons that we look at biased policing complaints so exhaustively is because I think that many of them are an exact symptom of this – of a lack of explanation.

JD: What do you want to get done during the remaining three years of your term?

BECK: I want to get back on track with crime, be the model in building community trust, and get people to have faith in this police department to the extent that the national conversation [about how police abuse] may have damaged it.

JD: In terms of building community trust, how far along do you think the department currently is?

BECK: I believe our police officers generally make excellent decisions on stopping the right people in the right circumstance. Do I put inexperienced people out there? Do I fish with a net? No. We try to be as targeted as possible. Fishing with a net is a very bad way to police. You may catch a lot of fish, but you certainly don’t get the right kind.


BODY AND DASHBOARD CAMERAS

In 2015, Chief Beck implemented a body and dashboard camera policy that allows officers to see the camera videos before they make their use-of-force reports, but keeps the footage under wraps for almost everyone else. That policy pacified the Police Protective League, but it left civil libertarians and other critics angry and disillusioned.

JD: How difficult was it for you to pull all the interested parties together and come up with your plan?

BECK: It was difficult. Nobody is completely is satisfied with this. Nobody. The ACLU, the Police Protective League [the LAPD Union], the city council and I are all not completely satisfied. But it’s a workable compromise that allows police accountability and officer’s confidence in a tool that is being used to not only monitor them but also support their work.

You’ve got a balance – I can make a system that’s pure monitoring of officers, or a system that’s pure prosecution, but we want something that [the officers] will use; that allows for accountability; and will improve behavior on both sides of the camera and change the way cops perceive their jobs. All of us are guilty of not being our best at all times. Cameras increase the likelihood that everybody will perform to their optimum capability.

JD: Two issues with the plan: the public doesn’t get to see the videos of these controversial shootings; and the officers are allowed to view the video before they make their statement. Both of these issues seem problematic.

BECK: Representatives of the public are allowed to see the videos. The Police Commission, the District Attorney, City Attorney and the [LAPD] Inspector General all have full access to these videos. A video is a form of evidence, like a written statement, an oral recording, a photograph or an autopsy. To release it out of context doesn’t do justice to the investigation. These are raw videos, capturing a knot hole of an incident and not the totality of the circumstances. What we are looking for is not absolute transparency. It’s accountability.

As for an officer being allowed to view the video before making a statement, shouldn’t an officer when transcribing his report be able to review it, so that [he or she] can make their most accurate statement based on a report he created?

JD: Or critics might suggest they can make a statement that’s most favorable to them when based on the video.

BECK: The evidence [the video] is what the evidence is. You can’t change it by your statement. If you have acted inappropriately or improperly the evidence in the video will generally show that. We’re trying to create a tool that officers will use and embrace and adds a level of accountability. So there are compromises made. The addition of video is no different than the many other pieces of evidence that officers are allowed to view before making their statements. We do a walk thru so they can see the scene [of the incident].

Being involved in a shooting is very traumatic. We are trying to get their best recollection. If the investigators decide that is not the best way to do it than we don’t. In the Venice shooting (of Brendon Glenn), the officer involved] hasn’t seen that tape, because I thought it was a criminal act [when I viewed it.]


THE HOMELESS

Shortly after our interview the City and County of Los Angeles announced plans to dramatically increase funding and housing for LA homeless of about 47,000 – the largest in the nation.

JD: Let’s talk about the huge homeless problem in the city of Los Angeles, and how it’s essentially been left to the LAPD to deal with for decades.

BECK: The best thing about this year is that finally other people are [also] taking responsibility for it. [Mayor] Eric Garcetti has done a phenomenal job of bringing people together. . .[LA’s] government is so decentralized and power is so dispersed. . .that it’s very difficult to get things done without building a consensus. But he’s brought [Los Angeles] county [towards reform] along and the County [controls] all the mental health services and the majority of the money for housing and other services.

We’ve been locked in a spiral going the wrong way on this. We had to claim a 14 percent increase in the [number] of homelessness living on the street last year. Visually, it looks like double that, and that’s a huge crime issue for us. I mean our number one division in crime increase this year was Central [Division, in Downtown LA., including skid row]. And damn near all of that is homeless on homeless crime.

JD: So what’s the new plan?

BECK: Creating more homeless housing and incentives for people to want to live in that housing. We have vacant beds every night [in skid-row facilities]. So people need to be willing to people willing to go to [homeless housing]. And the department [has been developing] mental health teams – ‘smart teams’ of a mental health provider and a police officer that respond to not only calls about the mentally ill but also do case work on the homeless and mentally ill.

JD: How many officers are working on that?

BECK: I am adding 32 and I had 40. That’s a big commitment. And the Department of Mental Health has agreed to add 30 more [of their personnel]. We are going to be handle almost 70 percent of our mental health calls with those teams. . .We can fix this problem with enough energy, commitment and funding. It’s not fixed now, but things are lining up and maybe we can make some progress.


A CHIEF’S MANAGMENT STYLE

JD: LA has a long history of combative LAPD chiefs like Ed Davis, Daryl Gates and Bernard Parks who warred with the media and other critics, and made the LAPD all about themselves. Even Bill Bratton, who courted the press and public, made the department about ‘Bill Bratton the Reformer.’ You on the other hand, have kept a remarkably low profile. Why?

BECK: The chief of police should not be everybody’s focus of interest.. My ideal scenario is having a police department that [the public] believes in more than they believe in the chief. I have got a finite time [in office], a goodbye date. I have to create an organization that will continue [to get better]. We made huge progress in Bratton’s administration and hopefully in mine; I want that to [pass that on] to the next chief.



Joe Domanick is West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report, and Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in NYC. He is the author of “Blue: The Los Angeles Police Department and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.”.

Joe welcomes your comments

This story is being crossposted with the permission of The Crime Report.


Photo of Charlie Beck courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD | 2 Comments »

LASD Oversight Moves Forward, LAPD Chief’s Recommendation for Charges in Venice Shooting, Closed Adoptions, and the State of the Union

January 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FORMING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a plan for appointing members to a civilian oversight commission for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The motion allows former law enforcement to serve on the nine-member panel, but only if they had been disengaged from the LASD (or other law enforcement agency) for at least a year.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who submitted the motion with Supe. Hilda Solis, defended the inclusion of former members of law enforcement, saying, “This is not about anti-law enforcement from my point of view, it is about pro-accountability of law enforcement. You want the best people to be part of causing that to happen, irrespective of their discipline.”

Supervisor Solis added that moving toward the creation of an oversight commission is a step toward better fiscal responsibility—better use of taxpayer money. “The County spends millions of taxpayer dollars settling lawsuits. That money could be spent on housing, services, or tax relief.”

You can read more about the decision on Supe. Ridley-Tomas’ website. Here’s a clip:

The motion also drew praise from Jose Osuna, director of external affairs at Homeboy Industries, which provides job training to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, allowing them to become contributing members of society.

We are highly encouraged by the commitment that is demonstrated by this motion to improve relationships between law enforcement, government, and the community,” Mr. Osuna told the Board.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell expressed support for the motion, saying, “I welcome the opportunity to work with the Inspector General and to have the Civilian Oversight Commission to be able to validate the good that’s being done (by the Sheriff’s Department) on behalf of the public.”Since the Sheriff signed a memorandum of agreement last month to provide the Inspector General with unprecedented access to information, the Board will wait until May 31 before considering asking voters to give the Commission subpoena powers via Charter amendment.

Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA, supported the move. “I agree with the makers of the motion that it is worthwhile to allow the Sheriff to demonstrate that his voluntary agreement to share information with the Commission will be sufficient,” he told the Board. “[Afterwards], the Supervisors can consider what, if any, changes should be made involving subpoena power and changes to state law.

Under the motion, the five Supervisors would each appoint a Commissioner. The Board as a whole would appoint four other Commissioners from a pool of candidates recruited by a consultant.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL PRAISES LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK’S RECOMMENDATION FOR CHARGES IN OFFICER-KILLING OF HOMELESS MAN

An LA Times editorial lauds LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendation that a deputy be charged in the fatal shooting of a Venice homeless man as a rare and welcome change from what we have come to expect from the nation’s police chiefs. Here’s a clip:

To some, it may seem like an overtly political act. Some may suspect that Beck threw an officer under the bus to appease local activists and perhaps city officials in an effort to avoid the kind of uproar faced in Chicago and other cities where police officers have shot unarmed African Americans with seeming impunity. And who wouldn’t be suspicious? After all, this sort of recommendation isn’t made by police chiefs very often.

But maybe it should be done more often. Not the throwing under the bus part — obviously a police chief should base his decision on the facts and the evidence, and not on political pressure or public outcry. But the willingness of a chief to acknowledge that sometimes use of force is not justified even if a suspect was behaving badly is an important step forward. Historically, police chiefs in L.A. and elsewhere have been part of the cone of silence in cases of deadly use of force. No doubt the public outrage over police killings has made that stance more difficult.

The police union, however, is not at all thrilled with Beck’s decision to recommend charges. The LA Times Kate Mather has more on the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s statement, as well as a story about Beck’s responses to critics and outreach to his officers.

And the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has more on the fatal shooting of Brendan Glenn, an unarmed homeless man in Venice, and Chief Beck’s recommendation to charge Officer Clifford Proctor.


THE POTENTIAL TRAUMA OF CLOSED ADOPTIONS

After losing nearly all contact with her four nieces and nephews after their closed adoption—an process that has been traumatizing for all involved—17-year-old Jordain Rodriguez has stepped up to fight for children in the child welfare system. Rodriguez believes that regular contact with her nieces and nephews, whom she helped raise, would have been far more beneficial for the children, helping to reduce abandonment-related trauma.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…at age 13, life abruptly changed for Rodriguez. She was taken from her parents by child protective services and placed in relative foster care with her grandmother. Not long afterward, her nieces and nephews entered the system as well.

She remains haunted by the experience, especially when social workers arrived to take away some of the children.

“It was the worst thing I have ever had to do,” Rodriguez said. “They didn’t want to go, and they were scared to go in the car with a stranger.”

