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Alton Sterling’s Death, and the Oakland PD Sex Scandal

July 7th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

IN RESPONSE TO VIDEO OF ALTON STERLING SHOOTING: PROTESTS, CALLS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY, AND AN INVESTIGATION BY THE DOJ AND FBI

Two videos surfaced this week showing Baton Rouge police wrestling Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, to the ground before repeatedly shooting the restrained Sterling in the chest and back.

The fatal shooting occurred on Tuesday, and by Wednesday the bystanders’ videos had sparked public outrage and protests, and a swift and welcome announcement from East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore that the United States Attorney and the FBI would be taking over the investigation. “This is a very important decision taken to ensure that our community can have confidence that local law enforcement is committed to ensuring transparency in all officer-involved deaths,” said Moore.

Early Tuesday morning, at around 12:30a.m., Baton Rouge Police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake responded to a disturbance call from a man who said a black man selling CD’s outside of a convenience store had threatened him with a gun. The officers reportedly confronted Sterling, and a struggle ensued.

In the graphic video footage, one of the officers yells, “He’s got a gun! Gun.” The other officer, standing a few feet away, then draws and aims his pistol at Sterling. The first officer is heard saying, “You fucking move, I swear to God,” then the second officer starts firing at Sterling, who is on the ground. The owner of the store, Abdullah Muflahi, who recorded the first cell phone video of the incident, says Sterling wasn’t touching his pockets or holding a gun. (Louisiana, by the way, is an open carry state.) In the clearer of the two videos (above), one of the officers appears to remove a gun from Sterling’s pocket afterward.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law called the intervention of the FBI and DOJ an “encouraging development,” noting that the BRPD had previously been the subject of a federal civil rights investigation into a case of excessive force by an officer.

“We stand with Mr. Sterling’s family, the community and those exercising their first amendment right to protest in calling for justice in the tragic death of Alton Sterling,” said Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyer’s Committee.

According to the BRPD, the two officers have been placed on administrative leave.


WILL OAKLAND POLICE SEX SCANDAL IMPEDE EFFORTS TO REDUCE CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING?

Amid a major scandal involving Oakland police and other Bay Area officers allegedly passing around a minor for sex, advocates and local officials are worried that the revelations will make it more difficult for the OPD to have cooperative interactions with young sex trafficked people.

Contra Costa County Public Defender Robin Lipetzky agrees that the scandal cheapens efforts to combat the exploitation of minors. “When you have a young woman who’s being used for sexual favors by police officers, it really detracts from that message,” Lipetzky told the SF Chronicle’s Kimberly Veklerov.

Lipetzky and Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods are carefully reviewing cases—especially prostitution stings—handled by the law enforcement officers implicated in the scandal.

In case you missed it, last month, a young woman who calls herself Celeste Guap told a television station that she had sex with a number of Bay Area cops, including more than a dozen OPD officers, at least three of whom she reportedly had sex with while she was 17—in 2014.

The LA Times’ James Queally has more on the scandal and what its broader implications. Here’s a clip:

“They were participating in the human trafficking of this girl. Passing her around from area to area, giving her breaks … they became the pimp,” said John Burris, a civil rights attorney who negotiated a federal monitoring agreement that the Oakland Police Department has been under since 2003. “Does OPD have any credibility on this issue? That’s a legitimate question.”

Law enforcement agencies in Alameda County have made trafficking enforcement a top priority in recent years, creating a task force spearheaded by Dist. Atty. Nancy E. O’Malley. From January to May, Oakland police made 282 arrests connected to trafficking, department records show. About 70% of those arrested were women, rather than “johns.”

A police spokesman said the arrests enabled police to get sex-trade victims off the streets. Once the young people are in custody, police give them information about social services.

The trafficking problem in Oakland has been evident for decades, according to investigators who say the victims are usually minors or young women exploited by gangs or pimps.

City Councilman Noel Gallo, a former school board member who represents the Fruitvale neighborhood, said he could recall horror stories about the trafficking trade ensnaring young girls, even in areas that were supposedly safe.

“I remember the girls would leave school … to go prostitute on International during lunch hour,” he said. “The students knew it, the teachers knew it, the principal knew it, I knew it … and we allowed that to happen.”

Gallo said he feared that the police sex scandal might make it more difficult for officers to interact with trafficking victims or gain their trust, a task that was hard enough before the controversy becoming national news.

At least officers under investigation have been reassigned from posts involving interaction with kids and teens. One officer, Jerred Tong, was a school resource officer and an advisor for the department’s Explorers program for teens. Another officer had been working as a manager of the department’s Youth and Special Services Division. There are other officers reportedly involved in the sex scandal who may still be positions involving children and teens, who have not been reassigned to administrative duties. The Richmond Standard has the story.

Posted in Police | 3 Comments »

The Transformation of American Interrogation, Pushing CA to Abolish Juvie Solitary, a Troubling Death in a San Diego Jail, and Environmental Discrimination Against Inmates

May 25th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

OBAMA’S NON-COERCIVE TERROR INTERROGATION GROUP IS WORKING TO RADICALLY CHANGING THE WAY POLICE INTERVIEW SUSPECTS…STARTING WITH THE LAPD

America’s decades-long use of a false-confession-prone interrogation technique is going to be replaced with a research-backed “rapport building” method, thanks to President Barack Obama’s anti-torture interrogation group.

Before the 1930′s, American officers investigating a crime would use the “third degree,” which meant torturing suspects into confessing to the crime. By 1936, the US Supreme Court banned the method as a violation of the 14th Amendment right to due process, declaring that a coerced confession obtained by violence could not be entered as evidence. The case, Brown v. Mississippi, was brought on behalf of three black men who were beaten and whipped into confessing that they murdered a white farmer.

The 1962 publication of “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” ushered investigators into a new era dominated by decades of the Reid technique—named after one of the manual’s authors, John E. Reid. The Reid technique is still the style of interrogation most widely used by law enforcement agencies today. It’s also prone to producing false confessions. The technique involves a series of steps on the part of investigators, including assessing whether the suspect is lying, pretending to have evidence linking the suspect to the crime, and minimizing the consequences of the alleged crime.

Studies have shown that trained investigators are just as bad as the general public at knowing when a person is lying, and that the more confident the investigators are about whether or not a suspect is lying, the more likely they are to be mistaken.

With the advent of DNA testing in the 1990s came a flood of exonerations. There have been more than 300 convictions overturned thanks to DNA, a third of which were due to false confessions or false self-incriminations.

Then came President Barack Obama’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which was formed as a means to end torture of terror detainees, and used a non-coercive interrogation method that replaced water boarding and coercion under the Bush administration.

While the work of the HIG—a collaborative effort between the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon—is under wraps, the group has been funding research in psychology, behavioral science, and techniques used by law enforcement in other countries.

One such successful international model is called “PEACE” (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate), and is used in England, Newfoundland, Wales, Denmark and New Zealand.

Now, HIG wants to spread the use of “rapport-building” suspect interviewing techniques that focus on being non-accusatory and gathering as much information as possible by letting the interviewee tell the story.

HIG chose the LAPD as its guinea pig, and has trained 35 LAPD detectives so far, and those detectives have used their HIG training in around 60 interrogations, with around an 80% success rate.

The Marshall Project’s Robert Kolker has more on the issue in a collaborative story with Wired. Here’s a clip:

…the central finding running through much of HIG’s research is this: If you want accurate information, be as non-accusatorial as possible — the HIG term is “rapport-building.” This may sound like coddling, but it’s a means to an end. The more suspects say, the more that can be checked against the record. The whole posture of the interrogation — or interview, as the HIG prefers to call it — is geared not toward the extraction of a confession but toward the pursuit of information.

About three years into its existence, the HIG quietly entered a new phase that marked a significant expansion of the group’s scope and ambition: It set out to start applying its findings in America’s domestic police departments. “We haven’t operationalized enough of the research,” current HIG chair Mark Fallon says. In part, the group just wanted more real-world data, and police departments offered a major source of it. But the bigger goal, Fallon says, was to revolutionize police work with behavioral science, the same way law enforcement procedures were altered a generation ago by DNA evidence and, before that, when the third degree was put to rest.

