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Richmond PD Chief Improves Cop Morale….DOJ Calls Albuquerque Police “Reckless” ….Prop 47 Lowers Jail Pop….Luis Rodriguez’s Words Save Lives…..Saying Goodby to Rick Orlov

February 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



RICHMOND, CA, POLICE CHIEF STRESSES COMMUNITY POLICING OVER SHOW OF FORCE

When Richmond CA hired Chris Magnus, an openly gay white guy from Fargo, North Dakota, to take over its scandal ridden police department, local cops and members of Richmond’s primarily minority communities were….how to put it?….skeptical.

But Magnus didn’t blink at the initially less-than-enthusiastic reception. He immediately disbanded the department’s “street teams,” units of heavily armed officers deployed in high-crime areas. He didn’t like the impression that the the street teams gave of being an occupying army that arrested people for small amounts of drugs and other minor crimes. Instead, he asked his officers to attend community meetings and employed a system he called a “Neighborhood Beat Policing” model. “Our goal is to build continuity of presence and the strongest possible relationships between officers and the public in every area of the city, he wrote on the Richmond PD website.

Now crime is down and morale in the Richmond PD is up.

Aron Pero of the Associated Press has more. Here are some clips:

Magnus also eliminated the seniority system that allowed officers to choose the areas they would patrol. He required officers to take on more responsibilities on their beats beyond responding to calls. Beat officers are required to attend neighborhood meetings and to maintain a high profile at churches, schools and businesses. They’re encouraged to hand out their mobile phone numbers and email addresses to residents.

“A lot of people were skeptical at first … I know I was skeptical. I mean, not only was he coming from outside the department, he was coming from Fargo, of all places,” said Officer Virgil Thomas, a 19-year veteran of the force and the newly installed president of the police union. “But he came in with a plan and stuck to it, and the image of the city and of the police has changed dramatically. Morale has improved greatly.”

Controversy erupted in December, however, when at a local protest over events at Ferguson and in New York City, Magnus held up a sign reading “#blacklivesmatter.” But even that criticism dissolved quickly.

The [police] union initially objected to the police chief’s participation in the Dec. 9 demonstration. The association’s lawyer said Magnus’ appearance in uniform “dishonored the department” and violated a law barring political activity on duty. But Thomas said the union backed away from those claims after sitting down and talking with Magnus about the demonstration.

“We talked about it, and I understand what he was trying to do,” Thomas said. “He’s trying to bridge the gap, like we all are.”

It helped, of course, that policing in Richmond is effective under Magnus’ stewardship.

The city in 2014 recorded 11 murders, the lowest rate per capita in recent decades. It was the fifth straight year the murder rate declined in Richmond. Violent crimes and property crimes alike have plummeted, as have officer-involved shootings. The U.S. Department of Justice recently added Magnus to a panel of experts investigating police relations with the community in Ferguson, Missouri.


ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: A RASH OF KILLINGS

While the relationship between members of the Richmond PD and those it serves has blossomed, in Albuquerque matters appear to be going in a less positive direction.

In 2007, crime was higher than the national average in Albuquerque, NM, and the city’s police department was having trouble recruiting police officers, despite the perks the APD offered to those who signed up. Pressured, the department higher-ups started cutting corners. They stopped consistently using psych exams for applicants, and began taking men and women who had washed out of other departments, and others whom the department’s training officers warned had….issues.

By 2011, the rate of fatal shootings by police in this city of five hundred and fifty thousand, was eight times that of New York City. More half of those killed were mentally ill. No officer had ever been charged, and few were disciplined.

Writing for the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv tells the story of one of those fatal shootings. It’s a tale that involves threats, intimidation, the DOJ and one more shooting last March. But this time the shooting of a homeless mentally ill man named James Boyd was caught on video and, in January, resulted in charges.

Here’s a clip from Aviv’s story:

Stephen Torres was meeting with a client at his law office, in downtown Albuquerque, on April 12, 2011, when he received a call from a neighbor, who told him that police officers were aiming rifles at his house. He left work and drove to his home, in a middle-class suburb with a view of the mountains. There were more than forty police vehicles on his street. Officers wearing camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests had circled his home, a sand-colored two-story house with a pitched tile roof. Two officers were driving a remote-controlled robot, used for discharging bombs, back and forth on the corner.

Stephen’s wife, Renetta, the director of human resources for the county, arrived a few minutes later, just after three o’clock. A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone.” “What do you mean ‘kill zone’?” Renetta asked. “Ma’am, you can’t go any further,” the officer said.

Renetta knew that the only person at home was the youngest of her three boys, Christopher, who was twenty-seven and had schizophrenia. Two hours earlier, he had stopped by her office for lunch, as he did a few times a week. Then he visited an elderly couple who lived two houses away. He said that he needed to “check up on them”; he often cleaned their pool or drove them to the grocery store. Because he found it overwhelming to spend too much time among people, he tried to do small, social errands, so as not to isolate himself.

When Stephen asked the police what had happened to Christopher, he was told only that there was an “ongoing criminal investigation.” Stephen offered to let the officers inside the house, but they refused. Stephen called a close friend on the force, who said that a person had been taken off in an ambulance earlier in the afternoon, at around two o’clock. Stephen called the three main hospitals in Albuquerque, but Christopher hadn’t been admitted to any of them.

Stephen called a neighbor, Val Aubol, who lived across the street, to find out what she could see. Aubol peeked through the shutters of her front window and saw ten officers lined up against a neighbor’s garage, next to the Torreses’ house. The SWAT team’s Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck was parked in front of them. When Aubol went into her back yard, she saw a rope dangling from her roof. An officer had climbed up and was pointing his gun at the Torreses’ house. Another officer was crouching behind the gate at the side of her house. She told the officers that she’d spoken with Christopher’s father, but an officer waved her back inside. “Stay in the house!” he shouted.

