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Gov. Brown Signs a Mountain of Bills, SFPD’s Problem of Lethal Use of Force Against Mentally Ill, Americans Ignoring Conditions in Prisons, and Paul Tanaka’s Campaign

October 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. JERRY BROWN SIGNS “GUN VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER” BILL AND MANY OTHER SIGNIFICANT BILLS

On Sunday and Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a number of important bills, including a piece of legislation that will give family members and law enforcement the ability to petition a court to temporarily restrict individuals from possessing firearms who are displaying certain warning signs that they may harm themselves or others.

Reuter’s Sharon Bernstein has more on the “Gun Violence Restraining Order” bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation – the first such measure in the United States - was introduced after police near Santa Barbara said they were unable to confiscate weapons from a man who later went on a rampage and killed six people, despite concern from his family he was in poor mental health and might become violent.

Under the so-called gun violence restraining order in the court system, immediate family members and law enforcement agencies could ask a judge to order guns temporarily removed from certain individuals.

The restraining order would last 21 days, and could be extended up to a year, after a notice and a hearing.

“The new ‘Gun Violence Restraining Order’ law will give families and law enforcement a needed tool to reduce the risk of mass shootings and gun violence both in the home and on our streets,” said Nick and Amanda Wilcox, legislative co-chairs of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gov. Brown also signed SB 1111, which will establish safeguards for kids involuntarily transferred (because of expulsion or probation referral) to community schools, making sure they are given schooling options that are “geographically accessible” to students. (Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has done excellent reporting on this particular issue.) The bill will also exempt homeless children and kids with certain probation referrals from having to transfer to a county community school.

Another newly signed bill, AB 2276, will ensure that kids exiting juvenile justice facilities are immediately enrolled in school. (We previously linked to this issue here.)

AB 2124, which will allow judges to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed, also made it past the governor’s desk this week.

Brown also approved a heap of bills to help and protect California’s foster children, including, SB 1252, which will extend housing for foster kids until they are 25 if they remain enrolled in school. (The rest of the list can be found here.)


MORE THAN HALF OF PEOPLE KILLED BY SFPD ARE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHAT THE DEPT. IS DOING TO ABOUT IT

Between 2005 and 2013 in San Francisco, 58% of people police officers had shot and killed had mental disabilities. While California does not mandate specialized training to teach officers how to de-escalate confrontations with the mentally ill, most of the Bay Area police forces have implemented a program Called Crisis Intervention Training, which includes diverting the mentally ill from lock-up.

While the SFPD adopted CIT in 2011 after several years in which every person officers killed was mentally ill, it has been slow going. Only 18% of officers have received the specialized training (20-25% is ideal) more than three years into the program.

KQED’s Alex Emslie and Rachael Bale have the story. Here’s a clip:

The San Francisco Police Department adopted the Memphis Model of CIT in 2011, after three years in a row in which every person killed in a police shooting had a mental illness.

But it’s clear implementing the program hasn’t been fast or easy.

Three and a half years into the program, the department has trained about 18 percent of its patrol officers. Ideally, somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of officers are trained, with the goal of at least one trained officer at each station for each shift.

Finding the right officers for the training hasn’t been easy, and that’s true anywhere, said Major Sam Cochran, who founded CIT while at the Memphis Police Department.

“There are some officers that are not ready to be CIT officers,” said Cochran, who is now at the University of Memphis. “They don’t have the experience. Some officers don’t have the maturity level.”

In some cities, like Berkeley, the program is so elite that officers must compete to get in. But as it launched in San Francisco, few officers volunteered, and station chiefs simply had to choose who got sent to training. Cochran says it’s the the role of a police chief to elevate the status of the team so officers want to be a part of it.

“That chief needs to make sure that those men and women understand that they have an identity and that they have a role,” Cochran said.

Cochran’s model calls for CIT to be an elite, and independent, team within the department, like SWAT or hostage negotiation. In an interview with KQED, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said he’d prefer it not to be separate.

“Police officers by nature find niches,” Suhr said. “I don’t want cops to find a niche and be expert on what they do and don’t do. I want them to do it all.”

That’s how SFPD Commander Richard Corriea once felt. He’s the third person to lead SFPD’s Crisis Intervention Team in three years.

“I’m a convert on the issue of team,” he said. “I think it inspires officers who are engaged in this. They have a special skill. It makes them feel part of something. And the outcome is better and better service.”

A team creates a feedback loop, said Angela Chan, a former police commissioner who spearheaded the program. The unit is supposed to learn from each response. It allows officers perfect their skills, share information with other CIT officers and establish strong relationships with mental health providers.

The SFPD is one of many forces struggling with this issue: the Department of Justice has said that Albuquerque, NM, police have a serious problem with excessive use of force, sometimes escalating confrontations until there is reason to use force against someone.

NPR’s Kelly McEvers has the story. Here’s a clip:

Some officers argue that in these situations, it’s black and white. There is no gray. If someone has a weapon and points it at police, police are going to shoot. And they don’t shoot to wound, police told NPR; they shoot to kill.

But the Justice Department says it is gray sometimes. In its report, the Justice Department said Albuquerque police sometimes use force when there is not an imminent threat to officers or others, and that they themselves sometimes escalate the situation until there is a reason to use force.

Sam Costales, a former Albuquerque cop for more than 20 years, says of course there is a gray area.

Back in 2001, Costales was chasing an armed robbery suspect who grabbed a piece of pipe from the back of his truck and came at him. Costales took out his gun.

“I could’ve shot him,” he says. “I had every right to shoot him. But I didn’t want to shoot him.”

Instead, he put his gun back in the holster, maced the guy and arrested him.

Back at the station, Costales put the suspect in an interview room and went to get him something to drink. A couple of detectives walked by.

“And they go, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m getting the guy a Coke.’ ‘You’re getting the guy a Coke? This guy that just came at you with a pipe? A guy that’s gonna kill you, you’re gonna buy him a Coke now?’ I said, ‘He didn’t kill me, and he’s thirsty,’ and I left it at that,” Costales says.

Costales says he tried to treat suspects with respect. But other cops yelled at people, beat people up, used their weapons against people and then covered it up, he says.

Riot police faced off with protesters Sunday, during a demonstration against recent police shootings in Albuquerque, N.M. The march lasted at least nine hours.

A lot of this bad behavior is the work of a good-old-boys network, where it’s all about who you’re related to, says Cassandra Morrison, another former Albuquerque cop of 20 years.

Doug Brinson sits on a stoop next to a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold by police officers while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. His death has been ruled a homicide.

It’s about “who you know, who you hang out with, who you smoke cigars with, who you go have a beer with,” she says.

If you’re in the club, she says, you don’t get punished when you act like a cowboy, break the rules and use excessive force. It’s a system that won’t change until some of those cowboys get punished, she says.


CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER SAYS AMERICANS PAY NO MIND TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL CONDITIONS IN PRISONS ACROSS THE US

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Martin Garbus, an attorney and author of several books on constitutional law, says Americans are disregarding reports of atrocious conditions prisoners across the nation are held in, particularly in solitary confinement. Garbus says that turning the other way is a matter of “bad public policy,” and that the prisoners enduring cruel and unusual punishment, health hazards, and sexual assault will eventually return to their communities. Here’s a clip:

As a litigator and constitutional lawyer, I have heard appalling stories from the nation’s prisons and jails. One prisoner described to me how he was handcuffed to the bottom of his bunk in his underwear day after day for months. Another described how his cell was located directly beneath broken toilet pipes, which meant the cell smelled horribly of urine and excrement. I’ve heard how cells are unbearably hot or cold and how four prisoners are confined to spaces intended for two, with only one set of bunk beds. I’ve heard about showers that produce only scalding or icy water and about how, when cell toilets overflow, staff are in no hurry to fix them or to clean up.

The health risks in prisons are also unacceptable. MRSA, a bacterial infection whose strains are often resistant to antibiotics, now runs through maximum security prisons. I contracted it myself after visiting such a prison in June and was hospitalized for three days. Sexual assaults and sexual activity are well known to occur in prisons, but prisoners rarely have access to protection, such as condoms, that can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

And then there is solitary confinement. It is hard to tell exactly how many prisoners are in solitary each year in the United States. Today, 44 states allow it, but many states do not report how many inmates are held in solitary. A 2005 report from the Vera Institute of Justice estimated the number at 81,622.

Reports from those who have been held in solitary make clear how inhumane the punishment is. Even the most optimistic lose hope. I have heard it described more than once as like being trapped in a coffin. Lights are sometimes kept on 24 hours a day. Prisoners often have no books or reading material. Visits from lawyers and family members, as well as phone calls, are severely restricted, leaving prisoners feeling totally isolated from everything and everyone.


PAUL TANAKA’S CAMPAIGN (OR LACK THEREOF) FOR SHERIFF

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has a story about sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka and his campaign that isn’t a campaign, consisting of a handful of social media posts, a video, and a few appearances in Gardena, the city of which he is mayor. Here’s how it opens:

After squeaking into the runoff election for Los Angeles County sheriff, Paul Tanaka posted a message on his website.

He had been trounced by Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, but his hopes of leading the department where he spent 31 years were still alive.

“We need someone who is ready to lead on Day One,” he wrote June 5. “We have just begun this effort!”

Since then, the retired undersheriff has mostly disappeared from view, throwing the contest to lead one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies into a strange limbo.

He has ignored requests to debate McDonnell. He dismissed his campaign team after the primary and apparently has not brought on replacements. His public appearances have largely been limited to City Council meetings in Gardena, where he is mayor, and his testimony at the criminal trials of sheriff’s officials accused of obstructing an FBI investigation of jail abuse.

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Paul Tanaka | No Comments »

“Drugging Our Kids” Part 2, Nuestra Familia, City Attorney’s Community Court Program, and Rick Orlov Interviews Paul Tanaka

September 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

D’ANTHONY’S JOURNEY THROUGH 29 DIFFERENT HOMES AND A PLETHORA OF ANTI-PSYCHOTICS

Last month, we linked to part one of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury about the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Part two of de Sá’s series takes us through the heartbreaking story of D’Anthony Dandy, a foster kid who was moved 29 times to various group homes, foster families, and shelters, and prescribed cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs from the age of 13 to improve his behavior. D’Anthony broke free from the psychotropic fog, graduated high school, and is now living in his own apartment and reconnecting with his family through the help of Tara Beckman, his court-appointed advocate.