About a year later, the children were placed with an adoptive family, and Rodriguez and other family members—including her parents, her brother, her boyfriend and both of her sisters—were allowed a final visit before the children disappeared into the adoptive system.

“We didn’t tell the kids it was the last visit, but you could tell they knew this was the last time,” she said. “They were all upset. You could just tell.

“After the visit, I was very mad that I couldn’t do anything to keep them with me and that I had no say so about what the parents decided. I started crying a lot. It just broke my heart to see them leave.”

During the process, she worked with the Real Family Project to create a video about her story and listened to the experiences of adults who had been adopted in childhood. Issues like grief, abandonment and identity development may often follow adoptees into adulthood, leading to unresolved trauma long after an adoption occurs.

“I didn’t think that the hurt would stay with them so long after the adoption,” Rodriguez said. “It opened my eyes. Without answers, kids are always going to wonder where their families are.”

[SNIP]

Rodriguez is not content to let fate handle matters or wait until her nieces and nephews reach 18, when they’ll be able to access information about their biological family if they wish. In February, along with other CYC members, Rodriguez will make a visit to the state capitol in Sacramento, where she’ll present some of her research to legislators in support of a bill to better protect the rights of family members in the adoption process.

In closed adoptions, [adoptive parents] have all the power,” Rodriguez said. “The biggest thing is not making this just about siblings. It needs to be about all of the biological family. If they’re a good influence on the kids and if they have good intentions, [the law] shouldn’t just let adoptive parents rip them away.”


CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM LARGELY ABSENT FROM OBAMA’S STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH

Among the State of the Union guests seated next to Michelle Obama last night was Sue Ellen Allan, a woman who spent close to seven years in Arizona’s state prison for women. Once she was released in 2009, Allan fought to get back into the women’s prison to help the locked-up women with education services and employment training to disrupt the recidivism cycle. Sue Ellen’s non-profit re-entry program, Gina’s Team, is named after her cellmate who died while locked up.

Allan’s inclusion on the list of State of the Union guests is particularly noteworthy because while we hear often about initiatives and services meant to help imprisoned men, we rarely hear about women-specific programs and other efforts.

You can read more about Sue Ellen’s story over at Buzzfeed.

Also among the guests in the First Lady’s Box was Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who has become a national leader for community policing practices.

The White House also left an empty chair in the First Lady’s Box to represent the people killed by gun violence in the US each year.

Despite a handful of important criminal justice guests, the president only touched lightly on a couple of criminal justice topics. “I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse,” Obama said early on in his speech.

ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the social justice-related topics that Obama skipped, including gun violence.

Slate’s Leon Neyfakh has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Besides the reference he made to the issue at the very beginning—in which he used justice reform as an example of a bipartisan effort he hopes Democrats and Republicans can work on together during the coming year—Obama brought up the criminal justice system just once, gesturing somewhat obliquely at the end of the speech to his belief that employers should not reject applicants based solely on their criminal record. (In a reference to the national debate over police use of force, he also gave a shoutout to “the protester determined to prove that justice matters” and “the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”)

While reform advocates might take solace in the fact that criminal justice came up mere seconds into Obama’s remarks, it still got barely any airtime. Some experts in the field are speculating that it’s a strategic move—that Obama doesn’t want to associate himself too closely with the ongoing efforts to push a criminal justice bill through Congress, lest it scare off Republicans who would rather not be seen supporting his agenda. There’s also an argument to be made that, given the federal government’s relatively limited ability to make a dent on what is fundamentally a state issue, it’s only appropriate that the president prioritize other topics.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | No Comments »

Populating the LASD Oversight Commission….LAPD Chief Recommends Charges in Officer-Involved Shooting….and More

January 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES TO DISCUSS WHO SHOULD SIT ON AN LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors are expected to discuss the makeup of a civilian commission to oversee the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

In previous talks about the oversight commission, one important topic of discussion has been whether retired sworn personnel could serve as commission members, or whether that would create a conflict of interest.

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis have submitted a motion to only allow former LASD personnel to serve on the nine-member commission after they had been disconnected from the department for one year.

Mark Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now argues ex-deputies should not serve on the board at all. Johnson says that even former personnel like Bob Olmsted, who testified about corruption and misconduct within the department to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, could serve as advisors to the commission but not as commissioners, arguing that ex-cops on the commission could potentially harm the group’s credibility.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Fundamentally, we don’t think law enforcement should be policing law enforcement,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now, a group that formed to protest deputy-on-inmate violence in the jails and pushed for the new commission.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Johnson said. “The community needs to know that they can go to a place where the people they are talking to have not been entrenched in a practice of law enforcement – one that protects law enforcement.”

But L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the powerful Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs argue excluding former deputies from eligibility would be unfair and also exclude people who know the inner workings of the department.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis agree — and have introduced a motion that would allow former deputies to serve on the commission after a one-year period away from the department. They argue an ex-cop’s perspective could be valuable on a panel charged with looking for problems at the Sheriff’s Department.

“There is no question that it could have a lot of value depending on who the person is,” said Ridley-Thomas. He points to the late Jesse Brewer, a former LAPD assistant chief who became a strong voice for reform on the city’s civilian police commission in the 1990s.

“In my view he was one of the best commissioners to ever serve,” said Ridley-Thomas.

Johnson agrees that former officers can be valuable, citing ex-Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted. He was one of the few sheriff’s officials to testify about problems at the department at the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.


FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK RECOMMENDS CHARGING OFFICER IN FATAL SHOOTING

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has recommended that the LA County District Attorney’s Office charge police officer Clifford Proctor in the fatal shooting of Brendon Glenn, an unarmed homeless man in Venice.

Video and other evidence from the May shooting led police investigators to determine that during an altercation, Proctor shot 29-year-old Glenn twice in the back while Glenn was lying on his stomach on the ground.

It’s now up to LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey as to whether Proctor will be charged. This is the first time Chief Beck has ever recommended charges for an on-duty fatal shooting by an officer.

ABC7 has the story. Here’s a clip:

Proctor’s attorney said the officer saw Glenn reaching for his partner’s gun. However, Beck said that after reviewing video, witness accounts and other evidence, investigators determined Glenn was not trying to take either Proctor’s gun or his partner’s weapon at the time of the shooting.

Glenn was among 21 people fatally shot by Los Angeles police in 2015, when the overall number of officer-involved shootings in the nation’s second-largest city increased by 52 percent.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that he hopes Beck’s recommendation is “considered with the utmost gravity.”

“As the District Attorney reviews this case, my hope is that Chief Beck’s recommendation is considered with the utmost gravity. No one is above the law, and whenever use-of-force crosses the line, it is our obligation to make sure that principle is upheld,” he said.

The police union, however blasted Beck.

“Chief Beck should never be involved in this,” said Craig Lally of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “He should just hand over the investigation and let the people that are actually going to either file or prosecute this case – with the evidence at hand – let them decide.”

Meanwhile, there was rare praise for Beck from civil rights activists.

“It is so unprecedented,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable. “When in living memory can you remember a local police chief saying ‘an officer messed up. An officer abused his authority.’”


WINNING A CONVICTION AGAINST AN OFFICER IN A FATAL USE OF FORCE CASE IS DIFFICULT, TO SAY THE LEAST

Between 2005-2015, there was only one officer charged with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty fatal use of force. While the number of officers charged in the deaths of civilians has risen across the nation, it is still very difficult to convict an officer in an on-duty shooting, point out the LA Times’ Jack Leonard and James Queally, who have compiled a list of recent charges against California officers and their outcomes. Here’s a clip:

Despite California’s sheer size, officers rarely face charges for on-duty shootings, according to Phillip M. Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State in Ohio who is tracking murder or manslaughter charges against officers nationwide.

From 2005-15, only one California officer was charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with an on-duty shooting, said Stinson. Nationally, 65 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with their role in on-duty shootings in that time frame, Stinson said.

Last year saw a noticeable spike in the frequency of such serious charges across the country, he said.

Eighteen officers were charged in 2015 with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty shooting, according to Stinson’s data. From 2011-14, just 16 officers faced similar charges.

Stinson said it’s too early to tell if there is a link between increased national scrutiny of police actions and an uptick in the number of murder or manslaughter charges filed against officers.

California prosecutors who have brought such cases in the last few decades have sometimes struggled to win convictions.


NO MORE CONTROVERSIAL STRIP SEARCHES FOR VISITORS TO CA PRISONS

Thanks to a change in state law, visitors at California prisons will no longer be subjected to strip searches.

Under the new regulations, visitors will now incur a year’s worth of heightened scrutiny if drug sniffing dogs or scanners detect illegal substances. And the penalties for those who refuse a clothed pat-down after being flagged by dog or machine will face increasing penalty levels for each refusal.

The Associated Press has the story.

It’s the first time visitors will be scrutinized by dogs that previously have been used to search inmates, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said Monday.

Visitors who are spotlighted by a dog or ion scanner but refuse clothed searches face an increasing range of penalties under the revised regulations the department proposed on Friday and will take effect after a public comment period.

A first refusal means no visit that day. A second refusal could bring a loss of visiting privileges for 30 days, while a third could mean no visits for a year. A fourth refusal in a year could result in the permanent revocation of visiting privileges.

The progressive penalties will encourage visitors to submit to the searches, the department said in outlining the new regulations.

Even if a visitor submits to a clothed search and no drugs or other contraband is found, the visitor can’t have physical contact with an inmate during that day’s visit and must go through the process again the next time he or she visits an inmate within the next 12 months.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD | 112 Comments »

Veterans in Jail, the New Prez of the LAPD Commission, and LAPD Chief Beck on Body Cams

September 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW HOPE FOR LOCKED-UP VETS: A SAN DIEGO JAIL MODULE TAILORED TO TREAT VETERANS’ INVISIBLE WOUNDS

At the Vista Detention Facility in San Diego County, veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are placed in “modules” focused on healing, rather than punishing, men who are wrestling with any combination of PTSD, substance abuse, and homelessness.