At around five-thirty, a female officer stepped out of a mobile crime unit, an R.V. where detectives processed evidence, and waved the family over. “She was so detached,” Renetta said. “All she said was ‘I regret to inform you that your son is deceased.’ ” She did not tell them how their son had died or where they could find his body. The Torreses asked if they could go home, but the officer said that it was still an active crime scene.


RECKLESSNESS & DEADLY FORCE

Nick Pinto at RollingStone has another feature on the Albuquerque police, which has the details on the James Boyd shooting.

Here are some clips from Pinto’s story:

…On the afternoon of March 16th, 2014, Albuquerque police received a 911 call from this part of town, a man complaining that someone was illegally camping in the foothills. Two Albuquerque officers responded and, sure enough, encountered James Matthew Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia. Boyd was clearly not well, ranting, telling police that he was an agent for the Defense Department.

Unauthorized camping is a petty misdemeanor. The officers could have told Boyd to move along and left it at that. But as Officer John McDaniel approached, Boyd wouldn’t show his hands and McDaniel drew his gun. When the officers moved to pat him down, Boyd pulled out two small knives; the cops stepped back and called for backup, setting off a spectacular circus, with as many as 40 police officers reportedly joining the standoff. Among them were uniformed cops and members of the SWAT team, the tactical K-9 unit and the Repeat Offender Project squad.

Not present, Boyd’s family would later allege in a complaint, was anyone clearly in charge. Keeping Boyd surrounded, often with guns drawn, officers tried to get him to surrender his knives. Finally, after three hours, Boyd prepared to come down from the hills. “Don’t worry about safety,” he told the police. “I’m not a fucking murderer.” But as Boyd packed his stuff, both hands full of possessions, Detective Keith Sandy — who hours before, on arriving at the scene, boasted on tape that he was going to shoot “this fucking lunatic” with a Taser shotgun — tossed a flash-bang grenade, a nonlethal weapon designed to disorient and distract. Another officer fired a Taser at Boyd, and a third released a police dog on him. Boyd drew his knives again. Advancing on him, officers ordered Boyd to get down on the ground. Boyd began to turn away, and Detective Sandy of the ROP squad and Officer Dominique Perez of the SWAT team each fired three live rounds at him, hitting him once in the back and twice in his arms. Boyd collapsed, face down, crying out that he was unable to move. “Please don’t hurt me,” he said. Another officer fired three beanbag rounds from a shotgun at Boyd’s prone body. The K-9 officer again loosed his German shepherd on Boyd, and the dog tore into his legs. Finally, officers approached and handcuffed him.

After roughly 20 minutes, Boyd was transported in an ambulance to the University of New Mexico hospital. In the final hours of his life, Boyd had his right arm amputated and his spleen, a section of his lung and a length of his intestines removed. At 2:55 a.m., he was pronounced dead. He was the 22nd person killed by the Albuquerque police in just more than four years.

Boyd’s death conformed to many of the patterns governing deadly police violence in Albuquerque. Living with mental illness, Boyd fit the profile of the marginal Albuquerqueans most likely to find themselves shot to death by the city’s police. The escalation of a low-level encounter to a standoff involving numerous heavily armed officers wasn’t anything new, either. Few were surprised when footage from the lapel camera that Officer Sandy was required to keep running was inexplicably absent. And, as in so many previous officer-involved shootings, Boyd’s death was followed by a press conference by the chief of police, who declared the shooting justified and painted Boyd as a dangerous criminal….

Finally, a group of families whose loved ones had bend killed by members of the APD persuaded the Department of Justice to take a look at what was going on with the high number of deadly shootings.

Reviewing 20 fatal police shootings from 2009 to 2012, the [DOJ] report found a majority of them to be unconstitutional. “Albuquerque police officers shot and killed civilians who did not pose an imminent threat,” the report found, noting that “Albuquerque police officers’ own recklessness sometimes led to their use of deadly force.”


PROP 47 ALREADY BRINGING DROPS IN JAIL POPS ACROSS CALIFORNIA

It’s early still, but the effect of Prop 47 on the state’s jail populations, thus far, has been to lower them. This drop is particularly welcome after jail numbers had been driven higher due to the state’s 2011 AB 109 realignment strategy that shifted the incarceration burden for certain low level offenders to the various counties.

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Inmate populations are falling in once-overcrowded California county jails since voters decided in November that certain drug and property crimes should be treated as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

While some are avoiding jail, many of those who are sent to county lock-ups for crimes not covered by the ballot initiative dubbed Proposition 47 are spending more time there because jail officials no longer must release them early due to overcrowding.

Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties are among those with fewer early releases, according to an Associated Press survey of the 10 counties that together account for about 70 percent of California’s total jail population.


LUIS RODRIGUEZ & THE POWER OF WORDS

KCET’s So Cal Connected is doing a story on Los Angeles poet laureate, Luis Rodriguez, on Wednesday at 8 pm. If you’re around, be sure to tune in. Rodriquez is the best known for his classic memoir Always Running– La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A, about how he escaped Los Angeles gang life in the 1960′s. It’s a wonderful book, and one that dozens of disaffected kids I’ve met over the years told me was the first book they’d ever read, cover to cover, a book that introduced them to the joys of reading ever after.

Rodriguez has also published poetry, fiction, and other works of nonfiction, along with acting as the publisher for Southern California poets and writers. If that was not enough, he founded and runs Tia Chucha’s, a bookstore and cultural center in Sylmar, teaches writing inside California’s prisons, and mentors at risk young men and women looking to get out or to stay away from gang membership. He changes lives. I’ve seen it happen.