Here are some clips, but read the rest (and watch the beautiful videos):

Whisked away from his drug-addicted mother, then rejected by his adoptive mom, D’Anthony Dandy spent his childhood wondering where he fit in. Often, the trauma made him depressed. Sometimes it made him defiant.

At school, he called his teacher “bald-head,” hurled pencils and got suspended twice in the ninth grade.

So California’s foster care system did what it often does with a complicated kid — it moved him.

Twenty-nine times.

And, in a futile attempt to control his behavior and dull his pain, it medicated him for years with a risky regimen of mind-altering drugs — lithium, Depakote, even an adult dose of the powerful antipsychotic Risperdal.

D’Anthony’s story, revealed through dozens of interviews over 10 months and an exhaustive review of his juvenile dependency court records, illustrates a disturbing pattern detailed in “Drugging Our Kids,” this newspaper’s yearlong investigation: When it comes to managing challenging childhoods, the nation’s largest child welfare system relies on expedient choices that often don’t work and resists tough ones that do.

It took an extraordinary adult who finally listened to help D’Anthony realize there might be a better path, but his frequent moves and a haze of medication made it difficult for him to settle down.

Until then, “nobody actually told me like, ‘What’s goin’ on?’ ” said D’Anthony, now 19. “ ‘What’s goin’ on in the inside? I know you can be a good kid.’ ”

[BIG SNIP]

At least 14 psychiatrists throughout Northern and Central California examined D’Anthony, diagnosing him variously with post-traumatic stress, reactive attachment, major depression, bipolar disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity. They prescribed an ever-changing “cocktail” of medications, including two antipsychotics at once, that experts called dangerous and ineffective after reviewing his case at this newspaper’s request. One even called it “disgusting.”

De Sá’s valuable reporting is already having a considerable legislative impact. In late August, lawmakers called for fast-tracked legislation to curb the rampant drugging of California’s foster kids, and the state medical board began investigating doctors at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request.

Now, de Sá reports that, beginning October 1, California doctors will have to obtain additional authorization by pharmacists to prescribe antipsychotics to kids under 17 who are on Medi-Cal, which includes foster kids. Here’s a clip:

Beginning Oct. 1, a state pharmacist must verify the “medical necessity” of each antipsychotic prescription before the medications can be given to children who are 17 and younger and covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health program for the poor that also includes foster children.

The tightened restrictions come three years after the federal government called on states to better monitor the use of psychotropic medications on foster children….

Doctors involved in statewide efforts to curb overmedication of foster youth called the new measure a good start — though they say it’s still up for debate whether it will have a widespread impact.


IMPORTANT NEW BOOK ON NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S NUESTRA FAMILIA GANG

For more than ten years, award-winning journalist Julia Reynolds followed Nuestra Familia, the powerful northern California gang that was born a half century ago in San Quentin State Prison, then spilled its violence outside the prison walls into the farm towns of Monterey County and beyond. The result of Reynolds’ unprecedented access to gang members and their families is an excellent and deeply-sourced new book, Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang, in which she follows the lives of individual members of Nuestra Familia, and of the local law enforcement who try to combat their influence. Reynolds looks at the decade-long Operation Black Widow, the FBI’s controversial and largely unsuccessful attempt to take down Nuestra Familia, and at the split structure of the gang’s leadership, which now calls shots from inside Pelican Bay State Prison, and from the supermax federal prison in Florence, CO, causing new friction and attendant violence within the gang.

KPCC’s Take Two has more on Reynolds and her new book. Here’s a clip:

“A lot of young kids were dying,” she recalled. In the farm cities along California’s northern coast, shootings and revenge hits were tearing communities apart.

“I finally decided that as a journalist and living in the area, it was my responsibility to face this issue and see what was going on,” said Reynolds.

So she embarked on a journey that took her inside the lives of the gang’s top leaders, operating from Pelican Bay State Prison, to its foot soldiers and recruits on the streets of Salinas, recording both the mundane and the chilling details of Nuestra Familia. She also explores the law enforcement agents and their battle against the gang.


PILOT PROGRAM TO GIVE LOW-LEVEL OFFENDERS SECOND CHANCE TO SERVE COMMUNITIES INSTEAD OF FACING JAIL

As part of the City Attorney Office’s Community Justice Initiative, the Neighborhood Justice Program will form community courts in South LA, the Valley, and the Harbor area. The program will give low-level offenders—those who have committed quality of life crimes—a chance to repay their communities instead of going to jail. (We previously linked to the city attorney’s Neighborhood School Safety Program, which is part of the same initiative.)

Park Labrea News’ Aaron Blevins has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

“This is likely to be, if it continues to grow as we anticipate, the largest effort of its kind in the nation,” Feuer said during a meeting with reporters at his office.

The model calls for violators of quality of life offenses to go before a panel of trained community members, who would determine a fitting way for the individual to make it up to the neighborhood.

For example, if an individual is arrested for graffiti, accepts responsibility and his or her case is handled by a community court, he or she could be tasked with repainting the wall that was vandalized. In return, the court would provide the individual with services and the city attorney’s office will not file charges.

Feuer said that is in contrast to the traditional system, in which an individual is arrested, it takes “awhile” for the system to process the charge and, in the end, the neighborhood may or may not notice the intervention of the justice system. With jails being overcrowded, there is very little consequence as a result, he said.

[SNIP]

Feuer said his office opted to partner with neighborhood-oriented locations that are the “centers of community life.” The goal is to host one panel per week at each location, he said.

The city attorney said the approach has been used in San Francisco, though they are not exactly alike. He said the community court there handles approximately 600 cases per year, and he expects the L.A. version to exceed that figure. The office hopes to handle four cases per session, and court will be in session in the early evening to ensure access.


PAUL TANAKA TALKS WITH RICK ORLOV ABOUT HIS CAMPAIGN FOR SHERIFF

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov interviewed former LA undersheriff Paul Tanaka about his campaign for sheriff, which save for a tweet or two and one video, has appeared to be largely nonexistent. Tanaka also discusses his time as undersheriff and as current mayor of Gardena. Here are some clips:

…[Tanaka] insisted in a telephone interview, he remains in the race and is planning an active effort in the final weeks leading up to the election.

“I am absolutely campaigning,” Tanaka insisted in a telephone interview this past week. “I do have a campaign. It is a different type of campaign. Sometimes you need a change in the team makeup. I felt we needed to make some adjustments, and that’s what we have done.”

The changes are stark.

No campaign manager or aides. No active Web page, relying instead on Facebook. No plans for advertising. There are no debates for the runoff, unlike the series of confrontations held in the primary.

[SNIP]

In talking with Tanaka, however, it appears he is still shell shocked over the way the election turned out. He barely managed a second-place finish to McDonnell to force a runoff election. With 49.4 percent of the vote, McDonnell fell just short of avoiding the runoff. Tanaka came in a distant second with 15.1 percent.

“Look, there were six people running against me and they decided to all attack me as if I was the sheriff,” Tanaka said. “I actually had very little to do with all the areas of controversy in the jails. That was outside my area. When I was in charge of the jails, we didn’t have the same problems.”

[SNIP]

Tanaka said he has consoled himself over how he was attacked and with the fact that he was able to make the runoff.

“The fact we are still in this has given a lot of people hope, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people were energized by the fact we have made it as far as we did. It is what keeps me going.”

But Raphael Sonenshein, executive director at the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A., said it appears to the public as if the Tanaka campaign has evaporated.

“You see this in other elections where an incumbent faces a light challenge, but in this one, he had a lot of money and an identified base of support that he was counting on,” Sonenshein said. “When he did so badly in the primary, I think the rationale for his candidacy collapsed. After that, he had to keep a low profile.”

After the primary, Tanaka closed down his main campaign office in Torrance and didn’t even inform his staff members.

Tanaka said he simply moved the operation to El Monte and has continued to speak to groups that invite him. His most recent campaign reports show him with a deficit of $18,000.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Foster Care, Gangs, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 7 Comments »

New Program to Help Kids Get to School Safely, Bill to Defer Sentencing on Certain Misdemeanors, No Nationwide Data on Police Shootings, and Celebrating Successful Family Reunifications

September 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CITY ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO REDUCE TRUANCY BY HELPING KIDS GET TO SCHOOL SAFELY

Earlier this week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced an extensive new LAUSD pilot program to combat truancy by ensuring kids have “safe passage” to school.

Often, kids in high-violence neighborhoods don’t feel safe getting to school, so they just don’t go. The Neighborhood School Safety Program (NSSP), launching at four middle schools across the district, will create a “neighborhood school safety attorney” for each school. These attorneys will collaborate with parents and LAUSD administrators to keep kids safe by reducing gun violence and negative environmental factors. A number of parents from each school will also be trained to keep students safe on their walks to and from school.

The San Fernando Valley Post-Periodical’s Matt Thacker has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

A designated “neighborhood school safety attorney” will work with parents and Los Angeles Unified School District administrators to develop plans for improving safety for children who walk to school, reducing truancy, preventing gun violence and reducing environmental threats near schools.

One component of the program includes “safe passage to schools” – a partnership between the City Attorney’s Office, Casa Esperanza and school administrators. Feuer said they are recruiting and training 15 Vista parents to make sure children make it to and from school safely.

A number of other programs have been implemented, including the City Attorney’s Truancy Prevention Program which combats truancy through educational letters, parent and community meetings and enforcement hearings.

“Kids need to know they can be safe in school so they will go to school,” Feuer said. “School truancy issues are very important to all of us. We need our kids to stay in school.”

The neighborhood school safety attorney also organizes a “parent safety cadre” which educates parents how to address safety issues near schools. Following a recent meeting on tobacco enforcement, a parent contacted a local store which was selling e-cigarettes to minors, and the store’s owners agreed to stop the illegal practice immediately, according to Feuer.

A gun violence prevention coordinator will work with the Los Angeles Police Department to check that people who live near the schools and are not allowed to own or possess guns do not have firearms or ammunition. A multi-agency task force called “Los Angeles Strategy Against Violent Environments near Schools” began conducting compliance checks on parolees, probationers and registered sex offenders who reside near schools. On Aug. 12, nine felony arrests were made in an operation near Vista, while five children were removed from unsafe environments.


BILL WOULD ALLOW JUDGES TO GIVE SECOND CHANCES ON FIRST-TIME MISDEMEANOR OFFENSES

A new pilot program awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2124, would give judges the ability to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed. The defendant would have a year to complete restitution, participate in any required programs, and fulfill any other conditions. If the defendant meets all requirements, they will walk away free of a criminal conviction.

