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Violence Prevention

Head of LA Anti-Gang Dept. Resigns…Realignment, “Flash” Arrests, and the Battle Against Recidivism…and More

January 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Director of LA’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, Guillermo Cespedes—whose innovative gang violence reduction efforts were considered an integral element in the city’s crime decrease over his nearly four-and-a-half-year tenure, and in helping kids stay out of gangs altogether—will be resigning this Thursday. Cespedes will be taking a position at Creative Associates International, in the organization’s crime and violence prevention division for Honduras and El Salvador.

On Thursday’s Air Talk, Frank Stoltze (filling in for Larry Mantle) talks to Cespedes, along with LA City Councilman and Chair of Public Safety Committee, Joe Buscaino, and UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap, about Cespedes’ move, his legacy and what the future holds for gang intervention in LA.

Here are a few clips from the highlights:

[Cespedes] On why he is leaving his post as anti-gang czar:

“I think that for me this is a natural evolution of the work that we’ve done in LA. It’s sort of interesting that people are framing it as me leaving LA, rather than the work is evolving. To me it’s a logical next chapter.

“Most of this started back in 2011, I was called into an officer involved shooting in Rampar/Pico-Union, a 17-year-old got killed, he happened to be gang-involved. I’m giving the mother the news and about 14 members of his family. She says to me, ‘I need to call his father and give him the news’…It dawned on me that she was calling El Salvador. I went back to the office and said to the staff that our concept of a grid zone is much larger than what we think, and probably about three months later I made my first trip to El Salvador. The motivation for it was to connect the work that we’re doing here with I think very important work that is being done there and those two elements need to connect.


[Cespedes] On the basis of his programs to reduce gang violence:

Number one, you have to engage the people who are perpetrating the violence if you want to reduce violence. You cannot put up a lightbulb and hope that lighting up the neighborhood is going to reduce violence. You have to physically engage in an ethical way with the people who are perpetrating the violence. Number two, I believe we have to focus on behavior, not identity. We learned that from LAPD that blanketing a neighborhood based on a person’s identity backfired all through the ’70s, the ’80s and the ’90s. You have to look at specific behavior, who i perpetrating that behavior, not the entire neighborhood.

“Statistically, what we know from empirical data is little at 3 percent and as high as 15 percent of youth living in those marginalized communities…will likely become gang members… We used to think of dangerous neighborhoods, we used to think of youth violence, as if that came with the term, youth. I think if we look at data, this might not be the most violent generation of youth in decades, but yet youth violence seems to be like a first and last name… In LA we really had to break apart some assumptions, including what we think a family is.”


[Buscaino] We’re excited…to work with the new mayoral administration and expanding the success of the grid program, as well as working forward with the county, and improving coordination and communication amongst the departments…


[Jorja Leap] I do think there’s work to do… And I think we’ve got to look at reentry. We’ve got AB109—we’ve got prison realignment—and I think this is going to be a challenge…let’s celebrate the success, but let’s look to sustaining it. We need to stay the course.

(There’s a lot more, so be sure to go listen to the rest.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at WLA are fans of Cespesdes and are sorry to see him go—even though we know that LA’s loss will be Central America’s gain.


Since realignment began two years ago, and thousands of state prisoners were put under county oversight, LA County’s Probation Dept. has made considerable efforts to reduce recidivism. It has been no simple task.

One tactic the department has utilized, with mixed success, “flash” incarceration, allows probation officers to send supervision-violators to jail for up to ten days. Before realignment, probation-violators were usually sent back to state prison, which was expensive, mostly ineffective, and jammed the prison system.

So far, the new methods have had a small measurable success against rearrests, but the probation department has struggled to break the jail cycle. In December, nearly 20% of the realignment probationers had a current arrest warrant for absconding.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the story. Here are some clips:

Though hundreds of millions of dollars in increased state funding has been allocated to the county for the realignment program, local officials say it’s not enough to lock up, rehabilitate and keep track of the expanded population of criminals. Moreover, they contend that most of those the state indicated would be non-serious offenders have been assessed by local law enforcement officers to be high risks for committing new crimes.


Use of the new ["flash" incarceration] tactic in Los Angeles County jumped nearly 300% in the second year of realignment to 10,000 “flash” arrests, a county analysis shows. Nearly half of those ex-inmates were incarcerated two or more times, with one jailed 13 times.

About 60% of a group of 500 felons shifted to county supervision in the first year of realignment were arrested for new crimes or violating probation — slightly higher than the 56% recidivism rate for former state prisoners overall, according to data from county and state studies.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman with the state’s corrections department, noted that those statistics show a slight reduction in rearrests of former prison inmates. That is cause to be “cautiously optimistic” that the program will disrupt cycles of crime in the future, he said.