“Luis is a great man,” Father Greg Boyle once said to me, summing the matter up with simplicity.

Yes, He is. And we’re so lucky to have him here in LA. So, check out So Cal Connected Wednesday evening, and get to know him.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF ICONIC LA WRITERS…WE ARE GOING TO MISS REPORTER/COLUMNIST RICK ORLOV, R.I.P

Respected LA Daily News city hall reporter Rick Orlov died on Monday of complications of diabetes and the city’s reporting community is completely in shock.

Mayor Eric Garcetti had this to say about Orlov on Twitter:

Posted in American artists, American voices, CDCR, jail, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Los Angeles writers, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


AFTER MUCH STALLING BY THE OLD BOARD, THE NEW LA BOARD OF SUPES QUICKLY MAKES 2 NEW FOSTER CARE FIXES

It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


SAN FRANCISCO TURNS TO COMMUNITY COURT TO BREAK THE INCARCERATION CYCLE

With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


NEW YORK CITY BANS SOLITARY FOR INMATES 21 OR UNDER AT RIKERS

In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.

[SNIP]

A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


SAM QUINONES ON “DEADLINE LA” TALKING ABOUT DRAMATIC REDUCTIONS IN GANG CRIME

For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


THE PAIN OF LOSING AL MARTINEZ

Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

Rialto Police’s Success with Body Cameras, LASD Racial Profiling Allegations in Long Beach, , and The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die

August 23rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

RIALTO POLICE SHOW HOW EFFECTIVE BODY CAMS CAN BE

The city of Rialto, CA has seen complaints against officers drop almost 90 percent, and officer use of force by nearly 60 percent, since an officer camera program was implemented in February 2012.

The NY Times’ Ian Lovett has the story. Here’s a clip:

Rialto has become the poster city for this high-tech measure intended to police the police since a federal judge last week applauded its officer camera program in the ruling that declared New York’s stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional. Rialto is one of the few places where the impact of the cameras has been studied systematically.

In the first year after the cameras were introduced here in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.

And while Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg railed against the federal court, which ordered New York to arm some of its own police officers with cameras, the Rialto Police Department believes it stands as an example of how effective the cameras can be. Starting Sept. 1, all 66 uniformed officers here will be wearing a camera during every shift.

William A. Farrar, the Rialto police chief, believes the cameras may offer more benefits than merely reduced complaints against his force: the department is now trying to determine whether having video evidence in court has also led to more convictions.

But even without additional data, Chief Farrar has invested in cameras for the whole force.

“When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief Farrar said. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”


LONG BEACH GROUPS SAY LA DEPUTY TARGETED UNDOCUMENTED DRIVERS

Community organizations in Long Beach rallied Wednesday, calling for an investigation into an LASD transit deputy’s alleged racial profiling and illegal vehicle impounding.

The deputy allegedly targeted Latino drivers, impounding the vehicles of undocumented immigrants and those with out-of-state licenses. One woman said the deputy told her that he would continue to do so until the immigrants “went back to their country.”

The Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Beatriz Valenzuela has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Long Beach community groups are pushing for a complete investigation into allegations a Los Angeles County sheriff’s transit deputy once stationed in Long Beach racially profiled motorists, illegally impounding vehicles and targeting a person who filed a complaint against him.

“We had a meeting with (Sheriff Lee) Baca back on March 2, but we haven’t seen any resolution to the issue,” said Laura Merryfield of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, one of the groups that organized a rally Wednesday over the issue.

A report by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild called the unidentified deputy’s alleged actions a “serious abuse of police power” that included racial profiling and denial of due process rights.

The report alleges the deputy violated the law by impounding vehicles of drivers with out-of-state or out-of-country licenses, by denying impound hearings, conducting legally flawed impound hearings and by failing to release vehicles to licensed drivers — in one case, the registered owner of one of the vehicles. It is illegal to drive without a license, but generally vehicles are not impounded unless a licensed driver is unavailable to take the wheel or the driver’s license has been revoked or suspended.


LASD DEPUTY AND JAIL EMPLOYEE CHARGED WITH COVERING UP INMATE ABUSE

Former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Karin Cring and a custody assistant at Twin Towers, Jayson Ellis, were arrested Wednesday and charged with filing a false police report regarding another deputy’s alleged 2010 assault on an inmate.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has more on the arrests and the alleged abuse of inmate Derek Griscavage. Here’s a clip:

Karin Cring, a former deputy now living in Switzerland, was taken into custody Wednesday after authorities received information that she was at a residence in Covina.

Sheriff’s investigators also arrested custody assistant Jayson Ellis, who has been on paid leave since July 2012 in connection with the investigation. Both were ordered held on $20,000 bail; Cring and Ellis were released on bail Wednesday evening, jail records show.

They have been charged with falsely reporting an incident in which authorities alleged that another deputy, Jermaine Jackson, assaulted an inmate using “a deadly weapon” — his feet.

Jackson was charged last year with causing great bodily injury, assault by a public officer and filing a false report in connection with that incident and another incident at the Compton courthouse lockup in 2009. He is awaiting trial.

Ellis, who has worked for the department since 2006, has been on paid leave, but after his arrest Wednesday, his status was shifted to unpaid leave, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

These arrests bring up a great many questions. For one thing, why were Cring and Ellis not arrested until now, when the reported assault was in 2010?  Similarly, why was custody assistant Ellis put on paid leave a full year ago, in 2012?
 
More as we find out more.