The jail’s two modules, specifically tailored to the unique needs of veterans, offer vets a chance to deal with the struggles of life after active duty that helped put them behind bars. Vista’s vet modules provides a level of discipline and routine that’s familiar and comforting to the former military men, as well as daily classes, yoga, therapy, and the company of other veterans (even the guards are vets).

Note: currently, there are no comparable offerings in the US for female vets, who are subject to the same war-related traumas as their male counterparts.

The Crime Report’s Katti Gray has more on the Vista veterans program. Here’s a clip:

A year—to the day—after his baby brother was shot dead in a Kansas prairie town, German Villegas’ best buddy in Afghanistan was killed by a bomb he’d been ordered to find and defuse.

“We were both on the list to search for explosives,” Villegas recalled.

But U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Michael J. Palacios was the one dispatched that day in November 2012. “He got hit by a 200-pound IED,” two months before both men were slated to go home, Villegas said.

Villegas returned stateside, a shattered man.

“My number-one goal was to get drunk and just try to forget everything,” said the 23-year-old, who joined the Marines straight out of high school and spent five years there. Fired from the military police, he was shunted into what he calls “punitive duties” that had him cleaning up after battalion officers and picking up trash.

But the worst were the funeral details.

“(That) was the completely wrong thing for me to have to do,” he continued. “Every time I did one of these funerals, I’m seeing these families crying. I became pretty good at compartmentalizing—or so I thought.”

Villegas was sitting that afternoon in the communal area outside an all-male cell block at a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department jail, where he landed after being arrested for an assault on his fiancée. A few feet away, at the Vista Detention Facility, stood one of the armed deputy sheriffs, also a veteran, who asked to be assigned to that cell block. Just beyond that deputy was a Marine Corps retiree and correctional counselor who directs Vista’s almost two-year-old Veterans Moving Forward Program.

One of a handful of such projects in the United States, the program makes available to convicted ex-military men and those awaiting trial—including those like Villegas who’ve been diagnosed with mental illness—counseling, peer-to-peer support and other amenities rarely extended to people behind bars.

Minutes before Villegas gave a visitor his take on what war extracts from combatants and innocents alike, he had queued up at a nurse’s cart, where anti-psychotic and other prescribed drugs were dispensed to jailed veterans with mental illnesses. (Those with only physical ailments also filled their prescriptions.)

Villegas’ meds are intended to help him stave off anxiety, depression and the flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-arousal, hyper-alertness and exponential moodiness that are among the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Such maladies are likely what triggered his admitted episode of violence. For Villegas, like so many other criminally charged veterans, had no history of illegal activity prior to military service.

“Jail is the last place I thought I would end up and the last place I thought I would find help, but this program has become a foundation that I can trust,” Villegas said. “The moment I came here and saw those military flags on the walls, it brought me to tears. There’s a brotherhood here … and there are things here that I need to restore my mental health, to get whole again.”


LA’S NEWEST POLICE COMMISSION PRESIDENT SAYS HE’S READY TO JUMP IN AND GET TO WORK ON POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONS

Matt Johnson, the newest Los Angeles Police Department commission president, also happens to be the only black member of the commission tasked with overseeing the LAPD.

When Johnson was growing up in New Jersey in the 80′s, he said he was on the receiving end of both racial prejudice from law enforcement officers and kindness from the cops who were friends with his dad. Johnson says this gives him the perspective needed to take on police-community relations issues.

But some community members criticize LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s appointment of Johnson, who is an entertainment lawyer, instead of someone who is a grassroots community advocate.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has the story. Here’s a clip:

Richard Drooyan, a former Police Commission president, said the board’s role as the “eyes and ears of the community” is particularly important at this moment given the public desire for increased accountability of police. Johnson, he said, must be “willing to criticize when mistakes are made and support the department when the department is right.”

In one of its most important roles, the board decides whether police shootings and other serious uses of force were appropriate. It’s a responsibility that has come under greater scrutiny as police officers across the country have increasingly been criticized for how they use force, particularly against black men.

Activists have blasted the LAPD and commissioners for some of the police shootings in Los Angeles. LAPD officers have shot 28 people so far this year, half of whom were killed.

Some of the most vocal critics are affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, including some who denounced Mayor Eric Garcetti for putting Johnson on the Police Commission. They said they wanted an anti-gang activist on the board instead of another person who donated to Garcetti’s campaign.

When asked about the criticism, Johnson said the Black Lives Matter movement had “shined a light on very important issues.”

“The bottom line is, there is an alarming number of African Americans across our country who have been killed by police,” Johnson said. “A large part of the reason that I agreed to join the commission is that I’m concerned about it, and I believe I can play a positive role in reducing those incidents.”

Paula Madison, the outgoing commissioner who has been the board’s only African American member since 2013, described Johnson as a friend who works with quiet deliberation, someone who understood the impact he could have as a black man on the Police Commission.

“If you get the opportunity to help set policies, you take it very seriously,” she said. “And knowing Matt, he’s going to take this very seriously.”

Head over to Mathers’ story to read more about Johnson’s background and what he hopes to accomplish while serving as a commissioner.


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK TALKS BODY CAMS AND POLICIES

On Wednesday’s on Air Talk, host Larry Mantle talked with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck about how the department’s implementation of officer body cameras is going, so far, and about recent pushback from the ACLU about when and how much video footage should be released to the public. The ACLU has asked the Department of Justice not to contribute funding to the LAPD’s body cam program because the department will not be actively releasing video showing officer-involved shootings.

Here’s Chief Beck’s response:

Well, the ACLU is welcome to offer whatever recommendations they want to whoever they want, but I don’t agree with them, I don’t think the federal government will agree with them either. Body cameras, and I’m wearing one right now as we talk and you can see it, are an evidence-collection tool, just like detectives are, just like the coroner’s investigation is, just like many many pieces of an investigation. We don’t release investigations piecemeal. Body camera footage is available for review by the district attorney, by the city attorney, by a civil court, by a criminal court, and in cases of uses of force that rise to the appropriate level, by the civilian police commission. So there are multiple levels of review, and to merely put video into the public without further investigatory information I think is inappropriate.

Of course, the concern is that the department is going to release the video when it suits its interests, not so quick to do so when it makes the department the gatekeeper. How do you respond to that concern?

I respond to it by looking at my track record. I’ve been Chief for five years now. We’ve had in-car video for that whole time, and I haven’t released that video when it supports my position or when it is detrimental to my position or to the department. I use it as part of the investigation; it is not something I use to form public opinion. It’s an investigative tool. That is not to say that I would never release video. If the state of the city depends on it, then that would weigh heavily on my decision. But in the day-to-day incidents of policing. One of the things I like to remind folks is that when you call the Los Angeles Police Department, it’s not on your best day. It never is. We go to your house. There may have been a domestic incident. You may have been the victim of a crime. It could be any number of circumstances. None of which you want put in the public domain. At least, all of the victims I’ve ever talked to. And so we want to be very circumspect, we want to be the guardians of the public trust. When people interact with the police, I think they have a right to some privacy in that condition.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, PTSD, Veterans | 8 Comments »

2015 Crime Spikes

September 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

TOO SOON TO TELL WHAT’S BEHIND HIGHER CRIME RATES AND WHETHER WE HAVE REACHED THE END OF THE DOWNWARD CRIME TREND

Homicide and crime rates appear to be on the rise across the country, but there is much debate over what’s behind the shift, both at the local and national levels.

In LA last month, there were 39 homicides, an August number that has not been matched since 2007. And the murder rate from January until now is 7% higher than it was last year. South L.A.’s 77th Division has been hit the hardest, with 43 homicides so far this year. And violent crime jumped 20% during the first six months of 2015 in LA in comparison to the the first half of 2014.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Nicole Santa Cruz have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

Until now, Los Angeles had avoided the rise in killings reported by other large cities around the country this year. Homicides in Washington, D.C., have already reached the level experienced during all of 2014. Killings are up 20% in Chicago and 7% in New York compared with the same periods last year.

Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said it’s difficult to know what is driving the increases. He noted that some argue that police behavior has become less aggressive in a large number of cities in the face of increased public scrutiny over how officers use force. Another theory, he said, is that the rise in crime is tied to expanding heroin markets.

“It’s going to take some time to figure this out,” he said.

Despite the uptick, the homicide rates in Los Angeles and other cities are far lower than in decades past. The number of killings in L.A. peaked in 1992, when the city saw 1,092 homicides. Last year, the figure was 260.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted earlier this week that homicides in the city had been down this year until August, which he described as a “horrible month.”

“You can’t draw huge conclusions over one month,” Beck told the Police Commission on Tuesday. “But the month of August hopefully does not portend what will occur during the following months of the year.”

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and others have blamed the county’s higher crime rates (although McDonnell did not mention homicides) on the passage and implementation of Prop 47—which reclassified certain low-level felonies as misdemeanors.

And during LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City address in April, he announced a new elite metro unit would patrol crime hotspots in response to a rise in violent crime rates during the first part of 2015 in Los Angeles.

The NY Times’ Monica Davey and Mitch Smith take a look at the national homicide trends and what law enforcement and crime experts are pointing to as contributing factors, including “a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes.” Here’s a clip:

Rivalries among organized street gangs, often over drug turf, and the availability of guns are cited as major factors in some cities, including Chicago. But more commonly, many top police officials say they are seeing a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes.

“Maintaining one’s status and credibility and honor, if you will, within that peer community is literally a matter of life and death,” Milwaukee’s police chief, Edward A. Flynn, said. “And that’s coupled with a very harsh reality, which is the mental calculation of those who live in that strata that it is more dangerous to get caught without their gun than to get caught with their gun.”

The results have often been devastating. Tamiko Holmes, a mother of five, has lost two of her nearly grown children in apparently unrelated shootings in the last eight months. In January, a daughter, 20, was shot to death during a robbery at a birthday party at a Days Inn. Six months later, the authorities called again: Her only son, 19, had been shot in the head in a car — a killing for which the police are still searching for a motive and a suspect.

Ms. Holmes said she recently persuaded her remaining teenage daughters to move away from Milwaukee with her, but not before one of them, 17, was wounded in a shooting while riding in a car.