However, the figures also show more churning through the jail system among ex-prisoners like Azevedo. Since realignment began, the proportion of former state inmates arrested four or more times in the first year after their release increased from 7% to 12%.

That’s partly the result of an increasing reliance on flash jail stays. They are seen as a less costly and less severe option for getting nonviolent offenders off the street — and getting probationers to change their behavior — than longer sentences that exacerbate overcrowding in county jails.

Supporters of realignment say the mini-sentences appear to be working: Most felons jailed for the short terms haven’t been rearrested on similar violations. They also note that repeat offenders can be sentenced to three months in jail.


“If there’s anything we can do while they’re sitting in the county jail, a captive audience, to keep them from absconding when those gates are opened, we’re going to do it,” said county Probation Department Assistant Chief Margarita Perez, whose agency sought a lead role in realignment and is getting $80 million for the program this year.

Ultimately, prison reform advocates and state officials predict the new system will encourage alternatives to incarceration, allow offenders to be near their families and help them break drug habits and patterns of criminal behavior that return them to state prison.

So far, that hasn’t worked for Azevedo, 27, a self-described third-generation street gang member whose criminal history began when he was a child in the small northern Orange County city of Placentia…

After leaving Calipatria State Prison in April 2012, Azevedo ignored a requirement to report to an L.A. county probation officer and went back to the streets in Pacoima, where a girlfriend waited.

He was flash incarcerated six times and had his probation revoked four of those times. After each release from jail, he fled from county supervision…


KPCC’s Rina Palta has a worthwhile story about the finite value of juvenile camps and the new and welcome shift of focus toward youths’ reentry into the community. Here’s a clip:

L.A.’s Deputy Probation Chief Felicia Cotton says even when kids are successful in camp, once they go home, they often fall back to old behaviors.

“You’ll hear many people, and even parents that come to us and say, ‘hey take this kid and when we get him back, he’s going to be perfect,’” Cotton says. “Camp is not a cure-all.”

This belief – that camp is of limited value – is a cultural shift that’s growing inside L.A. County’s Probation Department. Now, Cotton says, camp is seen more as an intervention that momentarily plucks a kid from their ecosystem and tries to give them the skills to deal with whatever caused the behavior that led to detention.

“Because the real rehabilitation comes when they get in their natural ecology,” Cotton says.

Under a policy change being implemented over the past few months, more and more attention goes into planning for life back in the community. Each child leaving camp now has a team to plan his or her transition.


Downtown News named sheriff-hopeful Bob Olmsted in their top seven Los Angeles political figures to watch in 2014, saying that if Olmsted “raises enough cash and gains steam, he could topple the king [Sheriff Lee Baca].”

Read about Olmsted and the other expected movers and shakers of 2014 here, at the top of page two.

Posted in Gangs, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 4 Comments »

Brown Hopeful About Prison Negotiations…Crucial Justice Programs Denied Federal Funding…LAPD’s New Digital “Library of Homicide”…and More

November 20th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown sounded hopeful for the first time regarding coming to a potential agreement with California prisoners attorneys. Brown also again called for an extension on the state’s deadline for a workable plan that would persuade federal judges to grant a larger extension on the court-ordered prison population reduction. Part of that plan will require successful negotiations (months in the making) with inmate attorneys that have brought suit against the state over prison conditions.

(Brown was also to meet this week with all of California’s 33 wardens and a number of prison administrators to discuss prison conditions.)

The LA Times’ Anthony York has the story. Here are some clips:

As ordered by federal judges, the Brown administration has been in talks with attorneys for inmates whose lawsuits led the court to declare the prisons unconstitutionally crowded.

“I’m reasonably optimistic that we’re going to come to something that we can make work,” Brown said at a charity event in the capital.

The governor said the meetings, moderated by state appellate Judge Peter Siggins, have “been collaborative and informative.”

But he declined to provide details. The parties are under orders not to discuss specifics of the negotiations.

Lawyers for the prisoners declined to assess the progress of the talks.

“I really don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment at this point,” said Don Specter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, “though I’m glad to see that the governor is optimistic about it.”

The optimism is a shift for Brown, who had previously dismissed any suggestion that the two sides could reach an accord. He declared in September that he would not let inmates rewrite prison policies.


On Tuesday, the governor called for more time to comply with the court. He cited the recent problems with the new federal healthcare rollout as a reason to proceed with caution.

“When government embarks on major programs, it should do so with humility and caution and a lot of planning,” he said. “So whenever people say ‘Hey, we need 10,000 fewer people in prison, do something,’ I want to do that something very carefully.”


A new report from the Vera Institute found that between 2010 and 2013, federal funding decreased by 43% for such state and local criminal justice areas as law enforcement, juvenile justice programs, victim assistance, courts, and community-based strategies.