NEW LONGFORM NONFICTION RECOMMENDED READ: THE GIRL WHO WOULDN’T DIE

This month, a new journalism project called The Big Roundtable, has published a remarkable story titled The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. The narrative, which chronicles Christina Martinez’s fight for her life after she was savagely beaten, stabbed, and left for dead in Turnbull Canyon, is by award-winning former LA Times reporter, Erika Hayasaki, now an assistant professor in the Literary Journalism program at UC Irvine, and the author of the upcoming The Death Class: A True Story About Life (January 2014).

The Big Round Table is a publishing platform that exclusively features longform nonfiction—in other words, the kind of dynamic nonfiction storytelling that is now frequently ignored by the mainstream media. TBRT received its initial funding via a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $19,000 (the goal was $5,000).

Okay, here’s a clip from The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die:

If her father were alive, Christina Martinez knew, he would not approve of her riding in this car, through these unfamiliar neighborhoods, with these three men. She looked out the window. The green Mitsubishi made its way down Beverly Boulevard, but not in Hollywood. Here the street stretched through the Los Angeles outskirts of Montebello and Pico Rivera, past the East L.A. sheriff’s station, past billboards in Spanish scrawled with graffiti, past check-cashing shops, liquor stores, taco stands, and men wearing long sleeves to cover their tattoos. This was a warm Tuesday in August 2009, and the moon was bright.

Christina, who was 20, called the men in the Eclipse her friends, but they were hardly more than acquaintances. She had hung out with them a few times, and they knew her boyfriend, Kilo, whom she had been dating for two months. She had spent much of this evening with Kilo at the home of his cousin, in Bellflower, north of Long Beach. The three men had stopped by, but mostly stayed outside.

When it came time to go, Kilo stayed behind. The men offered to give Christina a ride home. She accepted, because rides were not easy to come by, and because she’d accepted rides from the driver before. Christina and her son, Alexander, only a year old, lived with her mother, farther north in Lennox, next to Los Angeles International Airport. To the west was the beach. On the way, the men said, they might walk on the sand and smoke a little weed.

Christina was small, not even five feet tall. Even with the front seat pushed all the way back, she fit comfortably in the back, behind the driver. She wore shorts, Kilo’s black T-shirt, and Etnies, size 5 ½, with pink E’s on the sides. She had dark hair, freckles, arched eyebrows, piercings beneath her bottom lip, and a star tattooed on her right shoulder. She carried a white backpack with cow designs, along with a small red bag with a turtle print. Inside were her makeup, Social Security Card, zebra-printed sunglasses, and a marijuana pipe.

The Mitsubishi turned east. Christina realized: They were headed away from the beach. They stopped for gas, some cigarettes, and two Arizona iced teas. Then they headed east again.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

No one answered. Lil Wayne spewed from the stereo.

Christina felt a twinge of uncertainty, but she let it pass. Maybe the men had another stop to make before turning west toward the ocean.

[BIG SNIP]

Now Christina could see that they were headed toward the hills southeast of Los Angeles. Mike was sweating, driving 50 miles per hour through 30 mph zones in Whittier, past Spanish-style apartment buildings, pick-up trucks and older cars, and homes shielded from the sidewalks by sculpted trees. He drove through an intersection near the mouth of Turnbull Canyon. The road narrowed and wove into dirt hills on the left, past tree branches on the right that hung over the street like claws.

Mike cocked his head. He had an indecipherable tattoo, partly inked-over, on his neck.

“I’m going to have to tie your hands,” he said.

“What?” she said.

“Tie her hands,” Mike told Eddie.

Christina looked at Eddie, confused. Suddenly, Eddie was holding a rope…

(For the rest, go here.)

If you like the story, you can donate money to fund the author’s future pieces.

Here’s a little bit more about the Big Roundtable’s format (but if you go over to their “About” page, there’s a great little explanatory video):

The Big Roundtable is a digital publishing platform that aims to connect passionate nonfiction writers with readers who will support their work. We do this through experimental methods of gathering, selecting, editing, and distributing ambitious narrative stories, and, eventually, researching the reading and sharing behavior around those stories. And by convening forums—online and in person—where writers can learn and connect for mutual support.

The inspiration for the Big Roundtable came from the Algonquin Round Table, a group of New York City writers who called themselves “The Vicious Circle” and who’d meet at the Algonquin Hotel in the early 20th century. They were vicious; we are not.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles writers, Police, race | 18 Comments »

The LA Times Festival of Books This Weekend! Just Go!

April 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Today, Friday, Festival of Books weekend begins with the LA Times Book Awards
tonight, followed by two full days of fest-ing on the USC campus, featuring author interviews, panels, readings, cooking demonstrations, kids activities, and all manner of other events centered around the celebration of writers and readers.

I’m moderating a panel on Saturday at 3:30 pm called Crime Fiction: Out of the Box

It features a stupendously cool line up of gifted authors, each with an ardent following. (If you like very smart, very literary, very original and culturally savvy noir-ish crime fiction, that also has something interesting to say, these are your guys.)

Nelson George
Gary Phillips
P.G. Sturges
Paul Tremblay

I pre-interviewed them all Thursday, and trust me, the audience is in for a treat.

As for what else you should see? Oh, there’s an embarrassment of riches. Susan Orlean, John Green (author of the new, hot book, “The Fault in our Stars), Joseph Wambaugh….. Just page through the list.

As always, you should go to any panel that involves my pal Tod Goldberg in any way-–either as a panelist or a moderator. (Really, just trust me. Every year there’s a legendarily funny Tod-related panel that everyone talks about in the Festival’s Green Room, causing those who have missed it to look….you know….sad. But even his non-legendary panels will be good. Just go.)

And my brilliant friend, Tom Bissell, has recently moved into town and is on a panel both Saturday and Sunday. If you know his work, you already understand why one would be wise to do whatever it takes manage to catch one of his panels. If you don’t know who he is….well, take a look. (To intellectual gamers, he’s a god, but he’s also beloved by literary types.)