“The violence was nothing like this before,” said Ms. Holmes, 38, who grew up in Milwaukee. “What’s changed is the streets and the laws and the parents. It’s become a mess and a struggle.”

Urban bloodshed — as well as the overall violent crime rate — remains far below the peaks of the late 1980s and early ’90s, and criminologists say it is too early to draw broad conclusions from the recent numbers.

[SNIP]

In New Orleans, Michael S. Harrison, the police superintendent, said the city’s rise in homicides did not appear to reflect any increase in gang violence or robberies of strangers, but rather involved killings inside homes and cars by people who know their victims — particularly difficult crimes to predict or prevent.

“That is not a situation that can be solved by policing,” Superintendent Harrison said. “It speaks to a culture of violence deeply ingrained into a community — a segment of the population where people are resolving their problems in a violent way.”

In New York, there have been a larger number of gang-related killings, Stephen Davis, the department’s top spokesman, said. But he also said many homicides remained unexplained, the result of disputes with murky origins. “There are a lot of murders that happen in the spur of the moment,” Mr. Davis said.

In eight years as police chief in Milwaukee, Chief Flynn seemed to have brought the pace of murders under control. After a high of 165 in 1991, killings had dipped significantly.

“We thought we were having an impact,” Chief Flynn said. But as murders have multiplied in recent months — a death in a suspected drug house, a roommate beaten to death, a teenager shot at a kitchen table — Chief Flynn sounds far less certain. “I don’t even want to hazard what pace we’re on right now.”

(The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates slams the NY Times story for their vague and problematic inclusion of the “Ferguson effect” as a possible contributor.)

The Brennan Center for Justice’s Matthew Friedman suggests that despite the recent rise in crime rates, the US is still in the midst of a larger downward crime trend.

In an op-ed for CNN, UC Irvine criminology, law, and society professor, George Tita, says that while it is too early to tell whether the short-term numbers in LA and other cities are indicative of a long-term uptick in homicide and violent crime rates, we have come a long way from the incredible gun violence of the 80′s and 90′s.

Tita goes on to say that there’s a good chance that the surge in LA, which LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has attributed to a gang feud, will be a “one-time blip.” Here’s a clip:

For those cities not already doing so, then it is time they got ahead of the recent trends in violence and revisit the kind of interventions that proved so effective in the past. Doing so would also not just help with the immediate issue of rising crime levels and gun violence, but would also offer an opportunity in the “post-Ferguson” world to bring together the community and police to help repair what appears to be growing distrust between both parties.

More specifically, the collection and utilization of data has generally resulted in more effective policing, and can be used to help stem the current rises in violent crime.

Larger police departments routinely use data-driven “predictive policing” analytics to allocate resources to emerging crime “hot spots.” Similarly, social network analysis is being employed to better understand relationships among individuals or between rival gang factions, while police are increasingly able to quickly find out about “minor” incidents between individuals from human intelligence sources and monitor or even intervene in a situation before it explodes into lethal violence.

It is because of such data that Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, for example, can determine that the very recent surge in violence is concentrated in a particular part of town and that it involves a long-standing feud between particular gangs, and react accordingly.

So long as the community continues to be invited to the table in South Los Angeles, the latest surge in violence should just be a one-time blip.

A final reason for optimism is that from the limited data available, a key element that would be cause for particular concern seems to be missing — there doesn’t seem to be what social scientists term an “agent of contagion” to the recent spate of violence.

During the previous epidemic of violence, open-air crack cocaine markets proliferated; cities that had little or no history with urban street gangs now found themselves dealing with young people identifying themselves as “Crips” or “Bloods;” and every kid, it seemed, had access to a firearm.

So while 25 years ago we were dealing with a youth-gun homicide epidemic, this time it’s not clear that young people are the most susceptible population. In fact, a quick look at the homicide report maintained by the Los Angeles Times for the months of July and August shows that while African-American and Latino males remain overrepresented among victims, the average age of the victims is 37.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Jim McDonnell, Los Angeles Mayor | 52 Comments »

Watts Riots 50th Anniversary News Roundup….Are Crime Rates Really Rising?….and Coroner’s Inquests

August 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

JOURNALISTS, AUTHORS, ACTIVISTS, AND RESIDENTS REMEMBER THE WATTS RIOTS

As America marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots this week, here are some stories we didn’t want you to miss:

Veteran TV journalist Tom Brokaw, who covered the aftermath of the Watts riots 50 years ago for NBC, says positive changes have taken place in the neighborhood, including community policing efforts, but Watts is still very much “separate and unequal.”

The LA Times has a ton of worthwhile coverage (more than twenty stories, so far) of the anniversary, including an interview with one of the few black cops in LAPD before and during the riots, quotes dug up from the LA Times’ 1965 archives, the story of Noah Purifoy’s art made from the charred wreckage of Watts, what the ’65 LA Times editorial board had to say about the six days of rioting that left 34 people dead.

Fifty years later, the 2015 editorial board takes a look at what lessons LA has (and hasn’t) learned since then. (Read more of what today’s editorial board has to say about Watts—here and here.)

The Times also compiled a list of essential literature born of the Watts riots, featuring: “A Journey Into the Mind of Watts” by Thomas Pynchon, “The New Centurions” by 1960′s LAPD officer Joseph Wambaugh, and one of our favorites at WLA, the mystery, “Little Scarlet,” by Walter Mosley.

Mosley, who was twelve years old in 1965, shares his memories of the riots in an NPR interview. Here’s a clip:

MONTAGNE: Walter Mosley went on to create the classic character Detective Easy Rawlins in a series of noir novels set in Watts. In 1965, Mosley was 12 years old and a member of an acting troupe that performed plays about civil rights, which is how he found himself in the middle of what some called an uprising.

MOSLEY: The main night of that riot, the apex of the riot, we went down to the little theater on Santa Barbara, now called Martin Luther King, to do our play. But nobody came because, you know, people were rioting. So either they were rioting or they were in their houses hiding from rioting. And we had to drive out. And driving out, we drove through the riots.

MONTAGNE: Do you remember what you saw? I mean, were you scared?

MOSLEY: I was scared, you know, because, number one, it was an interracial group, so, you know, there were a couple of white people in the car. And they were, like, on the floor. And – you know, and then you would see things – you know, people jumping out of windows, you know, like – you know, they were looting. I saw one guy just lying out on the street. I don’t know what happened to him. The police were driving by, four deep in a car with their shotguns held up, but they weren’t shooting. They were just passing through.

You could feel the rage. You know, you could feel that civilization, at that moment, was in tatters. And when I got home, my father was sitting in a chair in the living room, which he never did, drinking vodka and just staring. And I said, Dad, what’s wrong?

Go listen to the rest.

Another LA author and activist, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, talks about what he saw and experienced as an 18-year-old during the riots and what has changed since 1965.

And until the 17th (the end of the riots), you can experience a unconventional live-tweet reenactment of the deadly week-long upheaval by @WattsRiots50.


BRENNAN CENTER: THE U.S. IS STILL SEEING A DOWNWARD CRIME TREND, DESPITE RECENT, WIDELY REPORTED UPTICKS IN CRIME RATES

In the midst of much media attention on crime spikes in states across the US, the Brennan Center for Justice’s Matthew Friedman says the recent crime rate upswings are still part of a longterm downward trend.

LA, NYC, Chicago, DC, and other big cities have recorded higher crime stats over the past few months. And there are many different theories as to what’s behind the changes.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell blamed the higher crime rate on the passage and implementation of Prop 47—which reclassified certain low-level felonies as misdemeanors.

And during LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City address in April, he announced a new elite metro unit would patrol crime hotspots in response to a rise in violent crime rates during the first part of 2015 in Los Angeles.

Friedman says that instead of focusing on short-term fluctuations, it’s important to take a step back, and look at the prevailing trend over a period of years, rather than months.

Even a cursory study of murder totals over the past two decades shows a clear downward trend in the number of murders committed in America’s three largest cities. A “trend” indicates the general direction something moves towards. The red lines in the graphs show that the long-term trend is toward fewer homicides in all three cities.

This same trend appears in most major cities across the country.

This does not mean that crime is always decreasing in these cities; in fact you can see areas of all three graphs where crime levels rapidly increase (and rapidly decrease) over short periods of time. These fluctuations are a combination of normal seasonal cycles and random events known technically as ‘noise’. Noise denotes the transient increases and decreases attributable to happen-stance or short-run shocks, but unrelated to the long-run pattern of decreasing murder levels.

Compare New York’s annual murder totals and Chicago’s monthly totals. Both exhibit the same long-term trend: a decreasing number of murders. Also note, however, that the longer time interval used to describe New York’s homicide totals generates a smoother graph that closely tracks the trend line and is almost uniformly decreasing — making it very easy to identify that city’s crime decline. On the other hand, Chicago’s graph exhibits wild fluctuations from season to season (this is known as seasonality). Monthly totals are a great way to display homicide data if you want to understand how solstice patterns impact murder rates, but it also amplifies the cyclical and noise components of Chicago’s homicide totals — making it harder to distinguish the underlying trend.

Friedman compares the crime statistics to LeBron James’ inconsistent free-throw success rate from game-to-game between January and March of this year.

…in 14 games over three months, James’ free-throw percentage increased or decreased by more than 20 percent relative to his previous outing. In multiple instances his shooting acuity fell by half from game to game. In another, it more than doubled. To assume those spikes tell us anything about James’ basketball skills would be foolish — they are just noise.

Similarly, from day to day, month to month, or year to year, crime may rise or fall due to seasonality and noise. Only by observing these changes over a sufficient period of time can we see a trend emerge. The difficulty is figuring out how many observations are necessary to cut through the noise and show us the true trend.


CONSIDERING CORONER’S PUBLIC INQUESTS AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO GRAND JURIES

Legal experts and public officials are discussing the viability of the coroner’s inquest model as an alternative to the closed-door grand jury system, as a way to promote transparency and ease tension between communities and the police after a questionable death.