Here’s what some of those seeing the detrimental effects of the cuts have to say:

“When funded we have been able to reduce criminal recidivism by up to 50 percent by providing education, resources and social services intervention to persons returning to the community from custody. When cuts are made, these same persons are more likely to return to custody, which results in more substantial costs of incarceration, and families returning to social service assistance.”
— Manager in education and prevention in California

“Our federal [Byrne] JAG funds help to support our juvenile diversion program which has a 96 percent success rate. With the reduction in funds we will no longer be supporting this program with federal dollars. Over 80 children are served annually in this program.”
— Juvenile justice manager in Florida

“Our Behavioral Health Therapeutic Drug Court program recently completed a review of our success for recidivism. We found that, before Drug Court participation, defendants recidivated (new felony charges over a two-year period) at a rate of approximately 75 percent. After Drug Court participation, that rate decreased to 25 percent; for our graduates, the rate decreased to 11 percent. The costs savings can almost not even be computed, when one considers the impact for improving public safety and return- ing citizens to productive, tax-paying status. Without federal discretionary funds, our program (and others across the country) would have to be reduced or eliminated.”
— Manager in Washington state

“We’ve experienced a total loss of funding for a residential program serving juvenile males with sexual assault histories; those youths are now being served at residential treatment centers in other Texas communities, away from home and not in coordina- tion with local treatment providers. There has also been a loss of funding for First Offender Programming, which enables law enforcement to refer youth charged with minor crimes and their parents to an educational/skills-building program. Drug Court funding has also been severely decreased, pushing eligible youth further into the juvenile justice system without treatment.”
— Texas budget and administration manager in juvenile justice


The LAPD, through a helpful new partnership with the FBI, is digitizing thousands of cold case files into a homicide database that detectives can access instantly—instead of spending anywhere from hours to weeks searching through boxes of binders for information when victims’ loved ones have unanswered questions.

The LA Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz has the story. Here are some clips:

Adrian McFarland awoke in a panic. His brother had come to him again in a dream. In this one, McFarland walked into a bar and there his brother stood, flashing a toothy smile.

But Charles had been gone for nearly two decades, shot to death in Los Angeles when he was 27.

McFarland, younger by four years, knew little about the crime. The dreams, he thought, were a sign. After all these years, had anyone been caught?

A few days later, LAPD Det. Mark Hahn’s phone rang. McFarland was on the line from Monroe, La., with questions long unasked…

Usually, answers would have been hard to come by, especially for a case so old.

But this time, Hahn knew where to turn: to the detectives creating the Los Angeles Police Department’s first library of homicide…

A large lecture room serves as the homicide library’s headquarters. It’s lined with blue and black binders labeled with names and dates, and in the middle of the room files are neatly organized in rows. This is where Det. Teddy Hammond maintains a spreadsheet tracking the location of each file…

For two years, Hammond and several other detectives have organized the binders, getting them ready to be scanned. They’ve seen crime scene photos, Polaroids of witnesses, medical reports, notes scrawled on yellowing paper.

The task wasn’t feasible before because of a lack of resources, but this first-of-its-kind partnership with the FBI will place sought-after information a click away for detectives, who sometimes spend weeks tracking down a file’s location. When the database is complete, investigators will be able to search any aspect of a murder book, including license plate numbers and gang monikers.

First, the department plans to digitize more than 4,500 files from the southern part of the city — long the deadliest — between 1990 and 2010. Eventually, cases from the entire city will be included. Officials plan to open the doors to a brick-and-mortar library where families can go for answers and detectives can check out files.

“No case will be lost,” said Tom McMullen, a recently retired LAPD captain, who oversaw the group of detectives who handle the area covered in the database.

McMullen called the database a “one-stop shop” that will make it easier to piece together cases involving multiple murders, such as the Grim Sleeper serial killer.

(Go read the rest.)


On November 21 (Thursday) LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino and Californians for Safety and Justice will co-host an event on public safety and how to help individual victims of crime, as well as communities plagued by high crime rates.

Here’s more on the event:

Leading voices from the survivor community, service providers and elected officials will share insights on:

em>How survivors and communities can recover and be safe;
How to reduce repeat victimization, assess gaps in services;
Better understanding crime and closure rates of serious offenses; and
Exploring how a city and/or county task force could improve the use of resources and policies for survivors of crime.


Thursday, November 21, 2013, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium, 100 W. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Keynote Speaker: Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer

Speakers on the “What Survivors Need” panel:

Aqeela Sherrills, Survivor Outreach Strategist, Californians for Safety and Justice (moderator)
Adela Barajas, Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts
Stinson Brown, Los Angeles Police Department, Gang Intervention Liaison
Vickey Lindsey, Project Cry No More
Eve Sheedy, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Domestic Violence Policy

You can register here.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors postponed a vote on a contract for an adult electronic monitoring program (EMP) through Sentinel Offender Services, a company recently fired by Orange County. (Read more on the issue in the post below this one.)