My pal David Ulin has a terrific panel on Sunday at 1 pm with Steve Erickson, Hari Kunzru, and Dana Spiotta—any one of whom alone would be a hot ticket.

Just go to USC and walk in a panel at random. Honestly, you can’t go wrong.

I asked WLA’s new news aggregator Taylor Walker, who is, like me, a mad reader, for her picks to click. Here are Taylor’s LATFOB suggestions:

TAYLOR’S PICKS

I LOVE the Festival of Books. I’ve attended almost every year with my dad as a quasi-father/daughter tradition.

Here are some of the Saturday panels we will be sitting in on:

1. Robert Kirkman‘s Q&A with Geoff Boucher at 10:30AM

We’re both [not so] secret comic book fans, so this Q&A session is a MUST. Robert is most famous for writing The Walking Dead, a graphic novel series (and TV show) about a zombie-infested dystopian earth and its human inhabitants’ struggle for survival. What’s not to like?

2. Cheryl Strayed‘s on the Memoir: Over the Edge panel moderated by Amy Wallen at 1:30.

Cheryl’s new memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail follows her on her 1,100 mile trek from Mohave to Washington along the Pac. Crest Trail as she hazards physical extremes to find herself. Her hyper-realistic style and literary flourish make her novels that much more delightful for the lit. nerd in me. She’s the witty, slightly vulgar best friend I wish I had.

3. Celeste Fremon’s Crime Fiction: Out of the Box panel at 3:30. (A whim, of course, but I may have heard a thing or two about the fabulous panelists.)
________________________________________________________________________________

I won’t be able to go on Sunday this year, but here are a few of the events I would have caught:

Rodney King’s Q&A with Patt Morrison at 12:30,

Betty White at 1:20

T.C. Boyle at 4:30.

I’m also entirely content spending a few hours meandering through the crowd, looking at the booths, inevitably getting lost, and enjoying the ambiance created by hundreds of book lovers.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers | No Comments »

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Throws a Book Party for Connie Rice

January 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

It wasn’t your usual book party.

For one thing, Monday night’s book launching event for civil rights lawyer Connie Rice’s new memoir, Power Concedes Nothing, was held at the LAPD’s headquarters, in the over-lit Compstat room, no less—i.e. the room where the cops go to hear a rundown on the latest crime statistics and ‘crime mapping.”

Moreover, the party was hosted by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck—who seemed mildly surprised to find himself in the book party hosting business. (Can you think of another instance where LA’s Chief of Police threw a book party? I can’t either. Go, Chief Charlie! Perhaps this could be the start of a new LA event trend: Law enforcement and literature.)

And then, of course, there’s the fact that the book details, among other things, the years that Rice spent suing the Los Angeles Police Department on a regular basis—and usually winning.

Still, Connie’s suing-the-LAPD days are now mostly in the past, and the mood in the Compstat room on Monday night was so upbeat it sometimes bordered on love fest-y. (As you’ll see from the rough snippets of iPhone videos above.)

Those in attendance were a mix of law enforcement and city government types, plus a smattering of criminal justice-leaning authors and journalists—nearly all of whom passed up the red and white wine for glasses of fizzy water. (Helpful party tip: Always drink less than the cops in the room.) U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, showed up, as did City Controller Wendy Greuel, and LAPD command staff types like Deputy Chief Pat Gannon of South Bureau, and department spokesperson, Commander Andrew Smith (who was the LAPD guy you saw most often on TV throughout the whole LAPD/Occupy thingy.)

Journalist/authors Joe Domanick, Jesse Katz, and Jon Weiner, made appearances, as did Christine Pelisek from the Daily Beast, KPCC’s Frank Stoltz, KCET’s Judy Muller, the LA Times’ Pat Morrison, Sue Horton, Susan Brenneman and Deborah Vankin.

Among the others who stood around book-buying, appetizer-munching and gossiping were Police Commission head, John Mack, LA Gang Czar Guillermo Cespedes, Gerry Chaleff, who used to administer the federal consent decree for the LAPD but now has been appointed by Chief Beck as the Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing—meaning he’s supposed to be the guy tasked with making sure that LAPD officers don’t go around violating anybody’s Constitutional rights, and community activists, like Alfred Lomas, of LA Gang Tours.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge offered the night’s weirdest compliment to Rice, when in a moment of unchecked effusiveness after presenting her with an honorific city proclamation, he leaned into a microphone and told her, “You remind me of William Mulholland!”

(In case you’ve forgotten, Mulholland was the ultra powerful 1920′s era head of the Department of Water and Power on whom the John Huston-played villain of the movie Chinatown, Noah Cross Hollis Mulwray, was supposed to have been, in part, based.*) After Police Commission head John Mack began looking meaningfully at the City Councilman, and making subtle “cut it” motions, LaBonge tried to clarify things by shouting, “Forget Chinatown! Everybody drinks water.” Or something to that effect. Then he wisely divested himself of the microphone.

Still, everyone seemed to take LaBonge’s outburst as a quirky representation of the pleasant ebullience that characterized the night.

The cheery mood may have, in some ways, had to do with the fact that, unlike many book parties, where the point is to support (or meet) the writer, on Monday night, in addition to coming to support Connie, most everyone seemed to be really anxious to read Rice’s book—if they hadn’t already.

It is, as the subtitle says, “one woman’s quest for social justice in America….”—meaning it is a personal account, told through the lens of Rice’s specific experience and perceptions. Yet, much of it is also a book about certain events in Los Angeles in the last few years that many of those in the room felt they had, in some way had a part, or at the very least lived through and cared very much about—things like the battle to transform the LAPD and the struggle to get a handle on the gang violence that was corroding the emotional health of many LA neighborhoods.