An LA Times editorial urges the governor to sign this smart piece of legislation. Here’s a clip:

Many people convicted of misdemeanors are sentenced directly to probation, especially in counties such as Los Angeles, where jails are crowded and cells are generally held for the most serious criminals. For the offenders, that means they don’t have to lose their jobs or school placements while they sit in jail. But they still end up with criminal records that could hinder their full reintegration into society as law-abiding members.

Some states have recognized that they can do even better by putting probation on the front end. The defendant pleads guilty and complies with various conditions, including monetary restitution, and the judge can opt not to enter the plea or the conviction. At the end of the year, presuming the offender has made amends, he or she is on a better track and winds up with no criminal conviction. If the conditions aren’t met, the conviction is entered and the offender is sentenced.

Hawaii has had a great deal of success with a version of the program. Virginia has its own twist, with some good results.

So how about California? Lawmakers here have slowly — very slowly — come to realize that we convict and lock up too many people for less serious crimes and in so doing put people on a path that limits their chances to move on with a crime-free life.


WHERE’S THE NATIONAL DATA ON OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING NUMBERS?

The federal government does not have keep a comprehensive record of the number of fatal (and non-fatal) shootings by law enforcement officers. Instead, the Department of Justice lets police agencies “self-report” officer-involved shootings. Advocates say the uncollected data keeps law enforcement agencies from creating better policies and practices to lower the number of avoidable deaths.

The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Police unions and some law-and-order conservatives insist that shootings by officers are rare and even more rarely unjustified. Civil rights groups and some on the left have just as quickly prescribed racial motives to the shootings, declaring that black and brown men are being “executed” by officers.

And, like all previous incarnations of the clash over police force, the debate remains absent access to a crucial, fundamental fact.

Criminal justice experts note that, while the federal government and national research groups keep scads of data and statistics— on topics ranging from how many people were victims of unprovoked shark attacks (53 in 2013) to the number of hogs and pigs living on farms in the U.S. (upwards of 64,000,000 according to 2010 numbers) — there is no reliable national data on how many people are shot by police officers each year.

The government does, however, keep a database of how many officers are killed in the line of duty. In 2012, the most recent year for which FBI data is available, it was 48 – 44 of them killed with firearms.

But how many people in the United States were shot, or killed, by law enforcement officers during that year? No one knows.

Officials with the Justice Department keep no comprehensive database or record of police shootings, instead allowing the nation’s more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies to self-report officer-involved shootings as part of the FBI’s annual data on “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement.

That number – which only includes self-reported information from about 750 law enforcement agencies – hovers around 400 “justifiable homicides” by police officers each year. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics also tracks “arrest-related deaths.” But the department stopped releasing those numbers after 2009, because, like the FBI data, they were widely regarded as unreliable.

[SNIP]

Law enforcement watchdog groups and think tanks say that the lack of comprehensive data on police shootings hampers the ability of departments to develop best practices and cut down on unnecessary shootings.


DCFS HONORS PARENTS WHO TURNED THEIR LIVES AROUND TO GET THEIR KIDS BACK

The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services has faced intense scrutiny since the horrific and preventable death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. But the department does have triumphs, including many successful and safe family reunifications.

On Tuesday, DCFS held its fifth annual Family Reunification Heroes ceremony to celebrate reunited families and honor the parents who turned their lives around to win their children back.

LA Daily News’ David Montero has the story. Here’s how it opens:

On a clear night four years ago, Angel Ramirez got ready to sleep in a parking lot again. Homeless, strung out from years of heroin use, he thought this — after years of hitting bottom — was, in fact, rock-bottom.

He was alone. Broke and broken. His sister didn’t talk to him anymore, his children hardly knew him sober, and the weight of shame he carried on that patch of hard asphalt in East Los Angeles seemed to prove it was the lowest point in his life.

Ramirez said he just looked up into the dark sky and cried out.

The memory was fresh Tuesday when he recalled the gang ties, the jail time and the hopelessness. He stood up — sober since 2010 — and thanked Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials who helped him start to get his life back.

And his children back.

Ramirez, 49, of Los Angeles, joined three other parents honored at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting as DCFS officials marked the fifth annual celebration called Family Reunification Heroes. Each parent, who had been chosen from a board member’s district, received a scroll and a picture with a board member.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LAUSD, Sentencing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Funding for Relatives Caring for Kids, Bill to Keep Kids Exiting Detention Enrolled in School, LA Metro May Boost Oversight of LASD Contract, and a Non-profit Prison Idea

September 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WILL LA COUNTY ACCEPT MUCH-NEEDED STATE FUNDING FOR KINSHIP CAREGIVERS?

In June, Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $30 million from the state budget for giving relative caregivers the same CalWORKS financial support as non-relative foster parents.

Counties have until October 1 to opt-in to receive the crucial funding. The LA County Department of Children and Family Services says it is considering whether to opt-in, but will make its decision by the deadline.

Giving equal funding to kinship caregivers was one of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s top recommendations for reforming a troubled DCFS.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue and why it is so important. Here are some clips:

With the highest number of foster children in the state, Los Angeles County could see as much as $25 million in state funds go to family caregivers, according to advocates with the California Step Up coalition. They say the county’s participation in the Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program would lead to greater placement stability, better outcomes for foster children and significant cost savings to the county by avoiding more expensive placement alternatives such as group homes.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer from where we sit,” said Laura Streimer, the legal director at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “Why not roll the dice and use it now? The majority of the $30 million allocation state budget would come to L.A. County because we have the most children who qualify for it. Why wouldn’t you take that?”

The county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is weighing whether or not to opt in. According to a statement emailed to The Chronicle of Social Change by DCFS Public Affairs Director Armand Montiel, Los Angeles County will “resolve the issue” by October 1.

“The Department supports equity for relative caregivers and is preparing a recommendation for our Board regarding this program,” Montiel wrote in an email. “At this point, the State has not finalized the methodology it will use to determine each county’s base caseload and funding level. Understanding the State’s methodology for determining the base caseload and funding is essential in making accurate projections regarding the potential county costs of this program for the first year and for outlying years.”

The clock is ticking.

[SNIP]

Despite recent research that shows that living situations with family members translate to better educational outcomes for foster youth than congregate-care placements like group homes, most relative caregivers receive a paucity of funding that lags behind the support given to unrelated caregivers.

Because of arcane eligibility rules based on the poverty standard from 1996, more than half of all foster children living with relatives do not qualify for federal foster care benefits. For relative caregivers who aren’t eligible for federal money, this means that the only support California offers them are CalWORKs benefits. This ends up being less than half the amount of money non-relative caregivers typically get from the foster care system.

The yawning gap in funding and support has hit family caregivers particularly hard, according to advocates. The scant funding and support provided to family caregivers is seldom enough to care for children who often have specialized care needs that result from experiencing trauma or abuse.

California is “forcing families—primarily low income, single women, and a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos—into deep poverty to keep their families together,” Kinship in Action Director Joseph Devall wrote in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. Kinship in Action supports the rights of family caregivers in South Los Angeles.

The LA Times’ editorial board is also urging the county to opt-in to boosting funding for relatives caring for kids that would otherwise be placed with strangers or sent to group homes. Here’s how it opens:

Thousands of California children who have suffered abuse or abandonment are sent to live with strangers in foster homes. That often happens even if there are extended family members ready and willing to take them in, despite California laws requiring placement with relatives when possible, and even in the face of countless studies that show the kids do better in the long run after stays with relatives rather than strangers.

So why do we keep doing it? Because so many of those relatives, retired or with their budgets maxed out raising their own kids, need a bit of financial assistance to be able to take in their nieces and nephews, siblings or grandchildren — and because under a complicated and outdated set of state, federal and local laws and rules, they can get only a tiny fraction of the funding that non-related foster parents get. Worse yet, there is a shortage of foster parents, so the children often end up being sent to group homes, which are the most expensive option and produce the least desirable outcomes. Government foolishly requires itself to pay more to get worse results.


BILL TO REQUIRE THAT KIDS LEAVING DETENTION CENTERS ARE PROMPTLY RE-ENROLLED IN SCHOOL

Over 42,000 kids attend school in California juvenile detention facilities on average each year, yet only 20% of those re-entering their communities re-enroll in public schools within the first 30 days of their release.

Experts say these kids fall through the cracks due to broken communication between the government agencies responsible for these kids.

An important bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2276, would address this issue by ensuring kids exiting detention facilities will be immediately enrolled in school.

New America Media’s Michael Lozano has more on the bill authored by Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra. Here’s a clip:

In high school, Tanisha Denard struggled to get herself to class on time. Her walks from home to John C. Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles were long, the buses were crowded and when there was space, Denard rarely had the fare. “I got passed by the bus a lot and I didn’t have money,” she recalls.

The truancy tickets piled up – Los Angeles municipal code allows schools to issue citations of up to $250 to tardy and absent students – and so Denard, now 20, whose family was unable to cover the cost, paid her debt by serving time at a county juvenile hall. When she was released, school officials informed her that reenrolling at her old public high school wasn’t an option — she would need to begin the much lengthier process of finding a new school and getting herself enrolled.

Although Denard was eventually able to navigate her way into another school, she is by far the exception. The story of young people leaving the juvenile justice system with no clear academic transition plan is a familiar one to youth advocates, despite existing laws that are meant to avoid such scenarios.

“They’re supposed to be coordinating – there are laws that talk about coordination and communication – but that’s not happening the way it needs to happen,” says Laura Faer, Education Rights Director with Public Counsel, a pro-bono law firm.

What makes AB 2276 different from current laws, says Faer, is the requirement that juvenile probation and county education departments work together to form transition policies in collaboration with local education agencies. In addition, the bill would create a statewide stakeholder group headed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Board of State Community Corrections that would study best practices and be required to report back to the state legislature.

Faer has seen plenty of past instances where court school records are not transferred from probation officials to the county office of education immediately upon a child’s release, which in turn creates a negative outcome for the student.

“A student shows up at the school and the school says, ‘you don’t have any of your documents, so you can’t come.’ Or worse, even if they are allowed to go to school, [the schools] don’t know anything about them,” says Faer. “A child [may have] already taken algebra when they were in the hall or in the camp, then they’re put in the exact same classes. Then they get disaffected and they drop out, because they keep getting shuffled and doing the same things over and over again. So that handoff, that transition, is really critical.”


LA METRO WORKS TOWARD ROBUST OVERSIGHT AFTER AUDIT REVEALED LASD MISSED POLICING GOALS

In July, an audit found that the LA County Sheriff’s Department had fallen short of Metro policing goals for reducing crime. The audit came as Metro was considering renewing a three-year contract with the LASD.