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, National issues, prison, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Calif. Wellness 2013 Peace Prize Winners….& A 2008 Case of LA Jail Ultra-Violence Goes to Trial

October 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Every year the California Wellness Foundation chooses three Peace Prize winners who are honored at a celebratory dinner that kicks off the foundation’s yearly Violence Prevention Conference.

The three outstanding community leaders who received the prizes Thursday night at the Westin Gaslamp Quarter hotel in San Diego each had affecting personal stories to tell, all of which seemed to touch the crowd.

The first to speak was Lali Moheno, the daughter of a migrant farm worker mother who, Moheno said, quite literally “died in the fields” of complications of diabetes because she was not properly diagnosed and treated for the disease. Now Moheno runs a health awareness program in Tulare County, where she connects women farmworkers and their families with health care and mental health services, reaching around 1000 women. All of her work is done on a shoestring budget consisting mostly of locally gathered donations.

(Did I mention that each Peace Prize comes with a $25,000 check?)

Moheno talked about how every time she got together a group women to talk about diabetes and other health issues, the conversation always turned quickly to domestic violence and serious instances of sexual harassment on the job. Thus Moheno realized that a big part of her work would be to find ways to help these women combat the damage and trauma that the violence in their homes brought to them and their kids.

Although the other two winners each worked in different arenas, the theme of the interweave of trauma and violence was something that each brought up with a sense of urgency.

For instance, another winner, Tasha Williamson, is an ardent community peace advocate who runs an organization that provides help and emotional support for families in San Diego County who have lost loved ones to gang or gun violence.

As she explained her work, Williamson talked about her upbringing in a particularly violence-ridden area of South LA, where the gang violence was so intense that her mother didn’t allow her to go outdoors to play “until I was 10 years old.”

The real danger for Williamson, however, would come, not from the street, but from inside her family when she was sexually abused as a child by a family member.

She said that the trauma of that violence visited on her when she was a kid made her a “very angry teenager” who took to the streets with a vengeance, getting in fights whenever possible.

Williamson said she sees that same kind of anger in many of the kids whose actions cause such grief in the communities where she works.

(Incidentally, Williamson drew the biggest gasp of the night when she said how much the $25,000 award would mean in her life, since she was a single mom with four kids who “lived off $13,000 last year.”)

The third honoree, George Galvis, served time in prison before co-founding an organization in the Bay area called Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) which helps kids who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system.

Galvis too talked about how violence in the family can send a kid to the street.

“The cycles of violence are so profound,” he said, then explained he grew up in a home where life was routinely shattered by domestic violence. “Then I ended up perpetuating the violence on the street against boys who looked just like me,” he said, “all because of my anger at my father.”

More can be learned about the Peace Prize honorees here.

NOTE: Today’s conference will feature a keynote address by Michael Santos, who served 26 years as a federal prisoner, returning to society on August 12, 2013—60 days ago—bringing with him a remarkable story and a deeply felt sense of personal mission.

More on Santos soon.


The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte, is attending a civil trial having to do with a 2008 incident in Men’s Central Jail where multiple inmates were badly injured and the jail supervisor at the time, then-Lieutenent Dan Cruz, appears to celebrate the deputies’ agression.

Here are some clips. But be sure to read the whole hair-raising account of the Villacorte’s day in court.

Videos of inmates screaming in pain while being hit multiple times with a Taser. A sheriff’s deputy taking the stand to deny he used excessive force even while testifying he punched and kicked inmates as many as 35 times after they were already sprawled face down on their cells.

Those were just some of the highlights — or lowlights — of a trial underway at the downtown federal courthouse, as Los Angeles County and its Sheriff’s Department stand accused of subjecting inmates to “dehumanizing abuse” while “under the color of law” during a cell extraction on Aug. 25, 2008.

Five inmates — Heriberto Rodriguez, Carlos Flores, Erick Nunez, Juan Carlos Sanchez and Juan Trinidad — are suing for unspecified damages, saying they suffered skull fractures, broken limbs and other serious injuries after being “unmercifully beaten” by deputies at Men’s Central Jail.

In their complaint, they said about 15 to 30 inmates barricaded themselves inside their cells to protest the beating of a fellow inmate.

Deputies allegedly responded by subjecting them to “brutal and gratuitous force that was unnecessary for any legitimate penal interest and amounted to punishment.”

The violence took place three weeks after gang members killed a jail deputy, Juan Escalante, outside his home in Cypress Park….