In other words, they—we—think and hope that Connie’s book will add a new valuable puzzle piece to the communal puzzle that is the unfolding history of Los Angeles—a history that all of us get to claim.

PS: I’ve not yet read Connie’s book (as I just got it Monday night) but, like the rest, I’m looking forward to doing so. I’ll report back to you here when I do.


NOTE: I’LL HAVE MUCH NEWSIER NEWS TOMORROW, AND THEN A NEW JAILS/LASD STORY LATE IN THE WEEK.

NOTE 2: I hopelessly bollixed up the Chinatown characters when I first posted this. According to the zillion essays analyzing Robert Towne’s amazing script, Huston’s character Noah Cross plus Cross’s business partner in the film, Hollis Mulwray, collectively represented William Mulholland. (And many of us have eyed the DWP with suspicion ever since.)

Posted in American voices, Civil Rights, LA City Council, LAPD, law enforcement, literature, Los Angeles writers, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

Monday Must Reads

August 8th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



Raging Against the LA Times Book Section cuts, an upbeat story about helping Foster Car kids get to college, a seemingly unnecessary court decision, a weird move by the City Attorney….and more.


RAGING AGAINST THE CUTS: TOM LUTZ CALLS THE LA TIMES BOOK REVIEW “FREELANCER” LAYOFFS FOR WHAT THEY ARE

It literature is important to you at all. Read this, damn it! Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Times proudly announced last week that it was as dedicated as ever to book coverage — “we have not changed our commitment,” said Vice President of Communications Nancy Sullivan. Sullivan was speaking to Publishers Weekly’s Wendy Werris, explaining that a new round of layoffs in the section and the cutting loose of the book section’s freelancers was not to be taken as a sign of what it clearly was: a further contraction of the section’s purview.

“Freelancers” in this case means not just those of us who have written the occasional review for the Times over the years but the new class of non-employees, the many people who used to be on staff and were laid off before being rehired as freelancers, like Susan Salter Reynolds; book columnists Reynolds, Richard Rayner, and Sonja Bolle were among those let go. Reynolds is a prime example of the new class of the gradually dis-employed: she has been writing succinct, insightful reviews for the Times for the last 23 years, usually three pieces a week, although often adding a fourth or even fifth in the form of a more in-depth review or feature (she is a woman who clearly does not sleep). For the first 21 of those years she was a staff writer, but for the last two she’s been a freelancer. The difference was a deep cut in pay, the loss of health insurance and a retirement plan, and the outsourcing of her office to her own house. The workload remained the same.


BREAKING THE CURSE OF FOSTER CARE TO HELP KIDS IN THE “SYSTEM” GET TO COLLEGE

This story by Martha Groves of the LA Times will both break your heart and give you hope. Here’s how it opens:

For foster children, the prospect of ever completing college is remote: 24% of the general population will someday wear a university cap and gown, but fewer than 3% of all foster children ever earn a degree.

But a privately funded pilot program at UCLA hopes to improve the odds.

The First Star UCLA Bruin Guardian Scholars Summer Academy is a 5 1/2-week program that sponsors and fundraisers hope will one day develop into a year-round boarding school for college-bound foster children in Los Angeles County.

On Friday, 14-year-old Thalia and 23 other foster youth celebrated their “graduation” from the program’s first session.

The incoming ninth-grader brushed up on math, wrote poetry, learned to meditate and visited Disneyland, Universal Studios and a Nickelodeon TV set. In the bargain, Thalia and the other participants each got a laptop computer, a flip cam — and four University of California college credits.

“This program took me to another place,” Thalia said….

Read the rest here.


SO WHAT REALLY IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN HOT WEATHER AND VIOLENCE?

Wired Magazine takes a look at what science has to say about rising temperatures and rising crime stats and how one may or may not affect the other.


A HIGHLY POLITICAL (AND POSSIBLY ILLEGAL) MOVE BY CITY ATTORNEY CARMEN TRUTANICH?

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard reports on Carmen Trutanich’s $2 million check caper and DA Steve Cooley’s reaction.


DEAD PEOPLE CAN’T BE SUED FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES

Okay, this probably doesn’t rise to the level of a Must Read. Rather it is an interesting oddity that the Iowa Supreme Court got dragooned into having to render a ruling on this seemingly obvious issue. The Des Moines Register has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The Iowa Supreme Court Friday affirmed a long-standing prohibition on winning punitive damages from dead people and issued a two-month suspension to a Des Moines lawyer with a track record of mishandling clients’ money.

In the case of Estate of Johnny Vajgrt vs. Bill Ernst, justices ruled 6-1 to affirm a Marshall County court ruling that blocked Ernst from obtaining more than $2,300 from the estate of Vajgrt.

The case involved a 2005 incident where Vajgrt sought and received permission from Ernst, a neighbor, to enter onto Ernst’s land and remove a fallen tree near the confluence of Burnett Creek and the Iowa River. Vajgrt removed both the tree, which he feared would serve as a dam and cause flooding on his land, and roughly 40 other live trees on Ernst’s property.

Vajgrt died in 2008, nearly five months before Ernst sued to recover damages for the diminished value of his property. A district court judge awarded $57.50 per tree but refused to grant punitive damages because Vajgrt had died….

Read the rest here.

Posted in Foster Care, Future of Journalism, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, Must Reads, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

MAD 4 BOOKS: The LA Times Book Festival

April 23rd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Every year on the last weekend in April, the Los Angeles Times
gives a stupendous gift to the city.

The LA Times Festival of Books, is held on the UCLA campus where around 450 authors will read, discuss, recite, answer questions, spin stories, tell tales.