Coroner’s inquests are public inquiries to determine details of a death: how and why a person was killed.

During an inquest, witnesses give testimony, but suspects don’t defend themselves, unless the coroner’s jury verdict leads local prosecutors to indict those involved.

Coroners’ inquests crop up here and there across the nation under special circumstances, but only in Montana are coroners actually required to perform an inquest after an officer-involved shooting.

The killing of 34 people during the Watts riots 50 years ago resulted in a burst of coroner’s inquests, but Los Angeles hasn’t seen an inquest in over three decades. The last coroner’s inquest in Los Angeles was held in 1981. Current LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark Fajardo said he considered initiating an inquest into the death of Ezell Ford, a unarmed mentally ill man shot by LAPD officers last year, but chose not to without carefully reviewing the process.

The LA Times’ Doug Smith has more on the issue, as well as the history of the inquest in LA. Here are some clips:

At the urging of County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark A. Fajardo, who reviewed all police shootings in his job as Riverside County coroner, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has asked key agency heads to rethink the review process with an eye to increasing transparency.

Fajardo, who became L.A.’s coroner in 2013, said he found it “troubling” that the office had no review procedures.

“I think the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner should have a process that assures quality, assures efficiency and is transparent in some respect,” Fajardo said.

He said he considered calling an inquest into the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford last year, but held back because he hadn’t fully vetted the process. The county is still reviewing various options.

Some municipalities, like Clark County, NV, have successfully implemented updated versions of the inquest model.

Clark County, Nev., dropped its automatic coroner’s inquest process in 2010 after the police union successfully challenged it in court.

In its place, county commissioners set up a system that achieves some transparency at the expense of immediacy.

After every killing by police, if the district attorney finds no cause to prosecute — which has almost always been the case — the county manager convenes a hearing to examine the evidence in public. The prosecutor calls witnesses, primarily the officers who investigated the slaying. A hearing officer and ombudsman, both appointed by the county manager, can call and question witnesses in a cross-examination format, but not under oath. The officers involved in the killing do not testify.

Anyone attending the hearing can submit questions to the hearing officer or ombudsman, who is appointed to represent the public and the deceased’s family. The whole proceeding is live-streamed on the county TV station and the videos are posted on the county manager’s website.

No findings are made. “It simply concludes,” said Robert Daskas, the deputy who oversees the district attorney’s response team.

There are critics, among them the Nevada ACLU, who say the new process is toothless. But Daskas credits it for easing the tension surrounding troubling events.

“We all see the protests and the riots,” Daskas said. “I would like to think that one of the reasons we have not had issues like that in Clark County is because we provide a very transparent review of officer-involved shootings.”

MacMahon, the English economist who has studied America’s inquest tradition, finds the Clark County process an admirable compromise. He argues that it is the very toothlessness of such reviews that give them the healing power that he calls “soft adjudication,” a hearing process that is investigatory, rather than adversarial, and non-binding.

“Precisely because their verdicts do not carry binding or coercive consequences…inquests can aim more squarely than other legal proceedings at establishing the truth about a contested event,” MacMahon writes in his article.


The Watts riots news roundup was updated August 14, at 7:30p.m.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, literature, media, race | No Comments »

Protecting CA’s Foster Kids….Investigating OC District Attorney and Jailhouse Informant Practices….LAPD Chief Must Answer Ezell Ford Questions….and the LA Supes Take Power from CEO

July 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA AUDITOR SEZ STATE SOCIAL SERVICES SHOULD DO MORE TO PROTECT FOSTER KIDS, AND IS HEMORRHAGING MILLIONS OF $$

The California Department of Social Services is not doing enough to protect vulnerable foster kids from sexual exploitation and may be spending millions placing kids with more expensive foster care agencies instead of licensed foster family homes, according to a report from the California State Auditor.

The report says that while Social Services has made some progress, it has not fully implemented recommendations from a 2011 Auditor report regarding the same issue. One of the major recommendations was to start comparing addresses to ensure that registered sex offenders were not living or working in foster homes.

The Auditor’s latest report said that Social Services took two years to start checking the sex offender registry against the addresses of group homes and foster families and, among other methodology problems, the department could not initially provide the Auditor with documented outcomes on 8,600 investigations out of 25,000 address matches, and 422 address matches were not investigated within a 45-day deadline.

When the addresses of sex offenders and foster kids appear to be the same, it sometimes turns out that the sex offender is actually a foster kid, or that there is no longer a foster family or group home at that address. But for the times when investigators find sex offenders among foster kids, either the sex offender is removed from the house, or the foster children are removed. Sometimes facilities lose their licenses.

The new report also said that California counties are still too often paying foster family agencies that privately recruit and certify foster homes and cost over $1000 more per month, rather than giving state-licensed foster homes and relative caregivers priority when placing kids. The report recommends revising the fee structure for agencies, and giving other foster care placements higher priority.


OUTSIDE COMMITTEE WILL INVESTIGATE HOW OC DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE USES JAILHOUSE INFORMANTS

Following string of informant-related scandals that resulted in the unraveling of a series of cases, the Orange County DA’s Office announced the creation of an independent panel of retired judges and lawyers to investigate how the DA’s Office handles in-custody informants. (Here’s the backstory.)

Committee members include retired OC Superior Court Judge Jim Smith, retired LA County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Dixon, former OC Bar Association President Robert Gerard, and Blithe Leece, an attorney specializing in ethics law and professional responsibility.

The Informant Policies and Practices Evaluation Committee (IPPEC) is expected to submit their findings at the end of 2015.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

In March, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed the district attorney’s office from the Scott Dekraai murder trial after finding prosecutors failed to turn over jail records about informants to Dekraai’s public defender.

Dekraai, 45, pleaded guilty last year to killing eight people at the Salon Meritage hair boutique in 2011.

It’s not illegal for law enforcement to use informants or jailhouse snitches. But they must act as a listening post and not elicit statements or question an inmate once he has exercised his right to an attorney.

A jailhouse informant recorded conversations with Dekraai about the killings, but after Dekraai had been charged and had obtained legal representation…

[SNIP]

The DA’s office said in a statement that it has already made some changes to avoid similar abuses in the future, including updating its informant policy manual and creating an internal committee headed by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to approve or disapprove the use of jailhouse informants.

In addition to those moves, “I think it’s important to have an objective and expert external committee with different points of view, to thoroughly review and analyze the issues regarding the use of in-custody informants so we can improve our procedures and avoid any future mistakes,” Rackauckas said in the statement.

The committee will issue a report by the end of this year, according to the DA’s office.

“I want everything that we do to be above board and fair,” Rackauckas told KPCC. “I want to make sure that the court, the defense bar, the individual defendant and the public have faith – that although we’re aggressively prosecuting cases – we’re doing it in a fair way.”


FED JUDGE SAYS LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK MUST ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT EZELL FORD SHOOTING

A federal judge ruled Monday that LA Police Chief Charlie Beck will have to answer questions in a formal deposition from the family attorney for Ezell Ford, an unarmed, mentally ill man who was fatally shot by LAPD officers last year.

Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle’s ruling comes after LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the LA Police Commission came to very different conclusions regarding whether the officers acted within department policy when they shot Ford.

(If you missed it, you can read the backstory here.)

The Associated Press has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle found Ford’s shooting was conspicuous enough that Beck should speak to contradictory findings about whether it was within policy.

Last month, the Los Angeles Police Commission found that officers had no reason to stop and question Ford, and that a violation of department policy led to an altercation that ended with Ford’s death. Beck has said the officers in the shooting acted appropriately.

“This is not the ordinary case,” Nagle said. “It’s a high-profile, high-visibility case, and whether the policy of the policymaker — the police commission — is being enforced or implemented appropriately, I think is something on which Chief Beck can, and in this case should, be questioned.”

[SNIP]

In August, Los Angeles police Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas decided to stop Ford because he appeared nervous and was walking away with his hands in his pockets, according to a report by the police commission.

Wampler said he thought Ford might have been hiding drugs and told him to stop for questioning. The officers said Ford looked in their direction and walked away quickly with his hands in his waistband area.

A struggle ensued when Wampler tried to handcuff Ford, who knocked the officer to the ground and grabbed for his gun, the officers said. Villegas fired two shots, and Wampler said he pulled out a backup gun and shot Ford in the back.


LA SUPES TAKE BACK POWER FROM COUNTY CEO’S OFFICE

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to take away the county Chief Executive Office’s power to hire and fire (non-elected) county department heads, returning the power to the board. The Supes gave these powers to the CEO in 2007, along with day-to-day management of county departments, in response to complaints that the board was too involved in the minutiae of the departments it oversaw, but have spent much of those eight years clashing with the CEO.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip (we are giving you a bigger clip than usual because it’s an interesting tale):

The change back to a weaker executive has many wondering whether the supervisors’ new power will result in more streamlined, decisive management or simply create more meddling by the elected officials and politicize the workings of government.

“In the short term, there will be a lot less conflict between the supervisors and the CEO’s office,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. “The question is what’s it going to do for the daily operations… They won’t know when they’re too involved. They’ll think their involvement is just right. The other shoe to drop is how will it affect everybody else’s ability to do their job?”

Tuesday’s vote represents a reversal for the Board of Supervisors, which in 2007 gave the unelected chief executive officer more powers, including day-to-day management responsibilities and the authority to hire and fire department heads with board approval. Those changes were sparked in part by complaints that the supervisors were micromanaging the departments and giving conflicting marching orders, and that there was no single leader to hold accountable for the success or failure of initiatives.

The results have been mixed. An assessment by a county advisory commission in 2008 found that the stronger chief executive officer structure had increased collaboration between departments, but had also slowed down work in some cases by adding another layer of bureaucracy. The commission found that it also had increased tensions between the supervisors and the top administrator. Three years later, the board took back control of the probation department and Department of Children and Family Services, criticizing the chief executive officer’s handling of the agencies after a series of scandals.

Former Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, who had supported the stronger chief executive officer, said weakening the role now may be largely symbolic, because the board never fully gave up its hands-on role in agency operations.

“Everybody meddled. We all meddled, one way or the other,” Molina said.