…Deputy Nicholas Graham admitted during cross-examination that he punched and kicked inmates 17 to 35 times after they had been hit repeatedly with Tasers, and forced down to the floor.

Graham said both in his post-incident report and during cross-examination that the inmates were not fighting back.

But when plaintiff’s attorney James Muller asked if he used excessive force, Graham responded, “That’s incorrect.”

He also said, “Force is a prerogative.


In one of the videos, an inmate was hit with a Taser repeatedly even after he was heard screaming, “I give up!”

At one point, deputies laughed because Graham cursed after accidentally hitting himself with a Taser.

Another video showed Lt. Dan Cruz, a supervisor at the jail, appearing to give deputies high-fives after they walked out of the cells, carrying inmates who had been rendered unconscious.

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Violence Prevention | 5 Comments »

The Frightened Kid Who Writes Poetry & the Shooter….New CA Prison Hunger Strike Begins …& Crime As a Political Football

July 8th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

A few years ago, a veteran homicide detective from the Los Angeles Police Department talked to me about the aspect of his murder investigations that he found the most haunting.

“When I began this work,” he said, “I expected to find monsters. I’d think this time, this one, there’s definitely a monster behind this crime. But, most of the time I just found messed up people.” With kids, the detective said, the chasm between his expectations and the reality of the person he confronted when the arrest was made, was particularly stark. “Like with this kid,” he said, referring to the teenage defendant in a murder trial I was writing about at the time, a murder he had solved. “I look at him, and I think, ‘He’s just a scared kid. He could be one of my cousins, one of my nephews.’ And he killed somebody else’s kid.”

In her most recent column, the LA Times’ Sandy Banks writes about the confusing reality that the homicide cop talked about, and about a couple who had every reason to dismiss teenage killers as monsters, but who found that they could not.

Here’s a clip.

The child, shot to death a year ago, was a toddler in his father’s arms. The gang member who shot him was 15. He’d fired into a pack of strangers because someone had the wrong color on. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison in a courtroom heavy with outrage and grief.

The mother of the dead toddler sobbed through her tribute: “To us, he was perfect,” she said.

The killer, Donald Ray Dokins, now 16, slumped and stared at the floor.

The judge pronounced Dokins a hateful coward, “incapable of showing remorse.” But Dokins’ weeping family and friends offered a gentler rendition of the baby-faced, bespectacled teen. “He’s little in size and little inside,” Dokins’ teacher told the court.

A frightened kid who writes poetry and gets good grades in school. A gangbanger looking for someone to kill, pedaling a bike and packing a gun.

Can two such different boys reside in one teenager’s body? Is it possible to punish one of those versions and rehabilitate the other?

No doubt it would be less confusing if we could dismiss all teenage killers as monsters-–people so totally damaged that they cannot be redeemed.

The reality, however, is far more complicated, far more human.

And far more heartbreaking.


Two years ago this summer, in July and in Sept 2011, nearly 7000 of California inmates, spread over 9 different prisons, refused food in a hunger strike intended to protest the way that solitary confinement is being used in the state’s lockups.

Today, Monday, July 8, a new strike is set to begin.

In March, the CDCR issued a document containing revised policies regarding solitary confinement. Yet the strike leaders housed in Pelican Bay prison’s Special Housing Unit or SHU, along with human rights advocates like Amnesty International, which supports the strike, say that the revisions are not all that they claim to be, and that the CDCR officials have failed to make many of the most basic changes that the strikers called for two years ago.

Hence the new strike.

The strike’s organizers have presented 5 core demands (which you can find here)..

Some of the kinds of things they want are very simple, like, “Allow wall calendars,” and “allow watch caps,” and “allow SHU inmates adequate sunlight.” The more complex sticking points have to do with who is designated for the SHU and why, and how an inmate can earn his way out.

Reporter Michael Montgomery, who has become expert on the matter. So we are glad to note that, together with California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting, Montgomery and colleagues are running a week-long series on issues surrounding the strike. (We will, of course, link to the segments as they are posted.)

Amnesty International issued a statement on July 5 saying that, since the strike two years ago, conditions have not improved.

According to the California State authorities’ own figures, as of 2011 more than 500 prisoners have spent more than ten years in the isolation units at Pelican Bay State Prison and 78 have been in the SHU for 20 years or more.


Reporter Michael Montgomery’s first story in this week’s hunger strike series, is an affecting tale about the long-time ban against personal photographs for those in solitary confinement, which has left many families in the dark as to what their locked up father/son/brother/husband looks like after years in the Pelican Bay SHU.

Some quite literarly have never seen an image or heard the voice of a loved one for more than 20 years—all because of a long-unquestioned policy that some prison officials are now starting to see is neither humane nor necessary.