Part of the problem, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti says, is a failure to administer adequate oversight.

The mayor (who is also chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) has proposed a motion to hire several Metro staff to keep track of contract goals, and to have the department’s inspector general audit the LASD-Metro contract every two years.

The LA Times’ Laura J. Nelson has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a motion proposed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the chairman of the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority, board members asked for several new Metro staff members who would keep tabs on key contract benchmarks, including fare evasion, system safety and response times. The board also asked Metro’s inspector general, the internal agency watchdog, to audit the transit police contract every two years.

The audit, written by an outside firm and commissioned by Metro officials, also faulted the transit agency itself for weak oversight of the contract.

“We didn’t hit some of the most basic things that are part of the contract,” Garcetti said during a meeting at Metro’s downtown headquarters. “We have failed on the oversight.”

The push comes as officials weigh awarding a three-year security contract expected to cost about $400 million. The transit police agreement with the Sheriff’s Department expires Dec. 31.

Sheriff’s Department officials said they agree with the majority of the findings and are working to correct the issues raised in the audit.


TRANSFORMING A PRIVATE PRISON INTO A NON-PROFIT FACILITY

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), a 20,000-member activist group, has proposed that a privately run D.C. jail be transformed into a non-profit-run jail focused on rehabilitating rather than warehousing inmates.

The jail is currently operated by the controversial private prison group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), but its contract will end in 2017.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo has more on the unique idea. Here’s a clip:

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, or CURE, a prison reform group comprised mainly of former inmates, wants to convert a private jail in D.C. into what they say would be the first nonprofit lockup in the country, if not the world. At this point, the idea is just that — an idea. The group, which claims some 20,000 members throughout the country, convened its first meeting about the proposal on Friday at D.C.’s Harrington Hotel, but has yet to figure out any of the logistics of what they admit would be a complicated, even quixotic effort.

Charlie Sullivan, the executive director of CURE, acknowledged that the idea might make him sound like a knight “chasing after one of those windmills.” Still, he argues that his idealism may be exactly what is needed.

“What both the private and government-run prisons are doing is just holding people,” said Sullivan. “They’re playing defense; we need to play offense. We need to give people an opportunity to change their lives.”

The group has set its sights on the Correctional Treatment Facility, one of the city’s two jails. For nearly two decades, the facility has been run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit, private prison company based in Nashville, Tennessee. Over the last few years, criticisms of such companies have grown louder, with advocates for inmates saying that private prisons are incentivized to lobby for harsh laws that keep beds filled while skimping on rehabilitation services, training programs for corrections officers, and anything else that could cut into their profit margins.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor | 1 Comment »

How LA County’s Pricey Jail Plan Fails the Mentally Ill, LA’s LGBTQ Foster Kids Report Mistreatment by DCFS, Medical Board Investigating Doctors Giving Foster Kids Psych Drugs, and Willful Defiance

August 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA WEEKLY QUESTIONS RUSHED $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN AND ABSENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

Phillip Cho, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested for attempted commercial burglary after trying to purchase a $2,000 case of cigars while in the midst of an elaborate delusion regarding newly acquired wealth. Cho was jailed in Twin Towers for three months, causing his mental health to further deteriorate. Cho’s caseworker assured him that he would be moved out of jail to a residential treatment facility within two weeks, but the waiting list turned out to be months long.

Instead of receiving the therapeutic care he needed, Cho says he suffered abuse at the hands of Twin Towers jailers, as well as psychologically damaging solitary confinement in a silent, padded room. Cho has been released and re-incarcerated several times, not unlike many mentally ill offenders in LA. Cho has written a book about his encounters with the criminal justice system, and his time in the Towers.

Twin Towers jail was built in 1997 specifically as an upgraded facility to better address the needs of mentally ill inmates. Sound familiar? In May, LA County Board of Supervisors hastily approved a $2 billion plan to replace the dilapidated Men’s Central Jail. A staggering 3,200 out of 4,860 beds are reserved for the mentally ill.

In a crucial investigative story, the LA Weekly’s Chris Walker brings up some very important questions about the jail-replacement plan and why Los Angeles seems to be bent on warehousing people with mental illnesses instead of diverting them into treatment.

While the board was gearing up to vote on the $2 billion replacement plan, it was also working out the plans for a women’s facility in Mira Loma, for which the state’s funding of $100,000 was about to expire.

The Supervisors rushed into a vote on Men’s Central Jail plans, it seems, with the idea that they were working against the clock to secure the Mira Loma money. While the money for the women’s facility had nothing to do with the men’s facility, the Supervisors had the construction consulting firm lump the two plans together.

Here’s a clip from Walker’s assessment of the situation:

Could the vote by the Board of Supervisors — which some critics call a nod to the past that could negatively affect tens of thousands of lives — have been forced by an obscure fiscal deadline?

The Weekly’s request for public records concerning the vote and events leading up to it, made to the office of outgoing County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, shows that the five supervisors faced a use-it-or-lose-it deadline to secure $100 million in state funding for a women’s detention center in Mira Loma — which has nothing to do with Men’s Central Jail.

The state money, made available through Assembly Bill 900, is set to expire later this year. County officials didn’t want to lose the huge sum. For reasons that remain murky, the far more complicated proposals to replace Men’s Central Jail were lumped together with the Mira Loma facility plan in the documents prepared by Vanir Construction.

In a March 18 memo to the Board of Supervisors obtained by the Weekly, CEO Fujioka told the supervisors they had to pass one of the five Vanir proposals for replacing Men’s Central Jail in order to secure the state money for Mira Loma.

Were there other reasons for rushing the vote? At the time, all but one candidate for sheriff urged the board to wait to make a decision until after a new sheriff was in place. And Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey had launched a task force of 70 mental health professionals to look into alternatives to locking up the mentally ill. Lacey was informed of the particulars of the jail plan the day before the vote was to happen. She put together and presented to the board an early report, explaining that her task force had found better ways to work with the mentally ill and bring down the recidivism rate. Apparently, the neither the board nor Lacey were informed of the other’s work until it was too late. Neither were the Supes briefed on a trip LASD officials took to Miami to see the county’s hugely successful mental health diversion program in action.

The die was already cast, and the board voted in favor of a massive and costly new jail.

Miami-Dade, San Francisco, and Nashville, all in the same boat as LA County at one time, are now seeing major success with mental health diversion programs. Miami-Dade cut their recidivism rate for mentally ill inmates down to 20%, compared with LA County, where 75% of mentally ill offenders return to jail.

Why were the Supes not informed of the Miami trip—one in which LASD attendees received actual “how-to” guides for replicating mental health diversion in their own county?

It…raises serious questions about an $18,000 trip taken last October by a group of L.A. County law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Cmdr. David Fender, who flew to Miami and saw firsthand its success in diverting mentally ill arrestees into treatment — part of the group’s “best practices” tour around the nation. Documents obtained by the Weekly show that L.A. Sheriff’s officials met with Miami’s top brass and received detailed “how-to” guides explaining the steps required to establish a comprehensive mental health diversion program from the ground up.

Yet nothing came of what the group learned in the other cities.

Assistant DA Bill Hodgman, who was on that fact-finding trip, delivered the how-to reports to his boss, Lacey, galvanizing her mental health task force to push for change in Los Angeles.

Yet the Board of Supervisors never received the documents from the DA or the Sheriff’s Department.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky, who voted against the new jail, complained about not being briefed. “I think I have been, as a member of this board, somewhat shortchanged by not having that information available to me as I’m being asked to make a decision — a $2 billion decision.”

This fall, DA Lacey will present another task force report, at which time the Supes are expected to vote on allocating $20 million for mental health diversion. But that doesn’t change the $2 billion jail rebuild.

Steve Fields of San Francisco’s Progress Foundation, whose diversion program treats the mentally ill for a fraction of the price of jailing them, asks what’s holding LA back:

According to California’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the yearly cost to support an individual with mental illness in a housing program in Los Angeles is $20,412.

It costs about $60,000 a year to jail him.

“I don’t know what is taking [Los Angeles] so long,” Fields says. “Counties that wanted to do this in California have had access to state funding for a long time.”


LA’S LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS (20% OF FOSTER POPULATION) MORE LIKELY TO REPORT MISTREATMENT BY THE SYSTEM

LGBTQ kids in Los Angeles County’s foster care system are twice as likely to report being mistreated by the system, a new study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The study found that one in five foster kids (1,400) identify as LGBTQ, twice that of kids in LA’s general population, and that 86% of LGBTQ-identifying kids were a racial minority.

Researchers also found that, on average, LGBTQ kids had more placements than other foster kids, were more than twice as likely to live in a group home, and three times as likely to have been hospitalized for emotional reasons.

This is the first study to put a number on LGBTQ foster population in any child welfare system—let alone Los Angeles, which houses the largest foster care system in the nation. It was commissioned by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and funded by a federal grant.

The LA Times’ Hailey Branson-Potts has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

“People refer to it as the ‘dirty little secret’ that there are so many LGBTQ kids in foster care, but nobody’s been able to document it,” said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which commissioned the study.

“We need to know who these kids are because only if we know who they are can we help them,” she said.

In any given month, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has about 7,400 youths between the ages of 12 and 21 in out-of-home care, according to the study. Of those, about 1,400 identify as LGBTQ.

The study, funded by a federal grant, is the first of its kind quantifying sexual orientation and gender identity of youths in any foster system, its authors say.

Despite their large numbers in the foster care system, LGBTQ youths have been “relatively invisible,” the study said. Many do not feel safe telling their foster families or social workers about having same-sex attractions or questioning their gender identity.

[SNIP]

“We have seen decreases in overt homophobia in the foster care system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not subtly still present,” [the executive director of the Children's Law Center of California, Leslie Starr] Heimov said. One recent case involved a child who was adopted and kicked out after her parents learned she was a lesbian.

The Williams Institute study noted that most of the LGBTQ foster youths in L.A. County were, like their straight counterparts, racial minorities. The study found that 83% of LGBTQ youths in foster care were Latino or black.

Bianca Wilson, a Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, said many of these youths can face added discrimination for “being both sexual minorities and ethnic and racial minorities.”

The California Report’s Rachael Myrow spoke with Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, Bianca Wilson, who said:

“We found that LGBTQ…were moved around more, were more likely to be in group homes, experiencing emotional distress. And these are all seen as barriers to finding permanent homes.”