Los Angeles became the HIG’s first test bed. In 2012, George Piro — a former director of the HIG who had also served as the lead interrogator of Saddam Hussein — approached William Hayes, a captain with the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, at a conference. Slender, olive-skinned, and fluent in Arabic, Piro was a consummate Fed, a star in Washington for his time with the Iraqi dictator who had drawn the US into two wars. But he was also a child of the Lebanese immigrant community in Turlock, California; before joining the FBI, he had been a detective for 10 years working cases in the Central Valley. He and Hayes connected easily. The HIG, he told Hayes, was looking to fund research into real-life interrogations and needed live data to study. He also wondered whether detectives in the LAPD might be interested in learning more about some of the methods the HIG was developing.

After that first meeting, Hayes arranged for the LAPD to supply the HIG with hundreds of hours of audio from its cases. The response to Piro’s other idea took a little longer. On the face of it, LA is an unlikely candidate for police-suspect rapport-building. This is the town where cops beat Rodney King in 1991, where they killed an unarmed veteran on live TV after a high-speed chase in 2013. What’s more, LA has its own history with false confessions. In 2007, 19-year-old Edward Arch was arrested for murder. He denied being involved dozens of times, but the police recited their theory of the case over and over and suggested they’d be lenient if only he confessed, which finally led him to capitulate. Arch spent three years in jail awaiting trial before a judge ruled that the confession had been coerced and tossed out the case. “I don’t believe it was the officers’ intent to extract a false confession,” Arch’s lawyer told reporters, “but the tactics they used greatly increased the risk of that occurring.”

After a few conversations with Piro, Hayes decided to send Stearns and Marcia to be the LAPD’s guinea pigs. In December of 2013, the two detectives boarded a flight to Washington, DC, to become the first two municipal police officers in the country to undergo HIG training — whatever that was. Neither man was particularly excited. “I’m not a guy that likes to go to training,” Marcia says. “I like to work.” Still, he tried to have a good attitude: “I just told myself, whatever it is, commit to it. Commit to it.”

[BIG SNIP]

By now, the HIG has trained 35 detectives in Los Angeles and is coming back to train more. “The LAPD is sold on it,” says Mark Severino, a 29-year veteran of the force who is currently a detective supervisor with the Major Crimes Division.

Since that first interrogation by Stearns and Marcia, Severino’s unit has conducted about 60 interrogations using HIG methods, he says — in cases involving human trafficking, murder, and terrorism. Severino has modified his interview room to be more welcoming and tries to have his detectives talk to witnesses and suspects as soon as they’re identified, to set the right tone for the interviews. “We make our living talking to people,” Severino says. “And the HIG teaches us the best approaches—how to gain people’s trust.” By not single-mindedly seeking out confessions, Severino has found that he’s netted enough information from some suspects to amount to an admission of guilt. In other cases, he’s learned enough to eliminate persons of interests as suspects altogether. In still other instances, he says, they “were able to identify crimes in the planning stage and stop them before they occurred.” Severino has asked other divisions of the LAPD to grade his division’s success rate, based not just on whether they secured a confession but on whether they uncovered new information that helped the case. “Right now we’re at about a 75 to 80 percent success rate,” Severino says. “When you’re interviewing a witness, this system does work.”

Of course, just because some LA detectives have been influenced by a new evidence-based interrogation method doesn’t mean all cops will. Even in LA, Stearns and Marcia are meeting with some resistance as they move to develop department-wide training in the tactics. Police veterans aren’t exactly eager to be told they’ve been doing their job wrong for 30 years. “I think we can overcome that pushback by focusing on the younger guys in our division,” Marcia says. There’s an entrenched culture behind that blue wall — and a new, labor-intensive technique based on “rapport-building” might not be the most likely thing to breach it. “Interrogation and interview is a very egocentric thing,” Stearns says. For some police departments, and for some interrogators, it may be a nonstarter to do anything other than treat a suspect with suspicion.

Still, the researchers and academics who’ve worked with the HIG are determined not to lose momentum. They think they have a real shot at changing the culture of policing. “Law enforcement is hungry for something new and evidence-based,” Meissner says. “They know there’s an issue with false confessions, and they’re looking for an alternative.”


WHY THIS MAY BE THE YEAR THAT CALIFORNIA PLACES STRICT LIMITS ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT OF YOUTH

The LA County Board of Supervisors’ May 3 decision to ban the use of solitary confinement in all but a few exceptional circumstances—in county juvenile detention facilities, has given LA-area advocates hope that Sacramento will finally make a similar move.

A bill from state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) would place major limitations on the use of isolation for kids in state facilities, blocking guards from using solitary as a punishment, or as a way to coerce kids. Along with various advocate groups like the Children’s Defense Fund-California, the Youth Justice Coalition, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, the bill has the support of the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) union. CPOC’s endorsement of the bill is a significant one since previous iterations of the legislation were effectively killed by probation and other law enforcement unions in years past.

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

“The onus is now on the state to follow the lead of Los Angeles County,” said Children’s Defense Fund-California Executive Director Alex Johnson.

Put forward by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 1143 would put strict limitations on the use of room confinement (as the bill now refers to solitary confinement) in the state’s juvenile justice system, barring the practice altogether for purposes of punishment or coercion.

SB 1143 is modeled in part on a 2015 settlement in Contra Costa County that came about after advocates sued the county’s Probation Department over the use of solitary confinement for youth in its juvenile halls. As part of that agreement, the Contra Costa Probation Department agreed to isolate youth for a maximum of four hours and only when a youth’s behavior poses an immediate safety risk to other youth or staff at facilities, terms that are now included in the current state legislation.

Leno said that recent reforms of practices in juvenile detention facilities represent a growing consensus that the use of solitary confinement is harmful for children. He cited research from the Department of Justice that found more than 50 percent of all youth suicides in juvenile facilities took place while the youths were under room confinement.

“There are absolutely no studies that even suggest that this practice benefits our youth,” Leno said. “What have we been doing has been exacerbating the problems that these children are already facing. There are better ways to help the children in our systems who are in need.”

Leno is confident that SB 1143 will get to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. But this is the fifth year that California’s Democrat-controlled legislature has seen a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement. For the past four years, those efforts have withered at the committee level amid opposition from groups representing law enforcement officers, such as the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC).


SAN DIEGO JAIL INMATE DIES FROM WATER INTOXICATION, RAISING SERIOUS QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CARE OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

Last August, five days after his arrival at San Diego’s Central Jail, Ruben Nunez, a 46-year-old schizophrenic man, died from psychogenic water intoxication, a psychiatric malady that causes extreme, unrelenting thirst. Sufferers—80% of whom are diagnosed with schizophrenia—can drink themselves to death if not carefully watched and medicated.

Nunez was only supposed to stay in Central Jail for a week while he awaited a court hearing about whether doctors at a state hospital—where he was placed in 2014 after being declared incompetent to stand trial—could keep involuntarily medicating him.

For mentally ill inmates like Nunez, the jail is supposed to receive paperwork detailing diagnoses, any risks, the amount of monitoring necessary, and any other special needs.

In spite of this, there was no evidence that the water had been shut off in Nunez’s cell, and a member of the Medical Examiner’s Office reported that there was bloody vomit on the wall and all over the cell.

Nunez was one of 12 fatalities in San Diego’s jails last year. Between 2013 and 2015 San Diego had a jail mortality rate substantially higher than even Los Angeles.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kelly Davis has the story. Here’s a clip:

An investigator with the Medical Examiner’s Office noted in his report that the cell “smelled of urine and vomit.” There was vomit in the sink, on a table, on the floor, on the cell’s lower bunk and bloody vomit splattered on a wall.

The report says Nunez’s jail medical records showed he had “a history of… hyponatremia” — a condition caused by excessive water intake — “which required water restriction.”