Montgomery tells about reactions as the ban cracks open just a little bit in the course of reviewing the hunger strike demands.

Here’s a clip:

…For years, prison staff defended the ban, contending that personal photographs were circulated by prison gang leaders as calling cards, both to advise other members that they’re still in charge and to pass on orders.

But after taking a closer look at the ban during a 2011 inmate hunger strike, top Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials determined it was not justified. Scott Kernan, who retired as undersecretary of corrections in 2011, said the stories of calling cards were isolated examples and the photo ban and other restrictions targeted inmates who were not breaking any rules.

“I think we were wrong, and I think (that) to this day,” he said. “How right is it to have an offender who is behaving … (and) to not be able to take a photo to send to his loved ones for 20 years?”

Kernan directed prison staff to ease the restrictions for inmates who were free of any disciplinary violations.


For some families, seeing an image of their incarcerated relative for the first time in years has sparked renewed hope and revived dormant family connections. For others, the photographs are a shocking reminder of the length of time some inmates have been held in isolation.

Read the rest here.


There appears to be a new schism forming among conservative politicians on the crime and punishment issue.

On one side, there is the Texas-based conservative group called Right on Crime, that, for the past few years, has been a leader in the national movement to impose common sense on what, for 30-years, was an incarceration-mad rush to apply punishment-heavy solutions to every public safety problem.

Enter Right on Crime, which saw that locking so many people up costs a LOT of money, and inevitably produces the worst kind of big, sprawling, top-heavy government structure that conservatives had long said they wanted to avoid.

With this thought in mind, the Right on Crime people were crucial in helping pass California’s Prop. 36, last year, which reformed the state’s Three Strikes law.

Now they are helping to push through some fundamental reform in the state of Oregon.

But despite Right on Crime’s successes, according to the AP, state politicians in both Colorado and California are reportedly contemplating using the law-and-order crime hysteria that worked so well in past decades to try to win some future elections.

Here’s a clip from the AP’s story by Nicholas Riccari

…Republicans say they have no shortage of issues to run on in Colorado. But one, they say, stands out for its potency.

“Crime, justice, law and order, public safety resonate in a more personal way than a chart and graph of GDP growth,” said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

In California, which has conducted the most ambitious criminal justice overhaul in the nation, Republicans are targeting Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats over the state’s policy that sends lower-level offenders to local jails rather than state prisons. The law went into full effect in late 2011, but already there have been several highly publicized cases of convicts released from prison committing crimes like rape and murder. The most prominent Republican to emerge as a possible challenger to Brown, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, in May launched a ballot campaign to reverse the prison overhaul.

Frank Zimring, a University of California-Berkeley law professor who has written widely on crime and politics, noted that crime rates appear to have leveled out after a two-decade decline. He called the recent GOP efforts “the test run as to whether there could be a resurgence in hard-right, punitive” crime politics.

We already see signs of a trial balloon with such politics in California where candidates and would-be candidates try to blame every high profile crime on AB109.

Interestingly, however, the Right on Crime movement—which refreshingly tends to favor facts over demagoguery—shows signs of working toward more and better reform in California, not dismantling what has been accomplished in the hope of grabbing short-term political gain.

Posted in CDCR, Gangs, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy, solitary, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Supremes & the Voting Rights Act…Kids Witnessing Violence…And More

February 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The U.S. Supreme court will hear arguments Wednesday about a particular part of the voting rights act that conservatives see as intrusive to state’s rights and liberals see a crucial to prevent state laws aimed at making it harder for minorities to vote.

Lawrence Hurley at Reuters explains the central issues that will be heard on Wednesday. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether to strike down a key provision of a federal law designed to protect minority voters.

During the one-hour oral argument, the nine justices will hear the claim made by officials from Shelby County, Alabama, that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed.

The key issue is whether Congress has the authority under the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, to require some states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change would not discriminate against minority voters.

Conservative activists and local officials in some jurisdictions covered by the provision have long complained about it, saying that it is an unacceptable infringement on state sovereignty.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation who formerly worked in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said that the “terrible history” that warranted Section 5′s intrusion on state authority was over.

Adam Liptak at the NY Times has a Q & A that lays out the basic facts of the Voting Rights Act, its history, its importance, and the heart of Wednesday’s question.


Author/journalist Alex Kotlowitz has written a must-read op ed for Sunday’s NY Times that I didn’t want you to miss.

Kotlowitz wrote the award-winning classic, There are No Children Here, and was one of the reporters on This American Life’s 2-part series on the affect of violence on the students of Harper High School in Chicago.

The Op Ed is about the effects that witnessing violence has on anybody, and in particular kids who live in high violence areas.