CA MEDICAL BOARD INVESTIGATING DOCTORS PRESCRIBING PSYCH MEDICATIONS TO FOSTER KIDS

Earlier this week, Karen de Sá’s alarming investigative report in the San Jose Mercury News exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. It has spurred state lawmakers into planning legislation to curb the over-medication.

And now, at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request, the state medical board says it has launched an investigation into whether doctors are prescribing medication to change behavior, rather than treat mental illness, and thus, “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

Karen De Sá has the update. Here’s how it opens:

With pressure on California’s foster care system to curb the rampant use of powerful psych meds on children, concern is mounting about the doctors behind the questionable prescribing.

For months, the state has adamantly refused to release data that this newspaper sought to expose which physicians are most responsible. Now, in response to a request from state Sen. Ted Lieu, California’s medical board is investigating whether some doctors are “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

The action comes after this newspaper’s investigation “Drugging Our Kids” revealed doctors often prescribe risky psychotropic drugs — with little or no scientific evidence that they are safe or effective for children — to control behavior, not treat serious mental illness. Many of these drugs are approved only for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other relatively rare mental illnesses.

To examine the problem, the newspaper spent nine months negotiating with the state Department of Health Care Services to release a decade of prescribing data that did not identify individual patients.

The numbers the state finally provided showed that almost 1 in 4 adolescents in the California foster care system have been prescribed psychotropic medications over the past decade. Of the children on medications, almost 60 percent are being prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of drugs with serious side effects.


ON AIRTALK, KPCC’S LARRY MANTLE DISCUSSES CALIFORNIA BILL TO END “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” EXPULSIONS

Earlier this month, the California Senate passed a bill, AB 420, that would eliminate “willful defiance” as grounds for expulsion in any grade, and suspension in grades K-3. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, is now headed for Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

On Thursday’s AirTalk, host Larry Mantle talked about the legislation with Brad Strong, Senior Director of Education at Children Now, the organization co-sponsoring the bill, as well as Joshua Pechthalt, President of the California Federation of Teachers (which took a neutral stance on the measure).

Take a listen.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LGBT, mental health, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 7 Comments »

Lawmakers Call for End to Reckless Medicating of CA’s Foster Kids….Head of State Foster Care Sez Not So Fast….Shadows & Ferguson….LAPPL Tells NYT Why Words Matter

August 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS CALL FOR END TO RECKLESS USE OF PSYCH MEDS ON STATE’S FOSTER YOUTH

After The San Jose Mercury News ran its eloquent and devastating investigative report by Karen de Sá about the over-use psychotropic meds on California’s foster youth, various lawmakers have come forward to call for fast-tracked action to curb the prescribing of psychiatric meds to essentially drug foster kids into submission.

De Sá writes about the various legislators who have come forward since her report appeared Sunday. Here are some clips:

“It’s easier to take care of a sleeping kid, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right,” State Sen. President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview Monday. “And it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s in the best interest of the child — it’s obvious that in so many instances, it’s not.”

Steinberg said he was deeply concerned about the newspaper’s finding that the state spends more on psychiatric drugs for foster children than on any other type of drug. An analysis of 10 years of Medi-Cal data showed psych meds accounted for 72 percent of spending on the 10 most expensive drug groups for foster children, topping $226 million.

Steinberg said that wide-open spigot, fueled by pharmaceutical company marketing, has to be restricted.

“What we know now is that $226 million, 72 percent of the total spent, is being used to over-prescribe and to over-rely on medication as the primary strategy to help these kids who have already had a tough life — and that the side effects and impact on their life and their growth are serious,” Steinberg said. “This report and these numbers tell me that this money is not being well spent in many instance…

[LARGE SNIP]

One senator on Monday said he was ready to lead the charge. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose — who chairs the Senate Human Services Committee — said his committee will consider new policies and legislation to curb overprescribing when the new session begins in December. Beall said he intends to focus on what he calls “‘trash can diagnoses’ — diagnoses that are made simply to control behavior, as opposed to diagnoses that have a medically therapeutic value.”

Beall agreed with Steinberg’s urgency, noting: “There needs to be some action taken to reduce the inappropriate use of drugs in our foster care system — this is not a lightweight issue.”

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, agreed.

“Drugging kids to make them behave isn’t care, isn’t responsible and shouldn’t be legal,” she said in a statement. “Silencing their youthful pain by inducing stupor simply leaves childhood issues to fester into adulthood — and violates the obligation to ‘do no harm’ to those in our care.”


HEAD OF CALIFORNIA’S DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES SAYS NO EASY WAY TO END OVER-MEDICATING OF KIDS IN STATE CARE

When the Mercury-News talked to Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, about their report, he told the paper that this over-drugging problem would take some time to solve.

Thankfully that answer didn’t work for the Mercury-News editorial board, the members of which seemed to think that every kid whose life was being potentially wrecked by being force-fed an untested cocktail of psychotropic meds, has a life that actually, you know, matters.

Here’s a clip from their editorial:

Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, says there’s no simple way to end the pattern of thousands of foster children spending much of their youth drugged into malleability — the horror eloquently revealed by reporter Karen de Sá on Sunday’s Page One. He says it has to be part of the holistic rethinking of the entire foster care system that’s under way, giving doctors better options than prescribing psychotropic drug upon psychotropic drug to control children who act out.

Really? Really? If this isn’t a crisis, then what is?

The abusive use of powerful medications on kids with formative brains cries out for action. Each child who grows up scarred by this is a human tragedy and, in many cases, a lifetime burden on society.

Yes, the whole foster care system needs rebuilding, and yes, that could reduce the incentive to drug kids to alter behavior. But we can’t write off the children in the system now. That’s like declining to treat a cancer because the cure hasn’t been found.

It’s time to act. There are things the state can do now to at least begin to control the damage to children’s minds and physical health….


FERGUSON, & THE LONG SHADOWS OF HISTORY

Author and associate history professor, Jeleni Cobb, writing for the New Yorker, has been one of the voices consistently worth reading during the most intense days in Ferguson.

His newest essay, posted late Tuesday afternoon at the New Yorker, is another thoughtful and emotionally affecting example. Here are two clips, one from the essay’s beginning, the second taken from near its end:

When I was eighteen, I stumbled across Richard Wright’s poem “Between the World and Me. The poem, a retelling of a lynching, shook me, because while the narrator relays the details in the first person, the actual victim of that brutish ritual is another man, unknown to him and unknown to us. The poem is about the way in which history is an animate force, and how we are witnesses to the past, even to that portion of it that transpired before we were born. He writes,

darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
my flesh.

Nothing save random fortune separated the fate of the man who died from that of the one telling the story. Errin Whack and Isabel Wilkerson have both written compellingly about the long shadow of lynching. It is, too often, a deliberately forgotten element of the American past—one that is nonetheless felt everywhere in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests followed the shooting of Michael Brown, who was eighteen years old, by a police officer. One can’t make sense of how Brown’s community perceived those events without first understanding the way that neglected history has survived among black people—a traumatic memory handed down, a Jim Crow inheritance….

And then this:

…I was once a linebacker-sized eighteen-year-old, too. What I knew then, what black people have been required to know, is that there are few things more dangerous than the perception that one is a danger.

I’m embarrassed to recall that my adolescent love of words doubled as a strategy to assuage those fears; it was both a pitiable desire for acceptance and a practical necessity for survival. I know, to this day, the element of inadvertent intimidation that colors the most innocuous interactions, particularly with white people. There are protocols for this. I sometimes let slip that I’m a professor or that I’m scarcely even familiar with the rules of football, minor biographical facts that stand in for a broader, unspoken statement of reassurance: there is no danger here…

Read on.


LAPPL CALLS OUT NY TIMES, NOTING THAT “UNARMED” ALONE DOES NOT DEFINE WHETHER OR NOT SOMEONE POSES A DANGER

Being precise with words matters, as this new post on the blog for the LAPD’s union states, calling out the New York Times for what the LAPPL suggests is a careless use of language.

Here’s a clip from the post’s opening:

Repeated descriptions of a suspect as “unarmed” when shot by a police officer does not, contrary to the belief of the New York Times and others who use the term without further describing the facts of the encounter, determine if the force used by an officer was lawful or reasonable. Labeling the suspect as “unarmed” does not begin to answer the question of the danger they posed in each instance where deadly force was used.

According to the FBI’s online database of officers feloniously killed, as well as the Officer Down Memorial Page, since 2000, there have been at least 57 occurrences where the suspects have taken officers’ weapons and murdered the police officer with it….


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, LAPPL | No Comments »

Keeping Foster Parents in the Loop, “Mass Incarceration on Trial,” IG Report on LAPD Misconduct-Flagging System, and Obama Orders Probe of Police Militarization

August 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: FOSTER PARENTS SHOULD INFORMED OF COURT DATES AND DECISIONS AFFECTING THEIR KIDS

A lawsuit filed this month accuses the LA County Department of Children and Family Services of failing to inform foster parents of their foster kids’ court dates, as well as neglecting to give foster parents the 7-day notice required by law when children in their care are going to be taken and placed elsewhere. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the non-profit group Advokids and three foster parents.

The LA Times’ Jim Newton, who has been watching foster care issues closely, says lapses in communication between DCFS workers and foster parents are detrimental to the wellbeing of the kids they care for. Here’s how it opens:

Heather Whelan has been a foster mother to some 20 children. She has nurtured broken babies back to health and worked closely with parents to fix families. She has also cringed as social workers made life-changing decisions about her charges without consulting her. In one case, she says, the county abruptly separated a pair of sisters she’d been caring for, traumatizing the baby girls because the social worker did not know how much the girls had come to rely on each other.

Carrie Chung is a professional social worker who became a foster parent in 2008. She describes how she once cared for a very young infant who required special foods and exercise to grapple with a difficult ailment. When a hearing was scheduled to decide whether the child could be safely returned to her family, Chung says, no one even bothered to tell her it was taking place.

Over the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Los Angeles foster care system — in courtrooms and waiting rooms, with children and lawyers, birth parents and foster parents. And while I can’t say whether Whelan and Chung are the exception or the rule when it comes to how the county’s Department of Children and Family Services relates to foster parents, I can say that there are persistent breakdowns in communication between social workers and foster parents — and that kids are suffering as a result.

Of the 20,000 or so Los Angeles County children who were living outside their homes this summer under DCFS supervision, about 6,500 were placed with non-relative foster parents. The children have social workers, but they only see them once a month or so. Their lawyers are often overwhelmed. Foster parents are often the only people who see these children every day and can know if they’re having nightmares or trouble with bullies or if they are sinking or recovering.