Critical in determining what jail staff knew about Nunez is a three-page discharge form that would have been sent to the jail from Patton, explaining Nunez’s diagnoses, medical risks and any special needs.

When state hospital patients are transferred to other facilities, even for a short period of time, such a form is faxed ahead of the patient’s arrival, said Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ken Paglia. As a backup measure, a copy of the discharge form is included in whatever documents travel with the patient.

For psychiatric patients who have a problem with water intoxication, there’s an additional form that lays out a strict protocol for monitoring water intake and blood levels.

Due to medical privacy laws, Paglia said he couldn’t discuss Nunez’s case or confirm whether the forms arrived at the jail.

Lydia Nunez filed a multimillion dollar claim against the county — a precursor to a lawsuit — which was rejected in February. Julia Yoo, of the law firm Iredale & Yoo, has agreed to represent Nunez’s parents in a lawsuit.

The same firm represented a University of California San Diego student who was left without food or water in a federal detention facility for five days, and settled his claim for $4 million in 2013.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF THE HEALTH OF INMATES…
PRISONERS EXPOSED TO POOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS—FUNGUS, POLLUTION, WATER CONTAMINATION—VICTIMS OF ENVIRONMENTAL DISCRIMINATION

The contraction of valley fever by prisoners—especially black and Filipino prisoners—in Kern Valley State Prison, in central California highlights the need for environmental justice standards to be extended to incarcerated populations.

The big picture problem is that it’s not just valley fever, and it’s not just California. Colorado’s Cañon City, which is adjacent to an old, cancer-inducing uranium mill—holds nine state prisons and four federal prisons. Riker’s Island in New York sits atop a toxic waste landfill.

While the Environmental Protection Agency requires environmental impact reports for proposed federally funded construction plans, as well as reports on how the construction and where it is located would affect potential residents, especially if they are low-income and minority residents. And in California, there are protections for poor and minority populations against building where air conditions are poor, like, say, the fact that Kern Valley State Prison is located in a hotbed of the airborne fungus that causes valley fever. But at both the federal and state levels, prisoners don’t have the same protections as their poor and minority non-incarcerated counterparts, despite the fact that most prisoners qualify as both low-income and minority.

The Atlantic’s Cara Bayles has more on the issue of environmental injustice and racism. Here’s a clip:

…when prisons are built on or next to former superfund sites, mines, and landfills, the EPA doesn’t require that environmental reviews consider the health of the convicts who will live there, says Paul Wright, the director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that lobbies on behalf of prisoners. Wright’s organization contends prisons across America are frequently constructed on polluted land, and cites concrete examples to prove it. California’s Victorville Federal Correctional Complex was placed on top of the George Air Force Base, a former superfund site. Cañon City, home to nine Colorado state and four federal prisons and penitentiaries, is next to a defunct uranium mill, and has reported high levels of the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethene in the groundwater. New York’s Rikers Island, built on a toxic waste landfill, was the subject of a lawsuit brought by former correctional officers claiming the polluted facility gave them cancer.

“Prisoners are viewed as an expendable population,” Wright says. “The EPA has a very long history of ignoring the environmental poisoning of people in prisons and jails in this country.”

Wright is currently crusading against a new facility in Letcher County, Kentucky, which will be placed on one of two sites: a surface mine with remnant waste or a former strip mine with active oil and natural gas wells. In a comment letter responding to the the prison’s environmental impact report, Wright pointed out that exposure to mining waste has been tied to chronic cardiovascular disease, cancer, and adult tooth loss, as well as water contamination. He also invoked federal “environmental justice” standards, noting prison populations are typically indigent and racially diverse.

In its response, the federal Bureau of Prisons, the subdivision of the Department of Justice charged with prison administration, insisted it would clean up mine spoil and that the site would not harm the health of prisoners or staff. The Bureau also responded that it “does not concur with the assertion that federal inmates of mixed backgrounds (as to ethnicity, race, and income) to be housed in the proposed facilities constitute either a minority or low income population.”

The Bureau didn’t detail why it doesn’t consider inmates minority or low-income populations. Perhaps it is difficult to know the racial breakdown or income bracket of the people who will fill a prison that doesn’t yet exist. Maybe the bureau is looking at national data; while people of color are over-represented in the prison system (58.9 percent of the prison population is white, compared to 77.4 percent in the general population), they are still in the minority. According to the Brookings Institute, incarceration does disproportionately affects both low-income and minority populations in the U.S.

In an email, a Bureau spokesperson addressed Wright’s grander claims that prisons are frequently built on or near polluted grounds, saying the Bureau has broken no laws by selecting these sites. “The Bureau’s projects bring environmental benefits such as site cleanup, modern sewage disposal with the opportunity for local communities to have treatment plants, and safe and modern sources of drinking water,” it adds. (The Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

Posted in Police | 1 Comment »

What’s Next for the SFPD After Chief’s Removal, PBS Film Follows Former Third-Strikers, and Youth Poetry from Behind Bars

May 24th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

AFTER THE RESIGNATION OF SFPD CHIEF GREG SUHR, A LOOK TO THE FUTURE

Last Thursday, hours after San Francisco police officers shot and killed a woman during an arrest, SF Mayor Ed Lee announced the removal of SFPD Chief Greg Suhr.

The move follows ongoing protests over controversial police shootings, along with a couple of scandals involving racist and homophobic text messages sent between officers.

Mayor Lee named 26-year department veteran Toney Chaplin as acting Chief of Police. The decision was supported by both the NAACP and the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Chaplin helped develop the department’s new Professional Standards and Principled Policing Bureau, which focuses on community policing, and increasing transparency and accountability.

The new Acting Chief appears to not be wasting any time (see above video), and has a list of what reforms he believes will help turn the department around.

Chaplin says he wants to focus on getting officers equipped with body cams and updating two-decades-old policies on when and how officers use force.

“Re-engineering how we use force, when and where we use force, and in what situations we use force—that’s huge, and that’s going to be a big centerpiece of a lot of our reforms,” Chaplin said.

The AP’s Paul Elias has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Reforms, reforms, reforms,” acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin said Friday when asked about his priorities.

Chaplin, who is black, is a 26-year veteran of the department. Until Thursday, he was a deputy chief in charge of implementing Suhr’s reforms. Previously, Chaplin was a lieutenant in charge of homicide investigations.

The 47-year-old Oklahoma native says he intends to carry on with plans to equip officers with body cameras.

“It’s not going to solve everything, but it will give us another look at what’s happening, hopefully from the officer’s perspective,” Chaplin said.

He said he will also continue to push for several reforms aimed at cutting down on the number of officer shootings, such as giving suspects armed with knives “time and distance” to surrender rather than having officers pull their guns and shoot.

Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said Chaplin “is not going to skip a step” in implementing changes because of his position before he was appointed chief.

Chaplin’s appointment is on an interim basis. The commission is in charge of forwarding a short list of three candidates to the mayor.

CHAPLIN IS ONLY CHIEF ON AN INTERIM BASIS

Chaplin says he hasn’t yet thought about seeking a permanent position as chief.

In an interview with KQED’s Devin Katayama, SF Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus explains what the commission will look for as it conducts a national search for the next police chief.

DeJesus says the biggest concern will be the candidate’s ability to re-establish trust between the department and the community it serves. Here’s a clip from the interview:

KQED: You were part of the commissions that hired both police chiefs George Gascón and Greg Suhr. What lessons have you learned that will be applied to the next chief?

DeJesus: We need someone who can embrace the policies that we’re putting in place, embrace the body cameras. But we also need someone who can enforce changes in terms of changing that culture, rooting out people who make homophobic and racist comments. And how do we select our officers, going all the way down to the bottom process in terms of recruitment or training.

KQED: Is hiring the next police chief under these recent controversies make it harder for the commission to hire the best person for the job?

DeJesus: No. I think we owe it to the citizens to conduct a national search. I think we really need to find the best person for the job and not only someone who agrees with all the policy changes but that can actually implement the changes and get it done. And that means looking in house as well as looking outside.