As he makes his point, Kotlowitz uses facts and figures from his home city of Chicago, where violent crime is way up right now. But the same principals he talks about certainly hold true in Los Angeles. Ditto Oakland, and so on.

Anyway, here’s a clip from Kotlowitz’s essay.

EVERY year, the Chicago Police Department issues a report with the macabre title “Chicago Murder Analysis.” It’s a short but eye-opening document. Do the calculations and you realize that in the past 15 years, 8,083 people have been killed, most of them in a concentrated part of the city. There’s one particularly startling revelation that gets little notice: in 2011, more than four-fifths of all murders happened in a public place, a park, an alleyway, on the street, in a restaurant or at a gas station.

When Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old public school student and band majorette who just a week earlier had performed at President Obama’s inauguration, was killed on Jan. 29, she was standing under an awning in a park with a dozen friends. They all saw or heard it when she was shot in the back. One of them, in fact, was wounded by the gunfire. Which brings me to what’s not in the “Chicago Murder Analysis”: Over the past 15 years, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, an estimated 36,000 people were shot and wounded. It’s a staggering number.

We report on the killers and the killed, but we ignore those who have been wounded or who have witnessed the shootings. What is the effect on individuals — especially kids — who have been privy to the violence in our cities’ streets?

I ask this somewhat rhetorically because in many ways we know the answer. We’ve seen what exposure to the brutality of war does to combat veterans. It can lead to outbursts of rage, an inability to sleep, flashbacks, a profound sense of being alone, a growing distrust of everyone around you, a heightened state of vigilance, a debilitating sense of guilt. In an interview I heard recently on the radio, the novelist and Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien talked about how the atrocities and nastiness of battle get in your bones. The same can be said for kids growing up in Hadiya’s neighborhood.

The ugliness and inexplicability of the violence in our cities comes to define you and everyone around you. With just one act of violence, the ground shifts beneath you, your knees buckle and all you can do is try the best you can to maintain your balance. But it’s hard.

There’s lots more, and I recommend reading the whole thing. But here’s one more clip from the end of Kotlow essay:

In the wake of Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting, we’ve talked about stiffer gun control laws, about better policing, about providing mentoring and after-school programs, all of which are essential. But missing from this conversation is any acknowledgment that the violence eats away at one’s soul — whether you’re a direct victim, a witness or, like Anita Stewart, simply a friend of the deceased. Most suffer silently. By themselves. Somewhere along the way, we need to focus on those left behind in our cities whose very character and sense of future have been altered by what they’ve experienced on the streets.


Early this past Saturday, around 30 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies and supervisors from Malibu/Lost Hills Station engaged in an “active school shooter” training on site at Topanga Elementary School in Topanga Canyon.

The LASD teams were joined by personnel from other agencies like the Malibu Search and Rescue Team, writes David Katz for the Malibu Times.

The training was part of the Sheriff’s Department’s ongoing efforts to prepare and train for events involving active shooter incidents at schools or other locations.

More than 30 officers and deputies cycled through several training scenarios involving armed shooting suspects with multiple adult and child victims.

Department sources say such exercises with “training scenarios’ are very valuable in fostering cooperation and communication between agencies likely to be called out, as well as giving officers practice in these high intensity emergencies and their specialized challenges.

(Full disclosure: Topanga Elementary where my son went to elementary school. I’m only sorry I wasn’t there on Saturday morning to observe.)

Photo of LBJ signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, by Yoichi Okamoto, courtesy of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library

Posted in campus violence, PTSD, race, race and class, racial justice, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

CA Prisons Letting Some Prisoners out of Solitary…..George Will on Solitary as Torture… Denver Schools Attempt to Break “School to Prison Pipeline”….

February 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

As more and more civil rights organizations and some lawmakers, push for a reexamination of prison policies that keep certain inmates
in solitary confinement for years, even decades, in October the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) revised its own policies regarding what can land an inmate in the SHU—or Special Housing Unit—which is solitary confinement. Since then it has been slowly letting some SHU inmates back into the general population.

Critics say the the revised policy doesn’t got nearly far enough.

Yet it’s a start.

The LA Times Paige St. John has more on this story.

Here’s a clip:

Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton this week said the agency has so far reviewed 144 inmates who were placed in the SHU because they allegedly associated with prison gangs, an activity that now no longer merits segregation. Of those reviewed, she said, 78 have been released into the general population and 52 have entered the “step down” program. An additional seven inmates have been retained in segregation, Thornton said, “for their safety,” and the remaining 10 have agreed to debrief, the term the corrections department uses for providing prison investigators information on gang activity.

Thornton said the department intends to eventually review all SHU inmates for possible release, though there are about 1,200 in segregation at Pelican Bay State Prison alone, some held there more than 20 years.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a federal lawsuit against the state contesting the indefinite stays, and Amnesty International last year released a report contending SHU conditions are inhumane.


