Fighting Child Sex Trafficking, Planting Informants, LA County Settles Another High Ticket Lawsuit…and LAPD’s Mental Health TrainingMarch 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker
LA SUPES MOVE TO BLOCK CHILD TRAFFICKING IN HOMELESS MOTELS
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to step up the county’s regulations on emergency shelter motels in an effort to combat child sex trafficking.
These facilities receive money from the county to provide short term housing to the homeless, but have also become easy hubs for sex trafficking.
The motion directs the Department of Public and Social Services to work out how the county can increase funding to the General Relief Emergency Housing Program to boost the amount of money paid to the motels, and identify alternative housing options for the homeless population.
The motion also directs DPSS and County Counsel to report back in 30 days with a feasibility analysis regarding changing the current motel participation free-for-all to a competitive bid process. The approved motels would sign a contract saying they would allow no sex trafficking on their property. They would also have to take an anti-trafficking training session, as well as hang up posters with hotline numbers in visible places. In addition, law enforcement inspections could occur at any time without warning (they are usually conducted during regular business hours, currently).
Here’s a clip from the motion by Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe:
Throughout Los Angeles County (County), children as young as nine are being exploited sexually for commercial purposes. According to the California Child Welfare Council, a trafficker may earn as much as $650,000 in a year by selling as few as four children. Often, motels and hotels are used by traffickers and buyers of sex with children as the venue for exploitation. According to The Polaris Project, an international anti-human trafficking organization named after the North Star which guided slaves to freedom in the United States, victims may be forced to stay at a hotel or motel where customers come to them or they are required to go to rooms rented out by the customers or traffickers. Additionally, sex trafficking victims often stay in hotels and motels with their traffickers while moving to different cities or states.
Approximately 45 motels/hotels are used Countywide to house homeless individuals through the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) General Relief (GR) Emergency Housing program, which was developed to provide temporary shelter for homeless GR applicants while their application financial assistance is pending. An estimated 22 of these motels are located in the 2nd District, by far the highest percentage in the County. Of those 22 in the 2nd District, at least half are located on well-known prostitution tracks.
LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell fully supports the Supes’ decision. Here’s a clip from his statement on the Supes decision:
As your Sheriff, I, along with the more than 18,000 men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, remain committed to protecting the victims of this horrific emerging crime. We will continue our active engagement of – and partnership with — local, state and national leaders to obtain the necessary tools and resources to fight these criminal enterprises. I am also committed to work with local, state and federal partners to bring awareness to the need for enhanced penalties against the traffickers who sell these girls and the men who create the demand that sustains this criminal enterprise.
We must also work to address those in commercial ventures, including motel owners, who are creating a vehicle for these crimes to occur in our community. Our detectives routinely respond to the illicit narcotics and sex trade business, often gang-related, operating in and around motels throughout the County. This illegal business is often conducted during all hours of the day and night, in open view of residences and in the presence of children walking to school.
McDonnell has also been hammering away at this issue. Here’s a clip from his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on human sex trafficking late last month:
For the larger counties such as Los Angeles, child sex trafficking is a problem that is not going away. In Los Angeles, our County departments and law enforcement agencies are endeavoring to work together to respond to the growing problem of trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. We are crafting new approaches that better address the unique challenges these offenses pose.
One of our primary areas of focus has been on rehabilitating rather than punishing and detaining CSEC victims. We are helping sexually exploited children through a multi-agency team approach in a specialized juvenile court – called the “STAR” Court (Succeed Through Achievement and Resilience) – that avoids the typically adversarial nature of delinquency proceedings. County staff work to quickly move victims out of the juvenile justice system and coordinate with providers to offer needed services as well as increasing awareness and the identification of CSEC victims. Initiatives such as the STAR court have been funded through two grants awarded to the County’s Juvenile Court and Probation Department by the State of California from its Federal Title II Juvenile Justice Formula Grant allocation. Yet this is only a single court that impacts a limited number of young trafficking victims.
What is really needed at the local level is enhanced funding. Several pieces of legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act enacted in 2013, authorized grants for local initiatives to combat trafficking. But funds are seldom appropriated for this purpose.
For example, in Fiscal Year 2015, Congress tripled the appropriation of Department of Justice (DOJ) funding for trafficking victim services programs from $14.25 million to $42.25 million, but there is currently no assurance that DOJ will provide any of this funding to local governments. At a minimum, we would request that DOJ set aside at least $8 million of this funding for grants for local government initiatives that could be used to support more specialized courts such as the one in Los Angeles or for victim services provided by law enforcement, child welfare, or probation agencies. Funding could also be used to establish a Sex Trafficking Block Grant as authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended….
The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Rennick has more on the important move. Here’s a clip:
Also of concern is that vendors appear to under-report criminal activity on their premises to law enforcement, and that DPSS only makes a single monthly visit to each vendor, which takes place during regular business hours.
A spokesperson for DPSS said during today’s board meeting that the agency is committed to working with the board to ensure it does not contract with entities who allow sex trafficking at their facilities. DPSS also plans to collaborate with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies to establish a reporting protocol in order to capture criminal activity taking place at hotels and motels under contract with the county.
One of many community-based nonprofit organizations supporting the motion is Saving Innocence, which works to rescue children from sexual trafficking.
“One-hundred percent of the children we serve were held captive or sold in these hotels and motels,” said Kim Biddle, executive director, during the meeting. “I would say we also need to look into criminalizing owners and managers of these hotels, but at the very least we need to increase their accountability.”