Go read the rest.

A RANK AND FILE PERSPECTIVE

Vice’s Max Cherney spoke with a 20-year department veteran on the condition of anonymity about how the rank and file are responding to Suhr’s ousting (they are not pleased) and how they feel about the public perception of their department in light of the recent high-profile shootings and racist text messages. Here’s a clip:

VICE: Chief Greg Suhr resigned after the mayor asked him to. What’s going on there, and what are regular cops saying about it?

SFPD Officer: The rank and file are not pleased, particularly with the circumstances in which the chief was asked to resign. He was well-liked. He was honorable. I think everybody recognizes that this is a political move by the mayor because he was getting pressure from a small segment of the community and city officials. It’s unfortunate.

But the chief knew, as well as every single cop, that soon after the shooting Thursday we were going to have protests and the potential for riots. And the chief could have said, “No, I’m not resigning,” which is what a lot of cops said they wanted him to do. But he doesn’t fight it. He is an honorable man. He realizes that if he falls on this sword, he is going to help the city move forward. Plus, he’s going to be taking care of all the cops out there in riot gear, getting hit with anything from insults to beer bottles, and maybe worse. So he fell on the sword.

[SNIP]

What about the racist text messages and claims that there’s a culture of racism in the SFPD?

I don’t believe, nor have I seen, anything that made me think that there is a culture of racism within this police department. On any given day, your coworkers come from all kinds of different ethnic backgrounds. These are the people that you work with, and in a job like being a police officer in San Francisco, these are the people you count on to have your back. These are your friends.

I will acknowledge that sometimes conversations can be wide open. It’s like how players talk shit to one another when they’re on their field. There is absolutely trash talk, and it’s a culture that I would call gallows humor. It’s humor much more harsh—because of the nature of the job— than I think mainstream individuals could necessarily understand. But we’ve been accused of having institutional biases and racist undertones. Come on, this San Francisco, are you kidding me? Who has time for that?

When I hear about text messages, the first thing you have to remember is these things are taken out of context. That gallows humor is a very hard thing to explain. But it’s not institutional racism. Having said that, I have read some of the text messages that have been made public. Some of them, yeah, I thought they were extremely distasteful. And this is from a cop with twenty years of experience. So maybe there are some individuals, because I can’t say across the board—I know it makes for a much better story in the media if you make it sound like we’re all a bunch of racist cops. We’re not. But the bottom line is that even if society doesn’t or can’t understand cop culture, we still shouldn’t be talking to one another or about one another like that.

Interestingly, the cop also says he and his fellow SF officers are worried that if Donald Trump becomes president, he will shut down sanctuary cities. If SF lost it’s sanctuary status, undocumented immigrants would likely no longer feel safe contacting the police. Or, if the city chose not to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the feds may yank much-needed funding.

We work in a sanctuary city. I think most cops believe that there are a lot of hard-working immigrants families in San Francisco, and sometimes they need the police. And we don’t want them to be afraid of calling the police. But if San Francisco doesn’t go along with the feds [and start enforcing national immigration policies], we’re afraid that they will pull a lot of money; it’s financial support not only for law enforcement but also for mental health and homelessness. That could be a big problem for San Francisco.


UNIQUE DOCUMENTARY CHRONICLES THE RE-ENTRY OF FORMER THIRD-STRIKE LIFERS IN CALIFORNIA

The Return—a PBS POV documentary about the men and women released from prison due to California’s 2012 three-strikes reform law—aired Monday night.

The PBS documentary follows former lifers Bilal Chatman and Kenneth Anderson and their loved-ones and attorneys as the two men re-enter their communities.

Since the 2012 passage of Prop. 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act), thousands inmates serving life-sentences for low-level “third-strike” offenses have been resentenced and released in California.

“Many of those we interviewed came from families struggling with mental illness and drug addiction, said directors Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway. “Because African-Americans and Latinos receive disproportionately longer sentences than whites, most were people of color, people who needed support, not incarceration—people who were locked up due to bad policy based on fear, without any understanding of structural barriers they faced.”

The film won the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

The Return aired last night, but you can check the PBS schedule for additional broadcast times. (You may also be able to stream the full documentary online soon.)


MUST-LISTEN: KIDS IN JUVIE LOCK-UPS SHARE THEIR POETRY VIA PODCASTS

The non-profit Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS) put together a not-to-be-missed podcast that features poetry, discussions, and interviews with incarcerated kids at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, CA, and Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility in Logansport, IN.

The Words Unlocked podcast series was made in partnership with teachers at both facilities, who guided students through a writing curriculum and gave students a safe space to heal their trauma and process their emotions through poetry.

Here’s a poem from a girl locked up at LA County’s Las Padrinos Juvenile Hall.


And here’s a poem from one of the boys:

Listen to the rest of the poems, discussions, and workshops: here.

Posted in Police | 2 Comments »

Juvie Solitary Confinement, College in Prison, Alleged Boot Camp Abusers Arrested, and Kelly Thomas’ Death Violated Police Policy

August 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

A BIPARTISAN PUSH TO BAN THE PSYCHOLOGICALLY HARMFUL USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON KIDS LOCKED UP IN FEDERAL FACILITIES

On Wednesday, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a bipartisan bill to end solitary confinement for kids in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities.

The Maintaining dignity and Eliminating unnecessary Restrictive Confinement of Youths Act of 2015 (MERCY) is cosponsored Rand Paul (R-KY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mike Lee (R-UT).

Specifically, the bill would ban solitary confinement except as a temporary placement when a kid poses a serious threat to themselves or others and after less restrictive methods (like deescalation techniques and meeting with a mental health professional) had been tried.

The bill would also require facility staff to explain to a confined kid why they have been placed in isolation, and that they will be released after they have calmed down or after a specific amount of time. And the isolation of kids believed to pose a risk to others would be limited to three hours (thirty minutes for kids who pose a risk to themselves).

“Not only is solitary confinement cruel and demeaning, it’s a violation of one’s human dignity,” said Sen. Booker. “When imposed on adolescents, it can cause serious long-term psychological and physical harm.”

Noting the increased risk of depression and suicide for kids locked in solitary confinement, Sen. Durbin said, “I am glad to join Senators Booker, Paul and Lee in introducing this legislation and look forward to working with them as we consider how to fundamentally reform our approach to this controversial practice.”


PROGRAM TAKES COMMUNITY COLLEGE TO CALIFORNIA PRISONERS

Four community colleges are launching classes inside nearby California state prisons as part of an 18-month, $2 million pilot program starting this fall.

The colleges will offer between two and three business-related classes each semester, through which inmates will have the opportunity to earn an associates degree in liberal arts.

Lassen College will hold classes at High Desert State Prison, Folsom Lake College at Folsom Women’s Facility, Antelope Valley College at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, and Chaffey College at California Institution for Women.

The push for education in prisons is also happening on the federal level. Last week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed a pilot program to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners, reversing a 22-year ban on giving such grants to inmates.

The LA Times’ Carla Rivera has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The state also has been moving to boost education access for inmates, after a 2014 law that allowed community colleges to receive the same level of state funding for educating students behind prison walls as they do for students on college campuses.

The legislation called for collaboration between prison and community college officials to provide college instruction, resulting in a $2 million, 18-month pilot program launching this fall…

“Part of the proposal was to look for innovative programs that are not only face-to-face but offer a full student experience of orientation, advising, counseling,” said BJ Snowden, director of inmate education in the community college chancellor’s office. “We want this to be a sustainable and replicable model with real goals.”

One of the state’s most successful prison education programs, the Prison University Project, will provide training for community college faculty.

The privately-funded project operates at San Quentin and was founded after inmates lost Pell eligibility. Instructors come from the faculty ranks at UC Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco State University, said executive director Jody Lewen.

Obama’s Pell grant initiative could greatly aid programs like hers, Lewen said, providing it is focused on offering a quality education.