LOOKING AT CALIFORNIA PRISONS TO UNDERSTAND MASS INCARCERATION NATIONWIDE

A promising new book by legal scholar and Berkeley Law Professor Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America, takes a look at the issue of nationwide mass incarceration through the lens of California’s prison history, from the 70′s and 80′s when “tough on crime” triggered the rise of incarceration rates, to SuperMax prisons, to Brown v. Plata—the precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling that said California’s prison overcrowding amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and put a population cap in place.

Mass Incarceration on Trial challenges the belief that locking more people away promotes public safety.

Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “an eloquent critique of the American prison system.”

The Crime Report’s Cara Tabachnick interviewed Simon about his book. Here are some clips:

The Crime Report: Considering that mass incarceration is a national problem, why did you focus on California?

Jonathan Simon: California is the Mississippi of mass incarceration. When people think of states that would follow the worst practices in incarceration you may think of Texas, Mississippi, or other Southern states because they have struggled with issues of segregation and racism that would crossover to how they treat their inmates. Historically California has been so progressive. It started out as the second most lenient region behind the Northeast, but then from the 1970s through the 1990s the rate swung all the way to be one of the most punitive regions. There was a 500% increase in incarceration—the biggest increase for any of the big states. The state defends itself by saying they in line with the national average of incarceration, but I say who wants to be part of the national average?

But in a way Californians are lucky, because it’s a state that has bad incarceration with good lawyers. And the story couldn’t be told—and the future of mass incarceration may be different—without the work of the California’s Prison Law Office, and the firm Rosen Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, which brought so many of the game-changing prisoners’ rights suit.

TCR: The California corrections system official title is “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” yet you note that the idea of rehabilitating prisoners has almost completely disappeared from the system.

JS: Governor (Arnold) Schwarzenegger actually added rehabilitation back into the title in 2004-2005. He saw that the system was in catastrophe. Putting that word back in was a clear sign that he knew things needed to change. Rehabilitation used to be a central theme of California prisons until the 1970s and the move towards determinate sentences in California. The purpose of the 1976 Determinate Sentencing Act is punishment. Rehabilitation was no longer the goal of the prison. The idea was to give criminals short and just sentences and then they would return home from prison.

But in reality that is not what happened, mass incarceration began to grow as legislatures and politicians added more punishments such as three strikes, and corrections lost their ability to parole. Long sentences replaced short sentences. It was a layer-cake effect. But by then, the idea of rehabilitation had been out of the system for so long, that corrections had stopped thinking of prisoners as human beings. The system began to treat people as a mass, instead of individuals.

[SNIP]

TCR: Should judges should be required to routinely visit correctional institutions so they can be kept apprised of the conditions?

JS: I think that’s a great idea. In Plata v. Brown our courts functioned almost as human right investigatory body. They went into these prisons and brought videos out of inhumane conditions happening in the prisons, overcrowding, bad -beds, unchecked mental illness. And with these videos they’ve opened a visual pathway through which the public can really confront what our nation has been doing with mass incarceration.

TCR: How can the American system learn from European correctional systems?

JS: In Europe they have the European Prison rule. The rule has three core features: individualization of the inmate; normalize the prison to make it as consistent with the community as possible, (provide equal medical care, employment rights, human rights); and be progressive—offer prisoners who obey the rules opportunities. These rules make a difference. In the United States (such an approach) could conserve the dignity of the prisoner and create a better system then we had in the past.


LAPD SYSTEM FOR FLAGGING OFFICER MISCONDUCT FALLS SHORT, SAYS INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s system for flagging questionable officer behavior triggers warnings against officers that turn out to be unfounded, while proving unsuccessful at flagging officers who go on to commit serious misconduct, according to a report by the LAPD inspector general, Alex Bustamante.

The department has asked a research group to analyze all the databases used to track officer behavior, and whether the system actually, created under a federal order, has any influence on officer conduct.

The Police Commission will discuss Bustamante’s findings during their meeting today.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here are some clips:

The report by the Police Commission’s inspector general, Alex Bustamante, scrutinized an early warning computer program that the LAPD has used since 2007 to track patterns of excessive force and other misconduct by its roughly 10,000 officers. The analysis casts doubt on the usefulness of the computer system, which federal officials forced the LAPD to build after years of corruption and abuse.

[SNIP]

The Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, will discuss the inspector general’s report at a meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Robert Saltzman said the department’s current tracking system appears to be “providing limited predictive capabilities,” adding that Bustamante’s report raises “significant questions.”

“I look forward to understanding how the department is responding to correct the issues,” he said.

In his report, Bustamante examined nearly 750 warnings about officers generated over a recent four-month period. In 70% of the cases, supervisors took no action after determining that the conduct flagged by the computer system did not point to any problems, the report found.

The lack of action after so many red flag notifications raises questions about the criteria being used to trigger warnings — called “action items” in LAPD jargon. Currently, the system attempts to compare several aspects of an officer’s conduct to that of other officers in similar assignments. A warning is triggered when an officer exceeds acceptable limits for each benchmark. The various benchmarks include the number of times an officer uses force on a suspect, as well as complaints and lawsuits filed against the officer.

Maggie Goodrich, the LAPD’s chief information officer, said it could be that the system currently is too quick to issue a warning. The risk, she said, is that the department might narrow its assessment of officers too much and, in doing so, miss some misconduct.

“The challenge is finding a balance,” she said.


OBAMA RESPONDS TO FERGUSON CONFLICT BY ORDERING REVIEW OF POLICE MILITARIZATION

President Barack Obama is ordering a review of law enforcement militarization. The probe, to be conducted by White House officials, will focus on military surplus programs and federal grants that help civilian police forces buy military equipment, whether police should be receiving the equipment, how state and local police are using the equipment now, and what kind of training they should have in the future.

The president’s decision comes in the wake of images and reports of Ferguson, MO, police in combat gear and heavy weaponry clashing with people protesting the death of Michael Brown.

McClatchy News’ Christi Parsons has the story. Here’s a clip:

The review, to be led by White House staff, will also look into whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of the equipment it helps facilitate, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s in-house directive.

The federal government has been helping police purchase military equipment for more than 10 years, ever since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, raised concerns about police readiness for a serious attack. Through grant programs and transfers from the military, the U.S. government has helped make the gear available to law enforcement agencies across the nation that have asked for it.

But the gear hadn’t been widely noted until unrest broke out in Ferguson early this month over the shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man. The incident stirred protests, looting and some anti-police violence, which in turn inspired the police to get out their body armor, heavy vehicles and automatic rifles.

[SNIP]

After seeing images of the police gear in video footage, Obama asked senior advisers to look into the programs that provided them. He also spoke about the images in a news conference with reporters a week after Brown’s death. Some post-9/11 equipment upgrades have been useful, he said, noting in particular the improvements to radio communications and to equipment for dealing with hazardous material.

But Obama said he wanted to make sure that what police are buying is “stuff that they actually need.”

He also warned that “there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, Obama, prison | 1 Comment »

$3M Proposal to Give Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Immigrant Kids, the Problem of Prosecutorial Abuse, Social Workers to Get Criminal History of Foster Providers, and CA Attorney General Appealing Death Penalty Ruling

August 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN AND LAWMAKERS’ $3 MILLION LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO UNACCOMPANIED IMMIGRANT KIDS

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers announced a proposal to allocate $3 million to non-profits providing legal aid to unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings who are otherwise left to navigate the court system alone.

The LA Times’ Melanie Mason has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Brown said in a statement.

The legislative proposal would give $3 million to qualified nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. There are an estimated 3,900 Central American children currently in the state who have come to the country without a parent or other relative.

“These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and members of the Latino Caucus paid a visit this summer to a temporary detention center in Ventura County where some children were being housed. Atkins said that visit was a catalyst for the legislative action.

“We all came away with a feeling that these kids needed our support — that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” she said.


$10 MIL SETTLEMENT TO WRONGFULLY CONVICTED MAN DOES NOT ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF UNCHECKED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

New York City will pay a $10 million settlement to Jabbar Collins who was wrongfully convicted of murder for which he spent 15 years in prison.

Collins’ battle with the city also helped to bring down Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose top aide Michael Vecchione prosecuted Collins, allegedly withholding evidence and coercing witnesses to win a conviction. Collins and his lawyer, Joel Rudin, exposed extensive prosecutorial misconduct emanating from the DA’s office.

In an editorial co-published with the NY Daily News, ProPublica’s Joe Sexton says Collins’ win does not mean that the system worked: Vecchione paid no consequences for misconduct, and it’s likely that he never will. Instead, tax payers will foot the bill for Vecchione’s misdeeds in the Collins case. Prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unchecked, thanks, in part, to laws protecting prosecutors from liability. Here’s a clip:

So many shortcomings spotlighted by the Collins case remain unresolved.

Michael Vecchione, the prosecutor who gained a murder conviction against Collins in the 1990s and who was later accused of having committed an array of misconduct in the case, has to date faced no sanction.

And history suggests he won’t. He even managed to cash out a couple hundred days of vacation as he quietly left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office last year.

The taxpayers who paid for those vacation days are now on the hook for $10 million more, footing the bill for Collins’ wrongful conviction.

The lack of consequences for Vecchione — who was accused by Collins and his lawyer of intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury and lying about it all for years while Collins sat in prison — get at larger problems with the system of prosecutorial oversight.

Two federal judges ultimately came to damning conclusions about Vecchione’s conduct. They upbraided him in open court. But there’s no evidence they reported him to the state disciplinary committees appointed to investigate complaints of attorney misconduct.

The fact that it is not clear whether any state panel charged with policing attorneys has or will take up Vecchione’s history underscores what many have complained about for years: The state’s disciplinary system operates almost entirely in secret. Its rare disciplining of prosecutors, then, often remains unknown to the public, including the men and women later facing those prosecutors in court.

The system offers the innocent and the damaged only one meaningful recourse for exposing prosecutorial misconduct: a civil lawsuit. But such suits require years of expensive effort, and, of course, are only even theoretically available to those who have managed to win their freedom.


SOCIAL WORKERS GAIN MORE ACCESS TO CRIMINAL HISTORY OF FOSTER PARENTS AND PROVIDERS TO KEEP KIDS SAFE

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill, SB 1136, to allow social workers to access foster care parents and providers criminal history data before placing kids in their care. Foster care providers have to receive a criminal record clearance or exemption from the state, according to existing law.