A PEAK INTO THE PRACTICE OF PLACING INFORMANTS WITH SUSPECTS TO GET INCRIMINATING
JAIL SUPERVISOR SEZ INFORMANTS WERE REGULARLY PLANTED TO GET SUSPECTS TO SELF-INCRIMINATE
A retired Santa Clara County Jail official, Lt. Frank Dixon, says he housed jailhouse informants with suspects to question them at the request of other cops and prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office, in violation of their civil rights.
A US Supreme Court ruling in 1986 says that informants may only be used for listening purposes; they are not to question suspects without the presence of their attorneys or coerce them into incriminating themselves.
San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Kaplan has the story. Here are some clips:
“This has been happening everywhere nearly forever,” Orange County Public Defender Scott Sanders said. “How many wrongful convictions are there in this state behind these types of actions? Thousands, certainly. It is scary.”
Former Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy, who was first elected in 1990 and served four terms, said prosecutors “infrequently” did ask that inmates be housed in particular jail units, but only “in the most important matters” to learn such things as an accused killer’s motive or the location of a corpse. But he said they didn’t violate the inmates’ rights.
“Inmate-colleagues transferred for such purpose were not acting as questioning law-enforcement agents, but rather as persons given opportunities to listen,” Kennedy said.
In the Bains case, the informant, who claimed he just happened to be placed in the same unit as the accused killer, peppered him and other inmates with questions, according to testimony during the trial.
Dixon does not recall specifically planting the informant in Bains’ case. But he says that housing the suspected killer with informant Raymond Delgado, who had testified two weeks earlier in a different case and should have been in protective custody, was so “highly unusual” that it probably was intentional. He also clearly recalls “routinely” planting other informants in his capacity from the late 1980s through the late 1990s as one of two lieutenants who ran the classification unit, which assigns inmates to cells. He also said others in the classifications unit did the same thing.
In his declaration, Dixon also said law enforcement agencies “upon occasion” would book an informant on “made-up charges” to gather information. He called the practice “849-ing,” referring to the penal code section that requires the release of inmates who are not charged with a crime within 48 hours. Dixon also said in the interview that he would make arrangements for a jail informant and a defendant who did not have to appear in court on a particular day to be bused to the courthouse so they would be forced to spend all day together in a cramped holding cell, where the informant would have plenty of time to tease out information from the other inmate.
LA COUNTY TO SETTLE JUVENILE CAMP BEATING CASE FOR $1.2 MIL
The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a settlement to the tune of $1.2 million in a lawsuit alleging that in 2008, juvenile detention camp staff neglected to address and subdue known racial tension that lead to a riot and the severe beating of Nathaniel Marshall. Marshall, who is black, sustained life-long injuries when he was pulled from his bunk and beaten by other teenagers during the riot at Camp Miller in Malibu.
Marshall suffered strokes during the incident, and now has epilepsy.
County attorneys only recommended a settlement after spending over $730,000 in legal fees and other expenses.
After the riot, the probation department lowered the number of kids placed at Miller to boost the staff-to-kid ratio, and implemented new safety policies.
The Santa Monica Mirror has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:
“This was a systematic breakdown that amounted to deliberate indifference,” Goldstein said last summer. “These kids at that camp were entitled to be protected.”
A summary prepared by the Probation Department claimed that staffers were able to quickly control the situation.
“Staff worked to contain the situation quickly and effectively and the fight was stopped within seconds by giving verbal commands and making use of safe crisis management techniques,” according to the report….
Attorney Tomas Guterres, representing the county, told jurors that fights in detention camps cannot be eliminated. “It’s the nature of the population,” he said.
Goldstein said staffers and his client warned camp personnel that a race riot was about to break out, but no action was taken to prevent it. The complaint alleged the county failed to properly train and supervise the staff to make sure they reacted properly to the warnings.
In the wake of the brawl, the Probation Department cut the number of juvenile offenders housed at Camp Miller to create a better staffing ratio and also updated and expanded safety and security procedures, according to a “corrective action plan” submitted to the board for approval.
A QUICK-GUIDE ON THE LAPD’S MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING PRACTICES
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted in Monday’s press conference that two of the officers involved with Sunday’s Skid Row shooting had received specialized mental health training.
KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has a helpful rundown on what the LAPD’s mental health training looks like, how many officers receive it, and how the Mental Evaluation Unit works. Here’s a clip:
What kind of training did the officers have?
Chief Beck says the officers involved in the shooting were assigned to the department’s Safer Cities Initiative, which launched in 2005 to deal with issues of crime on Skid Row. As part of that program, he says, all were “specially trained on dealing with homeless people and mental illness issues.”
In that unit, officers are trained in a 2 1/2-hour course that updates the six hours of training all cadets get in the police academy. What’s more, officers in that program are given priority to attend the LAPD”s week-long Mental Health Evaluation Training (MHIT).
What kind of training does MHIT provide to officers?
The course is a 36-hour intensive that covers all aspects of mental illness and crisis intervention. The training includes role playing exercises in which clinicians from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health act out common scenarios that officers are likely to come across in the field.
Those role plays include talking a jumper off a ledge; dealing with a person suffering from active delusions and helping families deal with a loved one in crisis.
Another exercise teaches officers what it’s like for someone with paranoid delusions. One officer sits down while two people talk into each of his ears. While that’s happening, another person stands in front of the seated officer and gives him orders. The officer must then write down what he’s able to hear. The exercise is intended to show the police how hard it is for someone who might be hearing voices to follow their commands, and why many in the throes of delusions aren’t able to follow their orders.