“It could be fantastic, but if we allow institutions to come in and do it as cheap as possible with little investment, it will be garbage,” Lewen said. “It will be one of those things in the prison system that’s called better than nothing.”


LA-AREA OFFICERS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH ALLEGED ABUSE AT SAN LUIS OBISPO BOOT CAMP FOR TEENS

Four Los Angeles-area officers were arrested this week in connection with alleged abuse of kids participating in a boot camp called Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) in San Luis Obispo.

Investigators identified fifteen kids who said they were victims of abuse at the hands of the officers leading the camp.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially the two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused and threatened them.

The program leaders would take the kids into a “dark room,” where the they would hold them against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers after an officer stepped on his hand.

Marissa Larios and Patrick Nijland of the Huntington Park Police Department, and brothers Carlos Gomez-Marquez and Edgar Gomez of the South Gate Police Department were each arrested and released on $20,000 bail.

In June, at least two of the officers, the Gomez brothers, were still on patrol despite being subjects of investigation.

Here’s a clip from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department:

After a two month investigation which involved interviewing 37 participants at the camp, Sheriff’s Detectives were able to identify 15 male and female victims ranging in age from 12 to 17 years old who claimed they were assaulted by the drill instructors while at the camp….

Gomez and Gomez-Marquez were arrested on the following five charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal threats (felony), 3. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 4. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 5. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

Larios was arrested on four charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 3. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 4. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor)

Nijland was arrested for: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 3. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

All charges will be filed with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.

KTLA’s Kennedy Ryan and Eric Spillman have more on the arrests.


JUST-REVEALED INDEPENDENT REPORT SAYS FULLERTON COPS ACTED OUTSIDE OF DEPARTMENT POLICY IN BEATING DEATH OF KELLY THOMAS

Three former Fullerton police officers, Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, and Joseph Wolfe, violated department policy when they beat Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, to death (while he screamed for his father), according to an independent report released as part of a civil lawsuit.

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

Former Corporal Jay Cicinelli violated the Fullerton Police Department’s deadly force policy when he kneed 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in the head twice and beat him in the face with his Taser “multiple times” on July 5, 2011, according to the report by independent auditors. The incident was caught on street surveillance video.

Former officers Manuel Ramos and Joseph Wolfe violated the department’s use of force policy when they used their body weight to subdue and arrest Thomas, the report said.

Thomas died five days after the beating. The coroner’s report determined Thomas died as a result of mechanical chest compressions and cranial-facial injuries.

“Ramos’ weight and the body weight of other responding officers on Thomas may have been partially responsible for Thomas’ ultimate demise,” according to the report. It used similar language for Wolfe.

In January 2014, an Orange County jury acquitted Ramos and Cicinelli, and the charges against Wolfe were later dropped. All three are still fighting to get their jobs back after being terminated.

Posted in CDCR, Education, juvenile justice, Police | 2 Comments »

Blue is the New White: The Complexity of Talking About Police Reform – by Bill Boyarsky

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barak Obama said of the events of Ferguson and New York: “…Surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

Let us hope so.

In Los Angeles as we talk about those issues, the worried father Obama mentioned is not necessarily African American. He is just as likely to be Latino. More likely, really.

And the police officers working patrol whose husbands and wives are fearful for their safety are widely diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity and gender.

So, yes, the conversation we need to have is, in part, about race—but it is also a lot more complicated than that.

In the story below—which originally appeared in TruthDig—columnist Bill Boyarsky explores the complexity of law enforcement reform with members of the Youth Justice Collation, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, journalist/author Joe Dominick and others.

In the end, Boyarsky admits he finds no quick answers. But he brings up some worthwhile questions.

Happy reading.



BLUE IS THE NEW WHITE

Why Talking About Law Enforcement Reform in LA is Not a Simple Matter

by Bill Boyarsky


This story originally ran in TruthDig, which has generously allowed WitnessLA to reproduce it in full.



“It’s not the person that fills the uniform, it’s what the uniform does to the person,” said Kim McGill, an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition. “Blue is the new white.”

“We have to change the culture of law enforcement and create real community authority over police if we want to address system violence and transform the treatment of black and brown communities,” she added.

Or, as another Youth Justice Coalition member, Abraham Colunga, told me, “It’s cop versus black and brown, any minority. It’s more a matter of cop versus us, no matter what the cop is, black, brown, Filipino.”

I visited the coalition headquarters, at the western edge of South Los Angeles, in search of an answer to a question raised by the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, 25, a mentally ill African-American, in a poor black and Latino neighborhood of South L.A. on Aug. 11.

He was killed two days after Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and a month after Eric Garner, another African-American man, died after a white New York cop subdued him with an illegal chokehold. Then, in Cleveland in November, a white officer shot and killed Tamir Rice, 12, who was holding a replica gun. The officer and another cop threw Rice’s 14-year-old sister to the ground, handcuffed her and forcibly put her into a patrol car when she ran to her fatally wounded brother’s aid.

But Ford’s death in Los Angeles did not follow the black-white narrative that has framed news coverage of these police shootings. One of the cops who shot Ford, Sharlton Wampler, is Asian-American. The other, Antonio Villegas, is Latino.

White law enforcers have been killing black men since slavery. A study by ProPublica, the investigative journalism organization, analyzed federal data from 2010 to 2012 and found that young black males were at a 21 times greater risk of being shot to death by police than young white men.

ProPublica’s black-white analysis, however, seemed incomplete for Los Angeles. Its multiethnic population—49.6 percent white, 48.5 percent Latino, 11.3 percent Asian, 9.6 percent black—is now policed by a multiethnic department. Latinos, numbering 3,547, are the largest ethnic group in the LAPD, followed by whites, 2,756, blacks, 861, and Asian Americans, 634.

The analysis by McGill, who is white, and Colunga, who is Latino, seemed more to the point.

The coalition, which knows what’s going on with the police and communities, was organized by youths of color who have been arrested, served time behind bars, subjected to stop and frisks and police abuse, and threatened with deportation. Coalition members have helped lobby local and state lawmakers to reform laws and to increase civilian supervision of the police. They also keep statistics on the number of people killed by police in Los Angeles County.

From their close contact with crime-heavy neighborhoods, they see that police shootings of young men go beyond the black-white way journalism frames the issue.

For example, McGill said a cause of the shootings is the war on gangs being waged by the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies around the country.

Gang suppression cops, operating in neighborhoods prevalent with gangs, “treat all like criminals,” McGill said. “People are going to be roughed up and hurt.”

The two officers who killed Ford were members of a gang suppression detail operating in a high crime part of South Los Angeles, where four African-Americans and two Latinos have been slain by cops since 2000.

The victim was well known in the neighborhood. Brandy Brown, another member of the Youth Justice Coalition, lived in an apartment above where Ford was shot. Brown, who is African-American, told me that she and others around 65th Street and Broadway knew him as a pleasant, longtime resident who, as his teens turned into his 20s, became severely disturbed. He wandered through the neighborhood, cadging cigarettes and meals from people who had known him for years. Her mother occasionally fed him and let him use the shower. The two police officers, she said, should have known him too.

Brown was working in her kitchen when she heard the gunshots. She ran downstairs to where her 4-year-old nephew was playing and saw people gathered around Ford.

The autopsy report showed he was shot three times. One bullet hit him in the right side, another in the back and a third in the right arm. The wound in the back had a “muzzle imprint,” the autopsy report said, suggesting the shot was fired at close range.

Police said Ford was walking on 65th Street when the two officers got out of their car and tried to talk to him. Why they did this is unknown so far.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said Ford walked away. The two officers followed him to a nearby driveway. Ford, the chief said, crouched between a car and some bushes. When one of the officers reached toward Ford, Beck said, he grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground. The policeman shouted to his partner that Ford had his gun, Beck said. The partner fired two rounds, which hit Ford. The officer on the ground pulled out his backup weapon, reached around Ford and shot him in the back at close range.

Ford joined the long list of those who have been killed by the police in Los Angeles County, which contains 88 cities, Los Angeles being the largest by far.