Yaroslavsky agreed that board members had continued to micromanage — even going as far as having their aides ghostwrite recommendations that were supposed to be coming from department heads. He added that some initiatives were stalled because of power struggles between supervisors and the chief executive.

Yaroslavsky is now advocating for an elected county executive, a proposal that has not found support among the current board members.

“Outside of the former Soviet Union, Los Angeles County is the only … 10-million-resident government that ever ran by committee of five,” he said.

On the other hand, instead of going into micro-management, some have suggested that one alternative to taking the power away from the CEO is hire a CEO that they liked and respected a bit better than they did the former CEO William Fujioka.

Posted in Charlie Beck, District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, Orange County | No Comments »

CA Education Bill to Help Foster Kids, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, CA Wrongful Convictions,

June 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA BILL TO OPEN EDUCATION SUPPORT PROGRAM TO FOSTER KIDS LIVING WITH RELATIVES, WHO NEED JUST AS MUCH HELP AS THOSE IN NON-FAMILY RESIDENCES

CA Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) has introduced a bill that would beef up California’s Foster Youth Services program (FYS). FYS provides vital education-related support to foster kids through mentoring and tutoring services. FYS, which began as a pilot in 1973, had such favorable results, that it was expanded statewide 17 years later, in 1998.

FYS and Assemblymember Weber’s related bill target a population of kids who often struggle to finish high school (nearly half of foster kids do not).

FYS in its current form, only lends support to foster kids who are living with a non-relative foster family or in a group home. Foster children living with their relatives are not eligible for the program.

AB 854 would extend services to the 40,000 foster kids living with family members—that’s two-thirds of all CA foster youth—who do not actually have better graduation rates than kids in non-relative foster homes.

Anna Maier and Zefora Ortiz have more on the bill in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

A 2006 study conducted on behalf of the state legislature found that nearly half of foster youth (46 percent) drop out of high school—compared with 16 percent of non-foster youth—and less than 10 percent enroll in college.

“I feel strongly that I need the authority to serve students with the greatest need,” said Lustig.

The Foster Youth Services program began as a pilot in 1973 with four California school districts, and a 1981 statute formally established and funded FYS in the four pilot districts. In 1998, the state legislature expanded grant funding to county Offices of Education with an emphasis on serving students in group homes. The 2006-07 State Budget renewed existing FYS funding and provided additional grant money for county Offices of Education to serve a broader array of foster youth, including those in juvenile detention facilities. FYS programming looks a little different in each county. But in Mt. Diablo Unified (one of the original pilot districts), the approach is working. The program supports all foster youth, regardless of their placement type. The district partners with group homes, mental health providers and local universities in order to provide comprehensive support.

“We get to see kids who are smiling and feeling good about themselves,” said James Wogan, administrator of School Linked Services, which oversees FYS programming in the district. “Many people thought [these students] would need a higher level of placement, but they get support from their peers as well as us. The culture has really taken off here.”

Throughout the state, FYS programming is showing similarly positive outcomes. A California Department of Education report for the 2012-13 school year found that participating foster youth exceeded their 90 percent target rate for attendance, and more than 70 percent of students who received tutoring met their goals for academic growth. Less than one percent of participating foster youth were expelled from school, far surpassing the target rate of less than 5 percent expulsion.


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK DISCUSSES EZELL FORD, DISCIPLINE, AND MORE ON AIRTALK

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Patt Morrison (filling in for Larry Mantle), speaks with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck about the Ezell Ford case, officer discipline, and transparency.

The chief said he wished the department had more liberty to discuss disciplinary actions against police officers. Because of confidentiality rules, Chief Beck says his hands are tied. Beck will not be able to explain the discipline (nor the rationale behind the decision) the two officers involved in the death of Ezell Ford will receive.

“I must follow the law,” Beck told Morrison. “Now, we can have discussions about what would be a better way to regulate this but that won’t change how this will be regulated.”

Last week, after Chief Beck determined the officers acted within policy, the LA Police Commission determined that one officer acted outside of department policy throughout the confrontation that ended in the death of Ezell Ford in August. The other officer involved acted improperly by drawing his weapon the first time (the second was deemed justified), according to the commission.

For backstory, Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed man, allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.

Here’s a clip from Chief Beck’s interview:

Chief, you and the commission are looking at the same set of guidelines, why is it that you found this to be in policy and the police commission didn’t? How could that happen?

CB: Well people, as I said, disagree on this topic all the time. Reasonable suspicion is a topic of contention in every criminal case in which it applies. This is not unusual for people to have different opinions on this and especially when you recognize that I see things through my experience, in my eyes, which is very different than theirs. That’s not to say who’s right and who’s wrong, but it is to say that I have strong reasons and strong beliefs in my opinion on this. I also have my role in the process and my role is to determine discipline if it applies to the employees involved and that has yet to come and I will absolutely do the right thing on that.

Do you have a deadline for that?

CB: You know, I have a personal deadline. I’m not going to reveal that because I don’t think it helps the discussion for a couple of reasons. One of which is that by state law, I cannot make public whether or not I discipline these officers and what that discipline was so to create an expectation that there is going to be some type of announcement based on a date point would be unreasonable.

Why no mention of the police commission in your message to officers?

CB: Well, it wasn’t intended to put forth a position for or against the officers by the commission. It was intended to do exactly what it did. It was intended to tell officers that they needed to continue to develop community support, that they had community support. I used myself as an example; I used the mayor as an example; I used the vast majority of Los Angeles as the other example. No intent to omit the commission. No intent to comment one way or the other about the commission’s support for the rank and file. I know all the commissioners very well, they’re good people. I believe that they were guided by what they thought was right. I am not disparaging them; that was not the intent of the video.


GOV. BROWN OKAYS $$ SETTLEMENT FOR THREE OF CA’S WRONGFULLY CONVICTED

On Wednesday, CA Gov. Jerry Brown approved nearly $1 million in settlements to be paid to three wrongfully convicted Californians.

A former Long Beach high school football star, Brian Banks, was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction in 2012 with help from the California Innocence Project. Banks spent six years falsely imprisoned. Once on parole, Banks met with his accuser, Wanetta Gibson, and secretly recorded Gibson admitting the accusation was false. Banks will receive $197,000.

Susan Mellen, who spent 17 years in prison after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her boyfriend, will receive $597,200.

Ronald Ross was found factually innocent after being convicted in 2006 of assault and attempted murder. Ross will receive $229,000.

The LA Times’ Phil Willon and Patrick McGreevy have the story. Here’s a clip:

At the time, Banks insisted that their sexual contact was consensual. However, he took his attorney’s advice to plead no contest rather than risk being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison….

Banks, who as a high school player had caught the eye of coaches at USC, UCLA and other college football programs, tried out with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons after his release from prison but was not signed. In 2014, he was hired by the National Football League to help monitor games for problem calls by referees.

Claims are filed with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and automatically recommended to the Legislature for payment if the petitioner was wrongly convicted and found by a judge to be factually innocent.


US CRIMINAL JUSTICE MOVERS AND SHAKERS EXPERIENCE GERMAN PRISONS: DAY TWO

On Wednesday, we pointed to a tour of German prisons organized by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Seventeen criminal justice officials and experts are examining how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and other areas of the criminal justice system.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has committed to a daily tour journal. Day two found the travelers at Heidering Prison, where inmates can smoke, cook for themselves, wear their own clothes, and visit family. Inmates never spend more than eight hours in isolation. And corrections officers are trained more, paid more, and even knock before entering inmates’ rooms.

Here’s a clip from Chammah’s day two offering:

Though the prisoners cannot access the Internet, they have telephones in their rooms, and they can call anyone — even the media.

“We have nothing to hide,” Detlef Wolf, vice governor for Heidering Prison, said with evident pride.

As the tour took turns walking through the cell, I briefly met a 24-year-old prisoner named Bryan Meyer. He was wearing his own clothes—cargo shorts, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a black baseball cap. One of the most visually striking aspects of German prisons is how prisoners wear regular street clothes. It adds to the sense that the only thing being denied them is their liberty.

Administrators here freely work terms like “human rights” and “dignity” into speeches about their prison system, and Germans appear to view people who commit crimes as medical patients (the word “prognosis” came up a lot to describe the status of an inmate). There is little stigma after prisoners finish their sentences — employers in Germany generally do not ask job applicants if they have a criminal record, according to Michael Tonry, a University of Minnesota professor on the trip who’s studied corrections systems in the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, the cultural norms were so foreign that it was pretty much impossible to imagine them taking root in the U.S.

Once the shock wore off, the questions came, and they reflected the political and professional concerns of those doing the asking. Many of the leaders here who have been elected or appointed — including Marcantel of New Mexico and Jeff Rosen, the elected district attorney in Santa Clara, California — wanted to know about victims. Do their desires for retribution play any role in sentencing here? (In the U.S., they are often allowed to read “victim impact statements” before juries assess punishment, and prosecutors often consult with them). Do sensational murders lead to the passage of more punitive laws?

The Germans had trouble making sense of these questions. There were a lot of blank stares. In Germany, prosecutors and judges are not elected. As career civil servants, they are insulated from public opinion. Their work is more “technical,” said Gero Meinen, who directs the prison system in Berlin. The role is to protect the rational system of correction — which aims to restrict freedom the least amount necessary — from the retributive impulses that individual victims and society in general might feel.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

Solitary and Life on the Outside, Reauthorizing the JJDPA, Trial Date Set for Tanaka/Carey Case, More Reactions to LA Police Commission’s Ezell Ford Decision, and Tamir Rice

June 12th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STATES RELEASE INMATES FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT BACK INTO THEIR COMMUNITIES, WHERE THEY STRUGGLE TO ACCLIMATE, AND OFTEN RETURN TO LOCK-UP

A new collaborative investigation released Thursday between the Marshal Project and NPR gathered and analyzed data from every state on inmates released from solitary confinement directly onto the streets.

Last year, 24 states dumped over 10,000 solitary confinement prisoners, who often need the most reentry assistant, right back into their communities. The other 26 states, along with the feds, either did not track or could not provide data on such releases.