And its all free.

Whatever your literary pleasure, there’s an event for you. You’ll find:

.noirish and proceduralist mystery writers (Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, T. Jefferson Parker, Elizabeth George)

…..wise journalistic scribes (Marc Cooper, Dave Cullen, Barry Siegel, John Buntin)

….historians and cultural commentators (Reza Aslan, Richard Reeves, David Shields)

….nonfiction adventurers (Sebastian Junger, Chuck Bowden, Deanne Stillman, Amy Wilentz)

…..erudite & humorful fiction whizzes (Tod Goldberg, Seth Greenland)

…..marvelous memoirists (Samantha Dunn, Tim Page, Dinah Lenney, Rachel Resnick, Hope Edelman, Jesse Katz)

…..witty and wonderful poets (Amy Gerstler, Mark Doty, Wanda Coleman)

……a pile of famous novelists—fiction and non (T.C. Boyle, Dave Eggars, Yann Martel, Terry McMillan, Paul Harding, Bret Easton Ellis)

…..plus stellar children’s authors, cooking stars, and the amazing and never-to-be-missed-if-you-can-help it, Father Greg Boyle in conversation with Warren Olney…..and a zillion other cool people and activities.

For instance at 12:30 PM on Saturday, I’m running a panel with:

Peter Schrag, whose wonderful Not Fit for Our Society sheds light on our hot-button immigration debates by looking at the nativist movements and immigration politics of the past.

Miriam Pawel, who has written, The Union of Their Dreams, an insightful and controversial book on Cesar Chavez’s farm worker movement, showing it from angles not seen before, which some which had not been brought to light.

Richard Rayner whose A Bright and Guilty Place explores the dark and light that has always entwined through the history of Los Angeles through a high profile, nearly mythic scandal of the 1920s.

We’re going to chat about what these explorations of the past can teach us about the problems of the present and the possibilities for the future (or something of that nature).

So y’all com’on down.

Posted in American artists, art and culture, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, writers and writing | 46 Comments »

Politicizing the Death of Lily Burk

August 9th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

lily-burk-2-posterize

The memorial service for 17-year-old Lily Burk will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday night at Barnsdall Art Park.
The press has been wisely excluded from the service, except for a single pool camera. Rick Wartzman, one of the Burk-Drooz family spokespersons, has asked that media members kindly refrain from questioning mourners on their way to and from the memorial. Let us hope that the media complies.

Of course, Greg Burk, Lily’s father, is himself a member of the press. So too are many of the friends and extended family members who have clustered around Greg and his wife, Lily’s mother, Deborah Drooz in this time of unimaginable sorrow. Yet those press will be at Barndall Park to grieve and to offer whatever comfort they can, not to report.

In the coming days and weeks, however, it is likely that Lily Burk’s name will be invoked frequently as California state legislature again takes up its discussion about how to cut $1.2 from the state’s corrections budget.

It would be helpful if those discussions could be fact based . But, if past days are any indication, all too many of them will not be.

I have an op ed in Sunday’s LA Times that talks about the dangers of politicizing a horrifying crime like the murder of Lily Burk.

There is much more still to talk about.

Here is the essay’s opening:

Some deaths trigger our collective grief and fury more than others. In the spring of 2008, it was the killing of college-bound running back Jamiel Shaw II, a handsome boy shot dead on an L.A. sidewalk a hundred yards from his front door while his Army sergeant mother served her country 8,000 miles away in Iraq. This summer, the horror that grabbed us was the kidnapping and murder of 17-year-old Lily Burk.

Yet, as is often true with such heart-lacerating cases, with every new revelation about Lily’s murder these last two weeks, the voices of those who seek to morph our grief into this or that public policy agenda grow ever louder.

Like Jamiel Shaw, Lily was a kid we could each imagine as our own. She was smart, a national merit scholar. She was unusually well-liked — the comments on the Facebook page created in her memory express this in vivid detail. Through repeated exposure to the photo her parents provided to the media after her death, we were able to believe that we knew her: Lily Burk with the open, world-welcoming gaze surrounded by a tangle of teenage hair. We could envision her future while in the same moment reeling with the knowledge that all of her tomorrows had irrevocably vanished under nightmarish circumstances.

It is precisely that nightmare that is the other signal reason we have been seized by the death of Lily Burk…..

You can find the rest here.

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PERSONAL NOTE: Like many, I wish I had some kind of better comfort to offer Greg Burk and Deborah Drooz. But I do not. For some things there is no real comfort. There can only be the willingness to stand in fellowship.

Posted in crime and punishment, Los Angeles writers | 47 Comments »

Chatting With the City Attorney-Elect

June 2nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

trutanich-4

This weekend I had a short but interesting chat
with our soon-to-be City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich.

Now, let me say at the outset that I have had mixed feelings on the issue of who really ought to have replaced Rocky Delgadillo. It was a contentious and mud-fraught race with people whom I like and respect on opposite sides of that battle.

But, one thing I do know for certain, like it or not, Carmen Trutanich received the most votes and, come July 1, he will take over as LA’s City Attorney.

So it behooves us….or me in this case….to get to know the man.

My first swipe at this endeavor took place on Friday night at Kevin Roderick’s LA Observed 6th Anniversary Party, a decidedly swell affair that was held one-story up in the balmy night air at the Formosa Cafe’s roof garden.

(The guest list and photos may be found here at LA Observed. The everybody-showed-up crowd was an indication of how much influence that LA Observed—a mere blog, doncha know—has gained in the six years of its existence. Go Kevin!)

After talking with a string of editor/writer pals, and a drolly intelligent retired LA Sheriff’s Department commander (nobody’s more fun to talk shop with than smart cops), I waded further into the crowd and happened to spot Trutanich.