The Los Angeles Times painstakingly reports all these deaths in its invaluable Homicide Report, which compiles and analyzes coroner’s figures. A total of 594 gunshot victims have died in officer-involved shootings from 2000 through 2014. Of these, 114 were white, 300 Latino, 159 black, and 16 Asian.

With African-Americans a much smaller part of the population, the black toll is disproportionately high. The Youth Justice Coalition reports a slightly higher total of deaths, probably because it supplements coroner’s reports with information gleaned from neighborhoods.
In any case, ethnic minorities comprise the largest number of victims by a huge number. David R. Ayon, senior strategist at Latino Decisions and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said: “Latinos are underrepresented in a lot of positions of authority, but not when it comes to being shot by the police in Los Angeles.

“African-Americans are underrepresented in a lot of areas of society, but are overrepresented in being shot by the police. The group that is underrepresented [in police shootings] is whites.”

I talked to two criminal justice experts about the complex racial dimension to these police shootings.

Connie Rice is an attorney long active in civil rights who heads the Advancement Project, a national organization that fights for criminal justice reform and voting rights, among other issues. She was a leader in the reform of the Los Angeles Police Department after major scandals and the 1992 riots.

Rice said she found that police officers are more apt to shoot in violent crime areas. “Do I think the cops are too quick to shoot in South L.A.? Yes, I do. They give themselves permission to shoot in South L.A. where they don’t anywhere else.”

She added, “The biggest common denominator [in police shootings] is [neighborhood] income and class. It is compounded by race.”

Neighborhood figures compiled by the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report support this.

Some examples: The Florence neighborhood in South Los Angeles is listed by the report as the ninth most deadly area in Los Angeles. Nine blacks and four Latinos were shot and killed by police there between 2000 and 2014. The count was four blacks and two Latinos in impoverished South Central Los Angeles. In Boyle Heights, a poor Latino area, eight Latinos and one black died. But in middle-class Leimert Park, a largely black neighborhood, there were no police-caused shooting deaths in those 14 years.

Joe Domanick is a senior fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice and the author of “Blue: The Ruin and Redemption of the LAPD,” to be published by Simon & Schuster this summer.

Domanick also believes police attitudes in high crime areas influence behavior. “The explosion of guns and the lack of any kind of gun control make cops very edgy,” he said. He added, “I think there is also racism on the part of white, Asian and Latino cops that is endemic in our society, which doesn’t value black lives unless they are Denzel Washington.”

For those seeking quick answers, this column may leave you unsatisfied. Solutions glibly floated from New York and Ferguson have been tried to some extent in Los Angeles, a city that may be the picture of the nation’s urban future.

The police department has been integrated. Its all-white occupying army tactics in poor black and Latino areas were moderated after the riots and federal supervision. Bill Bratton, now New York police commissioner, and his successor, Beck, forced the cops to interact with communities, at least much more than in the past. “Charlie Beck did a superlative job in implementing community policing, especially in African-American communities and he built up a big stack of goodwill when he was chief of the South Bureau [covering South Los Angeles],” Domanick said. “He has continued that as police chief. He has deep relationships with people. They like him.”

Friday, Beck met with representatives of demonstrators who have been camping in front of police headquarters, demanding that he fire the cops who killed Ford. He didn’t do that, insisting that he has to follow department procedures on discipline. “It’s a first step,” Youth Justice Coalition’s McGill said. “It opened communications.”

Beck and other police chiefs and mayors can do more: Give communities more of a say in policing, which cops hate. Take every complaint seriously. Investigate police killings quickly and openly without relying on bureaucratic or legalistic barriers created to protect police officers. Let the community know what’s going on. And show respect to the residents. Be as polite to people in poor neighborhoods as the police are in more affluent neighborhoods that are nearly free of violent crime. Economic class shouldn’t determine whether you get an even chance with the law.

None of these small steps would make a headline or a mention on the Internet or in cable news. But they’re important in a country that is so racially divided and resistant to change.


Bill Boyarsky is a political correspondent for Truthdig, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Journalism, and a columnist for LA Observed.



Photo of LAPD academy graduation from LAPD Blog




AND AS A REMINDER OF ONE MORE FACET OF THE POLICE REFORM ISSUE…THE STORY OF A COP DEALING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF A FATAL SHOOTING

If by some chance you haven’t been following the account of Billings, MT, police officer Grant Morrison who was involved in a fatal shooting in the Spring of 2014, this nuanced story by Zach Benoit of the Billings Gazette, shows the grief and self-doubt Morrison has struggled with since the shooting, which was recorded by a dashboard video.

A later widely-destributed video shows Morrison sobbing after the incident after realizing he had fatally shot an unarmed man.

Both videos make for harrowing viewing.

Morrison was cleared of all wrongdoing in the matter by a coroner’s jury after a two day inquest.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Police, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

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 »

Ezell Ford Autopsy Released Showing 3 Shots, 1 in Back

December 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


The autopsy report for Ezell Ford’s death was released Monday after months of delay. It showed that Ford, 25,
a mentally ill black man, was shot three times, once in the back, once in the side of his abdomen, with a third, non-fatal wound in his right arm. The shot in the back had a “muzzle imprint,” according to the coroner’s office, which suggested that the shot was fired at very close range.

Ford was killed on the evening of August 11, in the Florence area of South LA, by two LAPD officers from the department’s Newton Division gang detail. The shooting took place a few days after teenager Michael Brown had been been shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by Ferguson PD officer Darrin Wilson. The proximity of the two events added to the growing tension over the issue of fatal police shootings this past summer that resulted in multiple protests in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the nation.

LAPD officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, who both fired shots, reported that Ford was trying to remove the service weapon from the holster of one of the officers. It was not clear why Ezell was stopped by the officers, and what triggered the physical altercation.

According to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, the information in the just-released coroner’s report does not conflict with the two officers’ account of the shooting.

Although the report has been complete for months, Beck asked that it be withheld pending further LAPD investigation into the shooting, in order to avoid the risk that the information contained in the report would taint the account of witnesses to the events of August 11. (LAPD investigators were, at the time, having trouble getting community witnesses to come forward and cooperate.)

Mayor Eric Garcetti, however, set a time clock on the report’s release, promising that it would be made public before the end of the year—-hence its public distribution on Monday.

“Transparency is key to the trust between LAPD and the people they serve,” said Garcetti in a statement Monday, adding that a full and impartial investigation was still ongoing. “As we end 2014″ he said, “I am proud that Los Angeles is home to the finest police officers in the nation, and my heart continues to go out to the grieving family.”

Chief Beck promised to “find out the truth of what happened that August night.”

Ford’s family has filed a $75 million wrongful death lawsuit.

For further information see accounts from Kate Mather and Richard Winton at the LA Times. The KPCC news staff has a series of ongoing updates on the story.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, we’re still dark. But breaking news, is breaking news.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, LAPD, law enforcement, Police, race | 60 Comments »

Political Words & the Murder of NY Cops….Unequal Justice?…Strip Searching Kids

December 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



AN ARRAY OF REACTIONS TO THE MURDERS OF NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICERS RAMOS AND WENJIAN

The terrible and heartbreaking news of the murders of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on Saturday continues to produce grief around the nation. We all now know that 32-year-old Liu was married three months ago, and that he was passionate about his choice to be a cop. We also know that Officer Ramos, 40, left behind two sons, and that the youngest is 13 years old. We know too that Officer Ramos loved the Mets, and was a chaplain-in-training.

In addition to sorrow, the execution of Ramos and Liu by the clearly disturbed 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley has released a storm of commentary about—among other things—who other than Brinsley is at fault for the murders. Here is some of the latest, along with clips:

Former NYPD Police Commissioner Howard Safir wrote in TIME that police bashing is the worst he’s seen it in 45 years.

When Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley brutally executed Officers Ramos and Liu he did so in an atmosphere of permissiveness and anti-police rhetoric unlike any that I have seen in 45 years in law enforcement. The rhetoric this time is not from the usual suspects, but from the Mayor of New York City, the Attorney General of the United States, and even the President. It emboldens criminals and sends a message that every encounter a black person has with a police officer is one to be feared. Nothing could be further from the truth. We will never know what was in the mind of Brinsley when he shot officers Ramos and Liu. However we do know that he has seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest officials in the land.

We should all be concerned about the reaction our police officers will have. I have seen times when police bashing has resulted in officers doing the minimum necessary to complete their tours and go home safely to their families.

At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf writes about the importance of treating police officers as individuals:

Following an outrageous murder of two policemen who seem to have been good cops, it’s emotionally understandable that most people nod along to statements about NYPD officers being “New York’s Finest.” There are a lot of good cops in New York City. There are, as well, a lot of bad cops in the force of 34,500. People who hate all police officers because some act badly are being prejudiced and irrational. It is also irrational to extol everyone who wears an NYPD uniform despite the fact that some of them abandon whistleblowing colleagues when they need backup, accost an innocent kid with racial slurs and physical threats, retaliate against a fellow officer who exposes systemic misbehavior by trying to have him involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or assault women with pepper spray for no reason. Unions that fight to keep even misbehaving officers from being fired bear some responsibility for the reputation that the NYPD has among its critics, as does every cop that observes misbehavior by colleagues but stays silent. Only by distinguishing among police officers—praising the ones who do their jobs honorably and capably, and disciplining or firing the ones who fall short—can the proposition that the profession is worthy of respect be rationally defended.

At the Washington Post Eugene Robinson writes that protesters against police brutality did not cause the shooting of Officers Ramos and Liu.

It is absurd to have to say this, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, activist Al Sharpton and President Obama are in no way responsible for the coldblooded assassination of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday. Nor do the tens of thousands of Americans who have demonstrated against police brutality in recent weeks bear any measure of blame.

A disturbed career criminal named Ismaaiyl Brinsley committed this unspeakable atrocity by himself, amid a spree of insane mayhem: Earlier in the day, he shot and critically wounded a woman he had been seeing; later, on a subway platform, he shot and killed himself.

[SNIP]

Not for the first time, one of the loudest and least temperate voices has been that of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said on Fox News. “I don’t care how you want to describe it, that’s what those protests are all about.”

No, no, no. The demonstrations sparked by the exoneration of the officers who killed Brown and Garner were pro-accountability, not anti-police. As I’ve pointed out many times, no one better appreciates the need for an active, engaged police presence than residents of high-crime neighborhoods. But nobody should be expected to welcome policing that treats whole communities as guilty until proved innocent — or a justice system that considers black and brown lives disposable.

New York police officials and union leaders should explain this to the officers who bitterly turned their backs on de Blasio — their commander in chief — as he arrived to pay his respects to slain policemen Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

Yet Ed Mullins, president of the police sergeants’ union, made this inflammatory charge: “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands.” And Ray Kelly, a former New York police commissioner, accused de Blasio of running an “anti-police” mayoral campaign and said there was a “firestorm” of anger within the department over remarks de Blasio made regarding Garner’s death.

Jesse Walker at libertarian-leaning Reason Magazine expresses a similar point but from a different angle.

Pat Lynch, the combative chief of the city’s biggest police union, blamed Liu and Ramos’ deaths on “those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest,” then declared that the “blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.”

I don’t think the mayor’s office is actually on the steps. But you get what the man is saying.

[SNIP]

Where exactly do you draw the line? If you’re really intent on blaming other people for Brinsley’s crimes, how far are you going to take that? If any piece of speech played a role in directing Brinsley’s anger, it was the cell phone video of Officer Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner. If it weren’t for that recording, hardly anyone would know Garner’s name. But much as Pat Lynch might love to blame that video for last weekend’s killings, he probably knows that any argument to that effect would open a can of worms. The videographer, after all, was simply recording events; the man whose actions made the video newsworthy was Pantaleo. Since Lynch is intent on arguing that Pantaleo isn’t even responsible for the slaying he did commit, I doubt he’d want to risk linking him to any slayings committed by someone else.

No: People like Lynch want to keep our focus on their foes. Their baseless accusations are tools in a political war, and they’re a tool we’ve seen politicians use before. As I once wrote, it lets them discredit mainstream as well as radical political opponents….

Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway is not hopeful that the murders of the officers will bring productive debate.

Unfortunately, I can already see from much of the online reaction to yesterday’s tragedy that meaningful debate is the exact opposite of what is likely to occur. Much like the Brown shooting and the Garner death, and the Grand Jury proceedings that occurred in their wake, quickly became politicized, the deaths of these two officers shot in cold blood will be exploited by people with their own political and power agendas. It is, sadly, the way things work in this country any more.

Before that starts, though, I hope that someone stops to remember the families of these two men, as well as the tens of thousands of members of the NYPD and other officers around the country who will be impacted by this horrible tragedy. They didn’t deserve to die, and they don’t deserve to be turned into political symbols either.


THE MURDER, THE SENTENCE & THE POLITICIAN’S KID
On Saturday Oct 4, 2008, four San Diego State University students were jumped and stabbed by four strangers. One of the four, Luis Santos, was stabbed in the chest. The knife pierced Santos’ left lung and cut the left ventricle of his heart. Santos died of his wounds.

The four who started the fight fled the scene and drove north. Two of the four eventually dumped two knives in the Sacramento River. Those same two stripped off their bloody clothes, stuffed them in a bag, poured on kerosine and set the bundle on fire.

On December 2, 2008, two months after Santos’ death, the young men who had tossed the knives and burned the clothes were arrested. One of them was named Esteban Nuñez, the nineteen-year-old son of Fabian Nuñez, the powerful former California assembly speaker.

In May of 2010, the younger Nuñez pleaded guilty to manslaughter as part of a plea deal. In June 2010, Nuñez was sentenced to 16 years in state prison.

On January 2, 2011, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last day in office, the then governor announced that he had commuted Nuñez’s sentence down to seven years. Nuñez is expected to be paroled in 2016.

So, was justice done? Did a good young man get a break? Or did the son of a powerful politician with powerful friends get a very different kind of justice than that which would be visited on most any other 19-year-old in this state who participated in a murder.

In a fascinating 2-part longread for the LA Times, Christopher Goffard lays out the facts of the matter so that the reader may draw his or her own conclusions.

Here is a clip:

At 5:29 p.m. that day, a surveillance camera captured Nuñez, Jett and Garcia at a 7-Eleven near Nuñez’s Sacramento apartment. Jett left the store with an empty Big Gulp cup. He carried it back to the car with $1.30 worth of gasoline from the Union 76 station next door.

News of the stabbing had been online since that morning, and they were determined to sever their ties to the crime. They drove a little ways and parked near Interstate 5 along the Sacramento River. They got out and climbed down to the water. It is a broad river, the banks thick with foliage, its shores sometimes populated by transients.

Jett carried the clothes he and Nuñez had worn in the fight. He dumped them in a pile, doused them with gas and set them ablaze. He said he watched Nuñez throw the knives in the river.

The clothes burned; the knives sank; the friends would keep quiet. What could link them to a stabbing 500 miles away?

Detectives made the connection within hours.

A young woman had approached them at the crime scene, hoping to help. Her cellphone held text messages from a friend named John Murray. He’d had to leave town fast, he wrote to her, because his buddies had been in a stabbing.

Reluctantly, Murray, 19, told detectives what he knew. He admitted that he’d partied with the Nuñez group that night, then drank himself to sleep, missed the fight and joined the group for the hasty car ride north. He had been at the river during the destruction of the evidence, and said he’d overheard Nuñez and Jett agree not to speak of this again. It would be a secret among friends.

Another tip came from Brianna Perez, 19, a cousin of Nuñez’s friend Rafael Garcia. The Nuñez group had stopped by her apartment near Fraternity Row before the stabbing. They had backpacks full of beer and a large bottle of Captain Morgan rum.