The investigation has particular significance in the wake of Kalief Browder’s suicide. Browder spent three years on Rikers Island, the majority of which he spent in solitary confinement, without a trial. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times before succeeding last Saturday.

These inmates who often need the most help, pre-release and post-release, get the least amount of help. For instance, inmates that remain in isolation until they are released, generally do not get to participate in re-entry classes. And in some states, including Texas, these inmates are often released without supervision. Due, in part to the mental deterioration that happens during prolonged isolation, and without much-needed help, inmates released directly from solitary often find themselves jobless, homeless, in mental hospitals, or back in prison.

The Marshall Project follows the story of Mark, young man with schizoaffective disorder and developmental disabilities who spent the majority of his teenage years in isolation, and lasted just four months on the outside, before he was locked up again. Here’s a clip:

In Mark’s home state of Texas, 1,174 prisoners were freed straight out of administrative segregation — prison jargon for solitary units housing suspected gang members or others deemed a threat to prison security — in fiscal year 2014. More than 60 percent of them emerged without any supervision, compared to only 14 percent of other prisoners released that year.

Prisoners who go straight to the street pose a danger to public safety. Analysts for the Texas Legislative Budget Board found that more than 60 percent of state prisoners released from solitary were rearrested within three years, compared with 49 percent of overall prison releases. Similar studies in Washington and California found people coming out of segregation cells had recidivism rates as much as 35 percent higher than those leaving the general population.

[SNIP]

Dealing with the other kids at one of the juvenile facilities, Crockett State School, seemed to overwhelm him. He often retreated to his cell to pace, talk to himself, and cut his arms. His behavior was not new. In the year before his sentencing, Mark made nine trips to state mental hospitals in Austin and San Antonio for cutting and other psychotic episodes. Mark also picked up a new conviction for assaulting a guard, for which he was given three years to be served concurrently. After evaluating him three months before his 18th birthday, psychologists at Crockett concluded: “It is recommended that he be provided therapy….[and] would benefit from a program to learn independent/daily life skills.”

Instead, Mark was soon moved to a maximum-security adult prison, the Telford Unit in New Boston, Texas. And within six months, he landed in a segregation cell for allegedly threatening to escape.

Mark had told his mother that he was nervous around the older prisoners, particularly his cellmate. He had stopped taking his Seroquil and Abilify for schizophrenia, because he said they made him groggy and unable to stay alert and on guard. The other prisoners referred to him as “Crazy Boy.”

Mark was initially relieved when he was moved to solitary, thinking he would be safer. But as his mother observed, solitary was no place for people who “live in their mind.” Mark’s learning disabilities made it difficult for him to fill the time reading books or writing letters. So he paced his cell and listened to the radio. Without any other distractions, his anger and depression worsened. “You have nobody to talk to but yourself,” Mark said. “All I remember doing was just thinking about the people who hurt me.”

During their monthly, no-contact visits, Garcia saw Mark’s behavior change. He began swearing at her, flipping her off, and telling her not to come. “He wasn’t like that when he went in,” she said. She tried to pacify him by recalling happier times — their yearly trips to Disney World, the birthday parties she threw for him. But Mark could not remember any of it.

NPR focuses on Brian Nelson, a man who had similar experiences to Mark, but has managed—sometimes just barely—to rebuild his life on the outside. Nelson is now a paralegal and prisoner’s advocate at the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago. Here’s a clip:

When Nelson’s mother picked him up at the distant supermax prison in Tamms, Ill., he told her how he was given a television during his last year of solitary and kept seeing ads for a fast-food ice cream…

On the drive home, they stopped for a Blizzard at a Dairy Queen.

“And I’m standing there and a guy walked behind me. And I was not used to people being that close to me. And I started cussing. I turned around, I’m ready to fight because I thought I don’t know if he’s going to attack me,” Nelson recalls. “I have prison mentality in my mind. And then I looked up and saw my mom crying, like ‘Oh my God, what have they done to him?’ You know, because I couldn’t handle being around people.”

That was five years ago. It’s still hard for Nelson, 50, to be around people.

[SNIP]

The Department of Justice estimates that about 80,000 prisoners in the U.S. are in solitary confinement. The system drastically expanded in the past 30 years as the U.S. prison population grew. Corrections officials built supermax prisons and added other new programs to isolate the inmates who were considered the most dangerous.

“The United States is unique and this is a relatively new experiment,” says Alan Mills, who is Nelson’s boss at the Uptown People’s Law Center. “And now we’re dealing with people who have spent a decade in solitary and are getting out. Mental health professionals don’t know how to deal with it. And don’t have treatment for it yet. It’s a brand new world and unfortunately it’s one that we as a society have created for ourselves.”

Mills says, at the least, prisons need to take inmates out of solitary months before they leave prison and give them mental health treatment, job training and other help to get them ready to go back home.

A few states, and the federal prison system, have started doing that.

Unlike most prisoners who are given parole when they are released, inmates in solitary are less likely to get supervision. That’s because they “max out” their sentence and fall outside the parole system.

Be sure to listen to part two, which airs on Friday (today) on Morning Edition.


NEW US BILL TO UPDATE AND REAUTHORIZE JUVENILE JUSTICE DELINQUENCY AND PREVENTION ACT

On Thursday, US Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a bill that would revamp and reauthorize the aging Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act. The JJDPA was first enacted in 1974 (and hasn’t been successfully reauthorized since 2002).

The JJDPA gives states funding (into the millions) for compliance with these four requirements: do not detain kids for status offenses, work to reduce disparate minority contact with the justice system, keep kids out of adult facilities (with a few exceptions), and when kids do have to be kept in adult prisons, keep them “sight and sound” separated from adults.

Scott’s new bill, the Youth Justice Act of 2015, is modeled after Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)’s bipartisan reauthorization bill introduced late last year.

The Youth Justice Act would strengthen the JJDPA’s objectives and add some new functions, including removing those exceptions to keeping kids away from adults in detention facilities, as well as the exceptions that allow kids who have committed certain status offenses to be isolated for up to 24 hours.

Education Week’s Lauren Camera has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

In addition, the bill would phase out various confinement practices that some consider dangerous, such as isolation that lasts longer than a few hours.

The measure would also create a new grant program for communities to plan and implement evidence-based prevention and intervention programs specifically designed to reduce juvenile delinquency and gang involvement.

“We have documented the power evidence-based policies have in both reducing crime and saving money, and we have realized the role that trauma plays in the lives of our disengaged youth and what it takes to get them back on the right track,” said Scott. “The Youth Justice Act builds on the strong framework of our colleagues in the Senate, and takes suggestions from our nation’s leading juvenile justice advocates on how we can make our system even safer and more responsive to our youth.”


US DISTRICT JUDGE SETS DATE FOR TANAKA – CAREY TRIAL

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson has set the date for November in the federal trial of former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and ex-captain Tom Carey. Defense attorneys originally agreed on January.

The federal prosecutors are scheduled to try several other use-of-force cases in advance of the two former LASD leaders. The Tanaka/Carey trial is expected to take around two weeks.

Baldwin Park Patch’s Mirna Alfonso has the story. Here’s a clip:

The case was initially set for trial next month, but Anderson ordered attorneys for both sides to meet and agree on a later date. Federal prosecutors in the Tanaka/Carey case are scheduled in the coming months to try three separate use-of-force cases involving current or former sheriff’s deputies, along with the trial of a deputy U.S. marshal facing civil rights homicide and obstruction of justice charges.

The Tanaka/Carey case is expected to take at least two weeks, lawyers said.

Evidence to be delivered to the defense includes a Web-searchable database and 4,000 pages of transcripts from a previous related trial, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Carter.

Tanaka — who is on a leave of absence as mayor of Gardena — and Carey, who oversaw an internal sheriff’s criminal investigations unit, have denied the charges contained in a five-count indictment returned May 13 by a federal grand jury.


LAPD CHIEF RECORDS VIDEO THAT COMMISSION FINDS UPSETTING AFTER THEIR DECISION REGARDING THE DEATH OF EZELL FORD

On Wednesday, after the LA Police Commission’s decision that actions taken during the incident that led to the death of Ezell Ford were unjustified, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck recorded a video message to express his support for the rank and file…

The video riled the LA Police Commission because in it, Chief Beck tells officers that they have the support of their chief, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and “the vast majority of the people of Los Angeles.” The Police Commission was not included in the list of supporters. The LA Times interviewed the president of the commission, Steve Soboroff, and Chief Beck about the video. Here’s a small clip:

Soboroff bristled at any suggestion that the commission didn’t support officers. “To intimate that I don’t care or don’t have the best interests of officers — it’s hurtful but it’s so untrue,” Soboroff said. “It’s so outrageous and so against anything that I feel or that I’ve ever displayed.”

Beck told Soboroff that it was not his intention to suggest that commissioners didn’t back the officers.

“It was not intended to infer lack of support by the Police Commission,” Beck later told The Times. “I have viewed it [the video] several times and I don’t believe it is reasonable to come to that conclusion based on the content.”

The LA Police Protective League (LAPPL) issued a statement Thursday in support of Chief Beck, calling the commission’s decision “self-serving” and “irresponsible.” Here’s a clip:

Surprisingly, the Police Commission, who was privy to the same facts as Chief Beck, came away with a different conclusion. It unanimously reached a finding that left many, including the LAPPL, scratching their heads and wondering how the Commission could let the usual protesters and external political forces influence their decision on this extremely important matter. Beyond being self-serving, the decision was downright irresponsible and has the potential to put the officers that protect this city at risk by signaling to criminals that it is OK to reach for an officer’s weapon depending on the situation.

The Commission got this wrong. Instead of focusing on the multiple forms of hard evidence, including the fact that Ford was a known gang member with a lengthy criminal history of violent crimes, the Commission cited and stretched thin the “objectively reasonable” standard established in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor. A standard that the court later noted should not be the primary driver determination, noting that “reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

LAPPL President Craig Lally also spoke to the Times about the video, saying that if Chief Beck had included the commission in the list of supporters, it would have discredited the entire video. “You can’t say that you support the cops and make a decision like that,” said Lally.