I introduced myself and, after a bit of opening chit-chat, I asked him what he intended to do about gang violence reduction—other than, you know, gang injunctions.

“I have several things I plan to do that won’t cost any money
and have been proven to work,” he replied confidently.

Sure, I thought. Like new gang injunctions, instead of the old gang injunctions. How irritatingly predictable.

But that’s not what Trutanich said.

He said he thought one of the keys to lowering gang violence was to offer alternatives to gangs, specifically employment for former gang members. (I am paraphrasing here, as I was taking mental, not written notes.) Therefore, when he went after law-breaking corporations, Trutanich told me, “…instead of fining those companies, I’m going to make them set aside a certain number of jobs for guys who want to get out of gangs.”

Hmmmm.
It was an unexpectedly simple and good idea. What was more, it was likely doable.

Right now, one of the huge problems for LA’s wrap-around job training and referral services for recovering gangsters and newly released parolees, is that given the economic climate, jobs for former homeboys have almost entirely dried up and blown away. This means that scores of men who honestly want to change their lives, are having a terrible time finding legal means to make the money to pay their rent and to buy their baby’s diapers. When people with advanced college degrees are out of work, why would one hire a former felon who may or may not have a GED?

But, by using jobs, not fines, as a penalty,
the City Attorney could potentially produce a bunch of new positions and, in so doing, introduce reluctant corporations to the experience of giving back to the community by hiring from the so-called at risk pool of employees. (The truth is, once most company managers try hiring former homeboys, they find themselves—not burned, as they have feared—but moved and enthused by the experience.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in City Government, LA city government, Los Angeles writers, media | 21 Comments »

LA Times Festival of Books Weekend!

April 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

la-times-festival-of-books1

I realize that some people who live in the greater LA area
think it’s just fine to do things other than go to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend, but they would be wrong. Very, very wrong.

*******************************************************************************************************************

Yes, there is other news: for instance….an ambiguous medical marijuana case in LA fed court.
…and Billings, Montana wants to be the new Git’mo, (fortunately the MT Senators say, oh, he-ell no!)….and Bill Maher has a smart and snarky Op Ed…and Paul Krugman stops opining about economics for a minute and talks instead about taking back America’s soul…

...But sometimes it’s important to take time for literature.

*******************************************************************************************************************

As most of you know, the LA Times Book fest is a free event that draws more than 130 thousand book lovers to the UCLA campus every year on the third weekend in April. There are readings and panels and speakers and kid events on an astonishing number of book-related topics.

I’m not on a panel this year, so will be happily sitting in the audience as an adoring acolyte at a number of panels both Saturday and Sunday.

To give you an idea of the wide variety of offerings…..here are some of my favorites in and around the 3 p.m. hour on Saturday alone.…. (Since these 3 p.m. panels feature some of my smartest friends, I am desperately trying to figure out how I can teleport between all five.)

SATURDAY

FOR INSTANCE….IF YOU WANT TO CONTEMPLATE SERIOUS ISSUES FROM A HUMOROUS P.O.V…THERE IS THIS….

At 3:30 p.m. in 100 Moore Hall
Humor & Race
Moderator: The brilliant and wildly funny Mr. Tod Goldberg—who, all by himself, is reason enough to make sure you see this panel. Trust me on this.
Mr. Lalo Alcaraz (terrific political cartoonist)
Mr. Christian Lander (very funny blogger/commentator)
Mr. Larry Wilmore (of Daily Show fame)

OR IF INSTEAD YOU WANT TO HEAR A BUNCH OF INCREDIBLY SMART, TALENTED WOMEN SITTING AROUND TALKING….there is this:

At 3 p.m. in Young Hall
Memoir: The Bigger Picture
Moderator: Ms. Dinah Lenney (brilliant)
Ms. Samantha Dunn (also brilliant)
Ms. Lynne Sharon Schwartz (totally amazing and wickedly smart)
Ms. Gabrielle Burton (don’t happen to know her but know she wrote a terrific book called
Heartbreak Hotel)

OR IF YOU WANT TO CONTEMPLATE ANOTHER KIND OF SERIOUS TOPIC…LIKE, YOU KNOW, THE IMPLOSION OF THE NEWS BIZ.

3 p.m. at the Fowler Museum, Lenart Auditorium
The Future of News (With the great mix below, drama is guaranteed!)
Moderator Ms. Karen Grigsby Bates (NPR)
Ms. Geneva Overholser (Dean of Annenberg School of Journalism. Go, Geneva!)
Mr. Russ Stanton (LA Times Editor-in-Chief)
Mr. Jacob Weisberg (Newsweek columnist and editor-in-chief of Slate)

OR IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR MURDER AND MAYHEM OF A FICTIONAL VARIETY…

AT 3 p.m. in Dodd Hall
Mystery: Cops & Crooks in California
with a bunch of the kings of the California mystery novel….chatting.
Moderator Mr. Robert Crais
Mr. T. Jefferson Parker
Mr. Joseph Wambaugh
Mr. Don Winslow

OR…FINALLY…A COUPLE OF VERY SMART GUYS SITTING AROUND TALKING ABOUT MURDER AND MAYHEM, THE NONFICTION VARIETY

At 3:30 p.m. in Humanities Hall

Dave Cullen in Conversation with David L. Ulin
Interviewer Mr. David L. Ulin (Our fantastically smart LA Times Book Review editor)
Mr. Dave Cullen (author of the new very, very good new book, Columbine,….about, you know, Columbine.)

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HERE’S THE FULL SCHEDULE …loaded with much more on Saturday and even more on Sunday.

Posted in Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, writers and writing | 14 Comments »

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