They were angry that they had been rebuffed when they tried to get into a frat party earlier, she said. They were cursing the frat boys. Some of them used knives to open their beer cans. She remembered some of them talking about burning down the frat house, about finding a fight.

“They were going to show them how they did it in Sac-town,” she would say. When they left her apartment, she worried that they were looking for “drama…”


STRIP SEARCHING CA KIDS BY THE CDCR?

Contraband—from drugs to cell phones—is a huge problem that the California prison system is struggling to control—without much success.

Dinky Manek Enty reports for the Chronicle of Social Change on a newly proposed policy aimed at the CDCR’s contraband dilemma that, while sensible on the surface, may need to be rethought, in that it involves kids.

Here’s a clip:

For the more than 2.7 million children in the United States with an incarcerated parent, the holiday season brings a poignant mixture of torment and joy. On the one hand, it may mean a rare opportunity to visit a parent behind bars—for some, the only visit of the year. But the love and connection a visit can bring are tempered by the fear of driving past razor wire, passing through metal detectors, and being subjected to the scrutiny of uniformed guards.

This holiday season, some children may face an even more disturbing intrusion. Under new regulations recently proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), visitors will be subjected to canine searches in an effort to prevent the flow of contraband such as drugs and cell phones into the state’s prisons. Should the search result in a positive alert (even a false positive, which research has shown comprise as many as 80 percent of all positive identifications), the visitor in question must submit to a strip search or else forgo the visit. The regulations make no exception for children, and existing CDCR paperwork regarding unclothed searches explicitly includes accompanying minors.

Statistics show clearly that kids of incarcerated parents already have a tough path to navigate. Let’s not add the trauma of possible strip searches to the mix.

Posted in CDCR, law enforcement, Police, race | 2 Comments »

LA Supes Set $41M Toward Mental Health Diversion, Prison Banker Cuts Controversial Fees, LBPD’s New Chief…and More

November 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY’S MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PUSH LEADS SUPERVISORS TO ALLOCATE $41M FOR TREATMENT, OTHER SERVICES

On Wednesday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report to the Board of Supervisors detailing how the county is failing the mentally ill by funneling them into the criminal justice system.

Thanks, in part, to Lacey’s urging, the Supervisors voted Wednesday to devote $41 million in state funding to opening up more 24-hour psychiatric emergency rooms, expanding the county’s mobile crisis response teams by 14 units, and increasing residential treatment programs’ capacity by approximately 560 beds.

My News LA posted this story from the City News Service. Here’s a clip:

The money will be used in part to expand mobile crisis support teams that work in tandem with police officers and sheriff’s deputies to identify mentally ill offenders.

A consultant hired by Lacey concluded that not enough law enforcement officers have been trained on how to deal with people undergoing a mental health crisis, and recommended more resources.

Health officials also plan to open three new 24-hour urgent care centers and expand residential treatment programs for the mentally ill by about 560 beds.

Civil rights activists — who protested outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration prior to speaking before the board — have been pushing the county to fund community-based programs in lieu of increasing the number of jail cells.

Lacey acknowledged that the county will need to do both, noting the state of deterioration of the Men’s Central Jail.

“It’s unfit even if you’re not mentally ill,” she said.

Effective community-based crisis treatment can cut costs associated with inpatient or emergency room care and jail time, officials said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky highlighted the expense involved.

“The cost of checking somebody in (to the jail) is probably greater than the cost of checking into a Four Seasons hotel,” Yaroslavsky said.

An LA Times editorial says having DA Lacey spearheading the mental health diversion endeavor has made all the difference. Here are some clips:

In the ideal world, police responding to a disturbing-the-peace or petty crime call arrive at the scene with the training to discern whether the subject’s behavior is due at least in part to a mental health problem. They defuse the situation and turn the subject over to the just-arrived psychiatric evaluation team, or else they take the subject to a crisis center where the intake process is efficient, allowing the officers to go back on patrol while the subject is stabilized, diagnosed and monitored by mental health professionals. Or, if the alleged crime is dangerous and the alleged criminal poses a risk to public safety, he or she is taken to jail.

The family is quickly contacted, and if jail is not the right track, trained experts identify available funding and choose the most appropriate clinic bed from an ample supply across the county. Services continue after the subject is stabilized. County workers and contractors find housing, if it is needed, connect the person with medical care and help him or her find work.

[SNIP]

In the real world, jail remains the easiest and sometimes the only option for police arresting mentally ill people…

But the gap between the real and the ideal worlds is slowly shrinking…

Lacey’s efforts have given renewed vigor to mental health and law enforcement professionals who got into their lines of work to help people but for too long have been beaten down by the sheer scope of Los Angeles County’s mental health needs.

Read the rest.


PRISON BANKING COMPANY DROPS FEES FOR MONEY ORDERS TO INMATES

Private financial institution, JPay, has stopped charging families fees to send money orders to inmates in Indiana, Ohio and Oklahoma, benefiting around 100,000 families with incarcerated loved ones. After the change, Kansas is the last state in which families are charged a money order fee. (There are, of course, still tons of fees charged by JPay and other companies, but this is a step in the right direction.)

The Center for Public Integrity’s Daniel Wagner has the story. (For more backstory, read some of Daniel Wagner’s earlier reporting on this issue.) Here’s a clip:

The move comes after a Center for Public Integrity report showed that the families of hundreds of thousands of U.S. inmates had no way to send money to their incarcerated loved ones without incurring high fees. Several of the prison systems that had no free option for money transfers contracted with JPay for their inmates’ financial services.

JPay is one of the largest prison bankers, companies that provide financial services to inmates and their families, sometimes charging high fees and sharing their profits with the agencies that contract with them. The company handled nearly 7 million transactions last year and expects to transfer more than $1 billion this year.

JPay and other prison bankers have become central players in a multi-billion dollar economy that shifts the costs of incarceration onto families of prison inmates, according to the Center’s report. Families must send money to help pay for necessities like toilet paper and winter clothes that used to be provided by the government. JPay says it handles money transfers for 1.7 million offenders, or nearly 70 percent of the inmates in U.S. prisons.

JPay did not respond to several emails and phone calls requesting comment about the decision to eliminate some fees. The company’s founder and CEO Ryan Shapiro earlier said The Center’s questions about money order deposit fees forced him to consider the impact of policies that affect the company’s poorest customers. He said he would seek to convince states to provide families with a free deposit option.

The change was confirmed by John Witherow, director of Nevada CURE, an inmates’-rights group. Witherow said he received an email announcing the change from JPay’s public relations manager sometime in the past two weeks. A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Corrections also confirmed the change. Spokesmen for the Ohio and Oklahoma departments did not respond to requests for comment.


DEPUTY CHIEF ROBERT LUNA TO BECOME LONG BEACH’S FIRST LATINO POLICE CHIEF

On Tuesday, Long Beach officials appointed Deputy Chief Robert Luna the city’s new police chief. Luna, who will replace outgoing chief, Los Angeles Sheriff-elect Jim McDonnell, is the first Latino to serve as an LBPD chief.

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

Luna, 48, has been with the police department for 29 years. He commanded the patrol bureau and was second-in-command to McDonnell. He will be the city’s 26th police chief and the first Latino to serve in that role.

Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Pat West announced the selection of Luna on Tuesday at police headquarters.

“I truly have a passion for this profession, this city and I absolutely love this police department,” Luna said after the announcement.

Luna said he plans to meet with the community to learn where the police department needs to improve. Last year, the department had a spike in officer-involved shootings compared to 2012. The deaths of several unarmed civilians have cost the city millions in legal settlements.


THE MAJORITY OF STATES SUCCESSFULLY CUT INCARCERATION RATES AND CRIME RATES

A Pew Charitable Trusts infographic released this week takes a look at the FBI’s newly released crime data against the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ incarceration data, and shows that in the 33 states where imprisonment numbers decreased, the crime rate was lowered an average of 13%. In the 17 states with increases in incarceration, crime rates still fell an average of 11%.

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Police | No Comments »

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.”

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