To help them better protect vulnerable foster kids, social workers will now be able to see if (and why) parents or providers have received a suspension, probation, or a revoked license.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation, SB 1136, comes in response to Times reports documenting instances when children were harmed and taxpayer money was allegedly misspent by people with criminal backgrounds who had been granted special waivers from the state to receive foster children.

In the past, county social workers, who have the responsibility to place at-risk children in safe homes, were unable to view criminal records of foster parents or workers at agencies that help find and train foster families.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1.


CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS TO APPEAL RULING AGAINST CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has decided to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against California’s death penalty.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled last month that delays keeping inmates on death row for decades amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s what AG Harris had to say about her decision: “I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants. This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

KPCC’s Nathan McIntire has the story.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, immigration, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

Middle School Dropouts, Bill Passes to End Prison Sterilizations, Ferguson Protests…and More

August 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA HAS THOUSANDS OF FORGOTTEN MIDDLE SCHOOL DROPOUTS

More than 6,400 California middle-schoolers (7th and 8th graders) dropped out of school in the 2012-2013 year, more than 1,000 of which were LAUSD students. The number seems relatively low when compared with California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year, so these younger kids are often overlooked and underserved. Most schools do not even have the resources to track them down once they stop showing up.

KPCC’s Sarah Butrymowicz takes a closer look at the issue in a story produced by the Hechinger Report. Here’s how it opens:

Devon Sanford’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was in the eighth grade. After barely finishing at Henry Clay Middle School in South Los Angeles, he never enrolled in high school. He spent what should have been his freshman year caring for his mother and waiting for police to show up asking why he wasn’t in school.

No one ever came.

“That was the crazy part,” he said. “Nobody called or nothing.”

Thousands of students in California public schools never make it to the ninth grade. According to state officials, 7th and 8th grade dropouts added up to more than 6,400 in the 2012-13 school year – more than 1,000 in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.

Like Sanford, many of them just disappeared after middle school and never signed up for high school.

But their numbers are so tiny in comparison to California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year that few school districts are paying attention to middle school dropouts.

One sign of the inattention: a 2009 state law mandating California education officials calculate a middle school dropout rate has gone largely ignored, although districts do publicly report the raw numbers.


CALIFORNIA BILL TO BLOCK STERILIZATION OF FEMALE INMATES MOVES ON TO GOVERNOR’S DESK FOR SIGNING

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that California prison doctors performed 148 unlawful (and ethically questionable) tubal ligations (or “tube-tying”) on female inmates in violation of state law, often without proper legal consent from the women, between 2006 and 2010.

On Tuesday, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill, SB 1135, that would prohibit prisoner sterilizations as a means of birth control, except in the event of a medical emergency or treating an illness.

The bill, now headed for the governor’s desk, would also require the CDCR to provide counseling to women receiving the procedure, as well as post data online about any sterilizations performed. The bill would also provide safeguards for those who might report future misconduct.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign (or not sign) the bill into law.

CIR’s Corey G. Johnson has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The bill, passed unanimously today by the state Senate, would ban sterilizations for birth control purposes in all state prisons, county jails and other detention centers. Surgeries would be restricted to treating life-threatening medical emergencies and addressing physical ailments.

Women would receive extensive counseling, and correctional facilities performing such surgeries would be required to post data about the procedures online. The bill also protects whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting violations.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, pushed for the bill after The Center of Investigative Reporting found more than 130 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules from 2006 to 2010. Former inmates and prisoner advocates told CIR that prison medical staff pressured women, targeting inmates deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

“It’s clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons,” Jackson said. “Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights.”


WHAT MADE PROTESTS IN FERGUSON, MO, TURN INTO A WEEK OF VIOLENCE AND DISORDER

NBC’s Andrew Blankstein and Tom Winter have delved into why protests over Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, spiraled out of control, while nearby protests over an unconnected fatal shooting of a young black man did not turn violent. Here’s how it opens:

The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri has led to angry protests and violent clashes with police that reached a fresh crescendo earlier this week. A second, unrelated fatal police shooting of a young black man just a few miles east on Tuesday, however, sparked protests, but no violence.

Why did events spiral out of control in Ferguson? Why did this little-known St. Louis suburb, with just 21,000 people, explode into more than a week of unrest? Part of the problem seems to have been a series of missteps by local authorities.

Experts from around the nation, including law enforcement officials, academics and civil rights attorneys, cite four factors: A poisoned relationship between a virtually all-white police force and a majority black city; heavy-handed police tactics both before and after the shooting — including a military-style response to the initial protests; and mixed messages from local authorities, some of whom attempted to focus attention on an alleged robbery by the dead teen, Michael Brown, instead of updating the public about the investigation into Brown’s death.

“Put that all together and you have a ready-made disaster,” L.A.-based civil rights attorney Connie Rice told NBC News.

The Police vs. the Public: Rice and others said most of the problems in Ferguson flowed from the almost non-existent connection between the city’s police and its residents. Detective Gabe Crocker, president of the St. Louis County Police Association, which represents many of the area’s officers, told NBC News he thought there had been early friction in Ferguson between police and protesters because there had been “no established lines of communication with community leaders.”

While two-thirds of Ferguson’s citizens are African-American, there are only three blacks on its 53-member police force. Where larger urban departments like the NYPD have used so-called “community-based policing” in recent years to build trust with a diverse public, Ferguson focused on old-fashioned top-down policing and revenue generation. That meant most contact with civilians involved traffic stops and writing tickets – an extraordinary number of tickets for traffic and other offenses. Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of politics at the New School in New York City and a former resident and legislator in St. Louis County, described Ferguson as “a constant, simmering state of tension and mistrust.” Smith said community policing could have reduced tensions, but that “it’s like (Ferguson) missed the whole phenomenon.”

[SNIP]

Changing the Subject: Two related moves last week appeared to defuse tensions. Missouri State Police took over command of the scene from the local cops, and designated Capt. Ron Johnson, an African-American who grew up near Ferguson, as the on-site commander and liaison with the community.

But then Ferguson Police Department Chief Thomas Jackson held a press conference and released documents and surveillance video — over Justice Department objections — allegedly showing that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store a short time before he was fatally shot. Hours later, Jackson held another press conference to announce that the white officer accused of shooting Brown was unaware of Brown’s alleged involvement in the robbery when he shot him.

Eric Rose, a crisis management expert who advises police organizations across the country, called Jackson’s revelations “foolish,” saying they served “to further incite tensions.”

“The goal should have been to calm things down,” said Rose. “Releasing that information did not serve that purpose.” In high-profile cases, he said, “You never want to go public without truly knowing all the facts and you want to have a clear strategy. In this case, the stakes of being wrong could have meant riots. And that’s exactly what happened.”


CHILD WELFARE TRANSITION TEAM AND SUPERVISORS DIFFER ON HOW TO MOVE FORWARD

At the end of June, the LA County Board of Supervisors appointed a nine-member transition team to assist in the creation of a child welfare czar meant to oversee the implementation of child welfare reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.

On Tuesday, in their first progress report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team members outlined qualifications the Office of Child Protection should have. Co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague also asked for an executive director to keep the group focused and moving forward on reforms until the czar can be put in place.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that the hiring of a child welfare czar was of higher importance than the hiring of an executive director, and that the BOS never approved staff for the transition team. Yaroslavsky also suggested that there might be a calculated delay on hiring a czar until he and Supe Gloria Molina are termed out of office in December.

Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas urged the board to continue implementing the Blue Ribbon Commission’s other recommendations while the search for a czar continues.

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

In its first report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague presented the group’s work over the course of the past month. Those efforts have largely centered on clarifying the role and desired qualifications of the incoming director of the Office of Child Protection.

“The founding director of the Office of Child Protection will have the opportunity to forge a transformational process for the children of Los Angeles County and we hope you see it the same way,” Gilbert-Lurie said while addressing the Board of Supervisors at the August 19 meeting.

But the transition team remains hindered by confusion about its responsibilities beyond assisting in the search for a leader of the new office and questions about staffing support that team members say would help speed up the implementation of reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

“What bothers me is that we’re not seeing eye to eye on what’s the most important thing for us,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “The most important thing is getting the Office of Child Protection person hired. The search firm in my opinion is moving very slowly, too slowly, and is responding to too many people. It’s August 19 and we’re no closer to hiring, or even searching for the office of child protection than we were a month ago.”

Transition team member Gilbert-Lurie argued that the team needs additional resources and support in the form of an executive director to accelerate efforts at implementing further recommendations.

“You have herded a group with a wide range of talents—we have doctors, Ph.D.s, judges, lawyers,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “But we need someone whose eye is on the ball of moving this forward. We believe there’s a lot of information that could be helpful in working with department heads. [We could] leverage the best of what you have in the county if there is someone available to take our ideas and help implement them when we’re working in our day jobs. We don’t believe we have access to that sort of person with that executive experience right now on a full enough time basis.”

Posted in DCFS, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAUSD, Police, prison, women's issues | 18 Comments »

LAPD Misclassifying Violent Crimes as Minor Offenses, Programs for CA Lifers, Supe. Hopeful Bobby Shriver Discusses Child Welfare…and More

August 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD MISREPORTS 1200 VIOLENT CRIMES AS MINOR CRIMES, SAYS LA TIMES INVESTIGATION

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly changing the city’s crime statistics, according to an LA Times investigation by Ben Poston and Joel Rubin. The wrongly reported crimes were almost always aggravated assaults that were knocked down to simple assaults, and thus not included in the city’s serious crime count. Between October 2012-September 2013, the misclassifications created an aggravated assault tally 14% lower than if the crimes were reported correctly, and a 7% lower overall violent crime total.

Some officers said the misclassifications stemmed from pressure from the top to hit crime reduction quotas. Others, including Chief Charlie Beck have blamed it on human error. But, the investigation found that nearly every inaccurately reported crime was misclassified as a lesser crime, not a more serious offense.

The crime statistics play a role in how departments, captains, and chiefs are evaluated. This investigation comes just days before the police commission’s expected vote on Chief Beck’s reappointment.

Here’s a clip from Poston and Rubin’s story. Here’s a clip:

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013, including hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies, a Times investigation found.

The incidents were recorded as minor offenses and as a result did not appear in the LAPD’s published statistics on serious crime that officials and the public use to judge the department’s performance.

Nearly all the misclassified crimes were actually aggravated assaults. If those incidents had been recorded correctly, the total aggravated assaults for the 12-month period would have been almost 14% higher than the official figure, The Times found.

The tally for violent crime overall would have been nearly 7% higher.