We will continue to track this story, which is clearly far from over.


JUDGE RECOMMENDS CHARGING CLEVELAND OFFICERS IN THE DEATH OF 12-YEAR-OLD TAMIR RICE

On Thursday, nearly 200 days after the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine ruled that there was probable cause to prosecute the two officers involved in the 12-year-old’s death. (If you need a refresher: Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun outside of a recreation center with his sister when he was shot by Officer Timothy Loehmann.)

A group of activists and clergy filed affidavits asking the court to arrest Loehmann and another officer, Frank Garmback. The ruling is essentially a recommendation to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty and city prosecutors, as the case will automatically go before a grand jury, according to Ohio law. Judge Adrine recommended charging Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty, and Garmback of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.

McGinty says he is investigating the shooting.

The Atlantic’s David Graham has the story. Here’s a clip:

In response to a petition from citizens, under an obscure and little-used provision of Ohio law, Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine agreed that Officer Timothy Loehmann should be charged with several crimes, the most serious of them being murder but also including involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. Adrine also found probable cause to charge another officer, Frank Garmback, with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. He rejected aggravated murder charges against both officers. (The Guardian has the full order here.) Referring to the “notorious” video of Rice’s death, the judge wrote, “This court is still thunderstruck at how quickly this event turned deadly.”

But Adrine did not order the two men to be arrested. He stated that because the law under which the affidavits were filed had been amended in 2006, judges no longer have the authority to issue warrants themselves in such cases.

Instead, Adrine forwarded his opinion to city prosecutors and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who says he is currently investigating the case. And he took pains to note that prosecutors are required to apply a different standard before filing charges, determining that it is more probable than not that a reasonable “trier of fact” would hold the officers accountable for any alleged crimes.

The affidavit filed Monday was intended to jumpstart the process of prosecution; it’s been more than 200 days since Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, was shot and killed in a city park. Adrine’s finding of probable cause may increase pressure on McGinty. But since all murder prosecutions have to go through a grand jury under Ohio law, Adrine’s order just funnels the case back to where it was before—waiting for McGinty to act.

It’s been 199 days since Tamir Rice was shot to death by a Cleveland police officer. And for a group of community leaders in the Forest City, that’s too long to wait for prosecutors to charge the officers involved in the shooting. Instead, they went to a municipal court judge Tuesday morning and asked him to issue a warrant for the officers on charges of murder, aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty.

If that sounds confusing, it’s not just you. The activists made the request under an obscure provision of Ohio law that entitles citizens to file an affidavit demanding an arrest.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison policy, Reentry, solitary | 13 Comments »

Kids, Weapons, and Trauma…Ezell Ford…”Breaking Barriers”…and SF Sheriff Lets More Kids Visit Jailed Parents

June 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: EXPOSURE TO WEAPONS, VIOLENCE LINKED TO TRAUMA, NEGATIVE OUTCOMES

In the US, one-in-four kids between the ages of 2-17–a “disturbingly” high number—have been exposed, either as a victim or a witness, to weapon-related violence, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. The researchers collected data from 2011 on 4114 kids from the Second National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence.

One in 33 kids have been personally assaulted with a gun or a knife. Children who had experienced weapon-involved violence were more likely to have more than one instance of victimization in the past year. Kids were also faced with more adversity in that year, and severe symptoms of trauma in just the past month.

The study calls for more rigorous data research on the effects of weapon exposure on kids, including the role it plays in kids’ mental health and wellbeing:

…there is still much we do not know about youth weapon exposure and firearm exposure in particular. For example, firearm factors may play into the victimization accumulation cycle in various, yet undetermined, ways. Negative firearm exposures, for example, may make particularly salient or traumatizing contributions to the cycle. Firearm fascination, acquisition, and carrying may be a response among highly exposed children and youth, which may in turn aggravate the cycle. Positive firearm experiences, on the other hand, for some youth may moderate or buffer the effects of victimization exposure. Findings from the current study suggest the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the range of firearm exposures for youth and the contexts that increase risk of harm and victimization.


LAPD COMMISSION ISSUES DECISION ON EZELL FORD FATAL SHOOTING

On Tuesday the Los Angeles Police Commission determined that one officer acted outside of department policy throughout the confrontation that ended in the death of Ezell Ford last August. The other officer involved acted improperly by drawing his weapon the first time (the second was deemed justified), according to the commission.

For backstory, Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed man, allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.

The commission used two reports—one from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who found the officers to have acted within department policy, and one from the Inspector General, who said the shooting was justified, but that the officers should have approached Ford differently.

The commissioners made their decision after hearing emotional, and sometimes heated, public testimony, including from Ford’s mother, who begged for the cops to be disciplined in the name of justice.

Now, Chief Beck will have to decide how, and whether, to punish the officers.

The New York Times’ Jennifer Medina has the story. Here’s a clip:

The decision by the committee, known as the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, was initially met with confusion, as angry observers yelled “murderers, murderers” at the commissioners. Steve Soboroff, the commission’s president, said the panel’s findings would be sent to the district attorney, who is conducting a separate investigation and would ultimately decide if charges against the officers were warranted.

Los Angeles has a long history of tense relations between the police and the black and Latino communities, and many community leaders worried that a ruling absolving the officers would set off unrest. Occurring last summer, just two days after the shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., Mr. Ford’s death set off a wave of protests here.

“Today the system worked the way it is supposed to with an impartial civilian review board,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday. While he praised the changes the city has made since the riots of 1965 and 1992, he acknowledged that deep divides remain in the city. “I know it is a painful moment to be a young Angeleno,” he said. “You should always feel safe, you should always feel strong here as well.”

“Ezell Ford’s life mattered, black lives matter,” Mr. Garcetti continued. “We have a system that can work. Every life matters but due process matters, too.”


NEW LA COUNTY PROGRAM AIMS TO BREAK RECIDIVISM CYCLE FOR HOMELESS OFFENDERS

Through the LA County Department of Health Services, 300 people who are homeless and on probation for a felony will receive housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, employment services, and a personal caseworker.

Approximately 1,400 probationers are homeless out of the 8,000 who are under LA County supervision due to AB 109 (the 2011 legislation that shifted responsibility for certain low-level offenders away from the state to the 58 counties). The program, Breaking Barriers, will provide full or partial rent for up to two years, by which time, the program will have hopefully helped participants find employment and become independent.

A combined $6.2 million from the county probation department and the Hilton Foundation will fund the program, which may be the first of its kind, nationwide. If the RAND Corporation determines the program to be successful, probation will likely increase funding and expand to serve more homeless probationers.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the program. Here are some clips:

The program will target high and medium risk offenders recently out of state prison. Under 2011′s AB 109 realignment law, those offenders are supervised by county probation departments, as are offenders on felony probation. Of the 8,000 AB 109-ers under supervision in L.A. County, about 1,400 are homeless.

Previously, such offenders were steered into 90-day transitional housing with services, and were then expected to move on. Perez said that wasn’t working.

“Especially for some of these folks who have significant substance abuse issues or mental health issues, or significant medical issues,” she said. “Ninety days isn’t sufficient time to enable anybody, really, to address all of the issues needed to stabilize these folks.”

[SNIP]

Tyler Fong, program manager with Brilliant Corners, a nonprofit hired to find housing for the participants, said people who work in social services have known for years that being homeless is essentially a full-time job.

“That takes up a huge percentage of someone’s time, and stress, and effort, that they aren’t able to focus on improving their lives,” he said.

Fong also works on Housing for Health, a county health department program up and running for about two years. It gives longterm rental support to patients who frequent the public health system.

That approach attracted the attention of the Probation Department, which asked to make use of the same structure to work with its own population. DHS Director Mitch Katz has said he wants to eventually make 10,000 rental subsidy vouchers available to homeless Angelenos who are frequent users of county services.


IN AN UNPRECEDENTED MOVE, SF SHERIFF, CHANGES POLICY SO 16-YEAR-OLDS CAN VISIT INCARCERATED PARENTS ALONE

On Monday, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi lowered the minimum age to sixteen-years-old for kids visiting parents in jail. No other California county allows jail visitors under the age of eighteen, unless accompanied by an adult. Mirkarimi says his goal is to make it easier for SF kids who don’t have a loved one who can take them to see their incarcerated parents, and to hopefully make family reunification easier when parents are released back into their communities. There are approximately 1,000 children in San Francisco with a parent locked up in county jail.

The sheriff is also establishing “goodbye visits” for kids whose parents are being transferred to state prisons.

SF Gate’s Vivian Ho has more on the policy changes. Here’s a clip:

“We think it’s time that the U.S. criminal justice system from the municipal, state and federal level stops punishing the children of incarcerated parents and guardians,” Mirkarimi said. “The effect has been well-studied and proven, but not well-acted upon — children of the incarcerated have a higher probability of running afoul of the law later on, and also suffer and struggle in ways that I don’t think our society fully understands.”

A systemwide study by the Bridging Group, a consulting organization that studies the effects of incarceration, found that of the 907 San Francisco County Jail inmates it surveyed, 536 were parents or primary caregivers for children under the age of 25.

There are currently about 1,200 inmates in San Francisco County’s jails, according to the sheriff’s department.

However, of the 536 inmates with children, only 34 percent of them reported having jail visits from their kids. Many blamed that on travel and other costs they couldn’t afford, and conflict with caregivers.

[SNIP]

Mirkarimi’s new policy will also establish what are known as “goodbye visits” — in-person meetings for children whose parents will be transferred to state prison. The meetings give the children and parents more time to bond while they strategize on how to communicate while the parent is farther away.

“This allows kids to really understand what is happening, and also allows people to make plans for how to stay connected,” said Sarah Carson, a manager with One Family, which advocates for incarcerated parents and their families. “Because when you get out of prison, the most important thing is that you have family to come home to. That is what makes recidivism rates go down — when there is something there that holds you.”

Posted in ACEs, Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, jail, LAPD, Probation, Reentry | 6 Comments »

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