Numbers-based strategies have come to dominate policing in Los Angeles and other cities. However, flawed statistics leave police and the public with an incomplete picture of crime in the city. Unreliable figures can undermine efforts to map crime and deploy officers where they will make the most difference.

More than two dozen current and retired LAPD officers interviewed for this article gave differing explanations for why crimes are misclassified.

Some said it was inadvertent. Others said the problem stemmed from relentless, top-down pressure to meet crime reduction goals.

At the start of each year, top LAPD officials set statistical goals for driving down crime in the city. As part of that process, the department’s 21 divisions are given numerical targets for serious crimes each month.

Division captains, their command staff and other senior officials worry constantly about hitting their targets, officers said.

“Whenever you reported a serious crime, they would find any way possible to make it a minor crime,” Det. Tom Vettraino, who retired in 2012 after 31 years on the force, said of his supervisors. “We were spending all this time addressing what the crime should be called, instead of dealing with the crime itself. It’s ridiculous.”

In a written response to questions from The Times, LAPD officials said the department “does not in any way encourage manipulating crime reporting or falsifying data.”

Deputy Chief Rick Jacobs defended the crime-reduction targets, saying they are an important tool for tracking the department’s performance and holding division captains accountable. Captains are not judged solely on the numbers, but on the crime-fighting strategies they use, Jacobs said.

LAPD officials also say classification errors are inevitable in a department that records more than 100,000 serious offenses each year. They say the department has tightened its safeguards and improved its reporting accuracy.

“We recognize there is an error rate,” said Arif Alikhan, a senior policy advisor to Police Chief Charlie Beck. “It’s important to us to do what we can to reduce that error rate.”

The department “is relying on that data to determine where we are going to send cops … how we actually do things to prevent crime,” he added.

Alikhan, a former federal prosecutor and Homeland Security official, said the rate of misclassification has held steady or even declined over the years, so the public can trust figures showing that crime in L.A. has fallen in each of the last 11 years.

Beck declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he said classifying crimes is “a complex process that is subject to human error.”

If the misclassifications were mainly inadvertent, police would be expected to make a similar number of mistakes in each direction — reporting serious crimes as minor ones and vice versa, said Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

But The Times’ review found that when police miscoded crimes, the result nearly always was to turn a serious crime into a minor one.


PRAISES AND CONCERNS REGARDING LAPD CHIEF BECK AS VOTE ON REAPPOINTMENT DRAWS NEARER

As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck heads into the police commission’s Tuesday vote on whether to reappoint him for a second 5-year term, Brenda Gazzar of the LA Daily news looks at criticisms and praises of the chief. Here are some clips:

At a housing project in Watts earlier this year, gang expert Jorja Leap was leading a weekly support group for fathers that included former gang members and parolees when the topic turned to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck.

There had been a spike in gang violence that week, Leap recalled, and some of the men in Project Fatherhood were concerned that the LAPD would go back to its old, heavy-handed ways and “come down hard” on African-Americans. The adjunct professor for the UCLA Luskin School for Public Affairs was stunned, she said, when others in the group strongly disagreed, arguing that Beck would never do that because “he was different.”

“I’ve worked in South Los Angeles all my life — all my professional life — and there has always been mistrust and outright hatred of the LAPD and its chief,” said Leap, noting that this predominantly black neighborhood in particular had witnessed decades of police brutality dating back to the 1965 Watts riots. However, “there’s something about (Beck) that has fostered great trust in the community. He has to always be respectful of that and how he uses that.”

[SNIP]

The Rev.[sic] Greg Boyle, founder of the renowned L.A.-based anti-gang program Homeboy Industries, said Beck “has a reverence for the complexity of things — and the root of gang crime and kids’ involvement in it.” Boyle said his wish is that law enforcement will now realize that gang crime is really a community health issue.

“It’s not enough for law enforcement to keep saying (endlessly) that we ‘can’t arrest our way out of this problem,’” Boyle wrote in an email. “Usually, after saying this, it proceeds to try and solve this problem alone. L.A. is ready for the wider, more aerial view … and Charlie can bring the city to that place.”

But in addition to the new issue of the wrongly categorizing crimes, some commission members still expressed concerns.

“There are a number of (discipline) decisions that trouble me, partly because I felt they were too lenient and partly because I felt they were inconsistent from cases otherwise similar,” said Commissioner Robert M. Saltzman, who has served on the panel for seven years and declined to identify the specific cases due to “personnel matters.”

Meanwhile, Soboroff has publicly disagreed with the chief on two discipline cases, one involving Officer Shaun Hillman, who was given a suspension of more than two months after he allegedly called an African-American a “monkey” in an off-duty incident and lied to investigators. The chief overruled a disciplinary board’s decision to fire Hillman, whose father is a retired LAPD officer and whose uncle is a former deputy chief. The other case involved Beck’s decision to return to duty eight police officers who mistakenly fired more than 100 rounds at a pickup truck carrying two women delivering newspapers during the search for cop killer Christopher Dorner. Beck acknowledged the officers violated department policy but opted to retrain them. However, those decisions are taken against Beck’s total performance over five years, Soboroff said.


CLASSES FOR INFLUX OF LIFER INMATES WINNING PAROLE

Over the last five years, around 2,300 California inmates serving life with the possibility of parole have been released into supervision—more than twice as many as the preceding twenty years combined.

The new population of lifers winning parole has triggered a wave of programs to help these inmates—who have been locked up for decades—successfully reenter their communities and adjust to life on the outside.

KQED’s Scott Shafer has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

On a recent weekday morning at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, inmates lined up to receive certificates. They had just completed classes that help them understand how they ended up here. The special guest is not a typical graduation speaker. Instead, they hear from Teresa Courtemanche. Six years ago, her son, Matt, who was on the Fairfield City Council, was shot and killed. He was 22 — a victim of mistaken identity. She recalls that night when her home phone rang.

“It was my friend Terri and she said, ‘I think Matt got shot,’ ” Courtemanche remembers. “ ’What?’ ‘I think he got shot.’ I said, ‘OK, let me go. Let me call his phone.’ And I kept calling his phone and he didn’t answer.”

She goes on to describe through tears how the murder tore through her family — and still does. The audience, 40 or so lifers, sits quietly, many of them nodding slowly as she speaks. It’s one of the ways inmates hear about the impact that crime has on their victims and their families. Afterward, one of the inmates, James Ward, speaks passionately about the unfairness of violent crime.

“When I hear us complaining about how unfair we are treated — you want to see how unfairness is?” Ward says, pounding the podium for emphasis. “Look at her experience. When we talk about, ‘Oh, the police didn’t let me out on the yard or came to search my house.’ How messed up that is. That is not unfair!”

Ward has spent half his life in prison after stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death over 30 years ago. After being turned down for parole five times, he was finally found suitable earlier this year. Standing in a prison courtyard, Ward says unless that his parole is reversed by the governor, he’ll leave Solano Prison Nov. 5.

“I have mixed feelings about it, actually,” he confides. “There’s the elation of being found suitable but then the sobering realization of what this has cost — in my girlfriend’s life and her relatives’ lives and my family’s lives. So, the impact is widespread, so I can’t be too celebratory.”

A couple years ago, Ward was trained to be a drug and alcohol counselor at Solano, as well as a mentor for other inmates.

“Doing this work is part of that making amends in a kind of indirect way to my victims,” Ward says. “But there’s more that I think I could do out of the confines of this limiting environment.”

Programs like these are part of a different approach that Gov. Brown has brought to criminal justice. For the first time in decades, inmate rehabilitation is a funding priority. The inmates learn things like anger management, what leads to criminal thinking, the impact crime has on victims and how to reconcile with their own family members if they’re released.

Rodger Meier, deputy director for rehabilitation with CDCR, says the goal is “to try to make sure that they are suitable for parole, that they don’t impact public safety, and they can successfully go out into society and lead a productive life.”

Nearly half of Solano’s 3,300 inmates are lifers, and many will eventually be paroled. And the hope is that programs like these will help them make better decisions than they did before they were sent here.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATE BOBBY SHRIVER ON CHILD WELFARE

Last month, Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback talked with Sheila Kuehl, one of the candidates running for LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat, about what she would do, if elected, to push through much-needed Dept. of Children and Family Services reforms—particularly those recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety.

Now, Loudenback has interviewed Kuehl’s opponent, Bobby Shriver, about his thoughts on creating a better child welfare system for LA County’s most vulnerable.

Shriver discussed fixing DCFS’ outdated computer systems, staying on an issue—calling people “all day long and on the weekend”—until it is corrected, and finding innovators within the system to come together as champions for change.

Here are some clips:

Growing up as the son of Special Olympics founder and social worker Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Shriver says that the struggles of caseworkers in the child welfare system remind him of his mother.

“As a kid, I remember my mom was frustrated with the way with the way things were happening,” Shriver said, recalling his mother’s work in the Illinois juvenile justice system in the 1950s. “I grew up watching her assemble social workers at our house and figure out how to create programs for whatever funding streams in Illinois in the ‘50s and then in D.C. later.”

[SNIP]

Shriver has made the pursuit of new ideas at the core of his campaign for the Board of Supervisors. A self-described “innovation person,” Shriver says Los Angeles County needs to be shaken up.

“I’m more disposed emotionally and intellectually to solve a problem with a new idea that hasn’t been tried before,” Shriver says.

“I don’t want to be sitting here in 10 years with a new study showing me how the child welfare system has yet again failed this group of children. We’ve got a series of those studies already.”

“There’s has to be something that can be done that will shift us out of that and if that’s performance-based contracting in part, we have to take a serious look at it,” said Shriver.

Shriver points to a discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 29 about creating a mental-health diversion program that would route some offenders into mental-health programs instead of the county’s overcrowded system of jails as an example of how the long-serving board has not always been open to hearing new ways to address the county’s enduring issues

“Supervisor Yaroslavsky said at the meeting that the conversation about diversion was the first discussion of the topic he had heard in the 20-plus years he’s been on the board,” Shriver said. “It’s incredible to me that none of supervisors had brought forward that suggestion in 20 years.”

[SNIP]

“I would stick a fork through my hand if the computer system hasn’t been fixed in four years if I’m there, running for re-election,” he said, referring to the outmoded computer system used by county social workers. “I do have a plan, but the most important element of the plan is that when I say I’m going to absolutely do something, I mean it. I’m going to call people all day long and on the weekend. It has to be followed through on a daily basis. I’ve just never seen [change happen] by committees or consultants, that kind of way.”



See the original LA Times investigation for more LAPD documents.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, prison, Reentry | 11 Comments »

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