Conservative columnist George Will writes a strongly worded column about why solitary confinement qualifies as torture.

Here’s how it opens:

“Zero Dark Thirty,” a nominee for Sunday’s Oscar for Best Picture, reignited debate about whether the waterboarding of terrorism suspects was torture. This practice, which ended in 2003, was used on only three suspects. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Noting that half of all prison suicides are committed by prisoners held in isolation, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has prompted an independent assessment of solitary confinement in federal prisons. State prisons are equally vulnerable to Eighth Amendment challenges concerning whether inmates are subjected to “substantial risk of serious harm.”

America, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of its prisoners. Mass incarceration, which means a perpetual crisis of prisoners re-entering society, has generated understanding of solitary confinement’s consequences when used as a long-term condition for an estimated 25,000 inmates in federal and state “supermax” prisons — and perhaps 80,000 others in isolation sections within regular prisons. Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel.

Federal law on torture prohibits conduct “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” And “severe” physical pain is not limited to “excruciating or agonizing” pain, or pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.” The severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.

Supermax prisons isolate inmates from social contact. Often prisoners are in their cells, sometimes smaller than 8 by 12 feet, 23 hours a day, released only for a shower or exercise in a small fenced-in outdoor space. Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds.

I was happy to note that Will references “Hellhole,” the excellent 2009 article New Yorker article by surgeon/writer Atul Gwande that explores whether or not solitary confinement is torture. (If you’ve not read it, I strongly, strongly recommend it.)


This article by Julianne Hing in Colorlines Magazine has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Already home to one of the most progressive school discipline policies in the country, Denver has set out to best even its own record. On Tuesday, Denver Public Schools and local and county police departments inked a five-year agreement specifically designed to limit student interaction with the juvenile justice system. The agreement offers a rare example of a school system that is bucking the national trend toward criminalizing student misbehavior.

Just two months after the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., and in a state that has had its share of mass shootings, the Denver pact comes at a pivotal point in the national debate on firearms and school security.

The school system had already articulated a commitment to minimizing police contact with its students. But because of a lingering zero-tolerance framework that required harsh and automatic penalties for student misbehavior, the 15 officers assigned to the city’s schools were functioning as disciplinarians, meting out suspensions, expulsions and tickets for minor infractions like chewing gum, fighting in the schoolyard and exposing their tattoos.

The new agreement—the result of a collaboration between law enforcement, school officials and a Denver-based community organization called Padres y Jovenes Unidos—turns the concept of minimal police contact into an official, districtwide policy.

“This is a historic collaboration between a school district, a police department and an organization [that] represents parents and young people of color who are most impacted by these policies,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group that partnered with Denver-based Padres y Jovenes Unidos to secure the agreement.

With the new agreement, police officers are now being directed to know and observe the difference between disciplinary issues and criminal acts. Law enforcement officials have agreed that they will only respond to serious offenses. The district will use restorative justice practices to address routine student misbehavior.

“It’s not, ‘You did something wrong, go home for five days and watch television,’ ” Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the Washington Post. “It’s, ‘What did you do wrong? Who did you harm? How are you going to make them whole, and what are you learning from this?’ ”


The Atlantic’s Ta-nehisi Coates has a very interesting discussion about trends in gun violence with the Chicago Crime Lab’s Harold Pollack.

Here’s a clip:

Like everyone, we at The Atlantic have spent the weeks since Newtown thinking about the role of guns in America. In our ongoing effort to broaden the conversation, I spent some time talking to Professor Harold Pollack, who co-directs the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago. Pollack is one of the foremost voices on gun violence from a public health perspective. Pollack and his colleagues at the Crime Lab have done yeoman’s work in helping us understand how guns end up on the streets of cities like Chicago, and how precisely they tend to be used.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Hi, Harold. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us over here at The Atlantic. We’ve had several off-line conversations which have been illuminating to me. I greatly appreciate your willingness to take some time to do this for the Horde, as we say on the blog.

Harold Pollack: It’s great to correspond with you, Ta-Nehisi, regarding what can actually be done to reduce gun violence. I’m a big fan of your work. I should mention by way of self-introduction that I am a public health researcher at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Here in Chicago, we have become the focus of much national attention because we had our 500th homicide [of the year in 2012]. We’re sometimes called the nation’s murder capital — though this mainly reflects the fact that we are a big city. We’re more dangerous than L.A. or New York, but we’re actually in the middle of the pack when it comes to homicide rates. Still, we’re dangerous enough. The declining homicide rates in many prosperous and middle-class neighborhoods casts a harsh light on the high rates facing African-American (and to a lesser-extent) Latino young men on the city’s south and west sides. Lots to talk about. I am looking forward to talking. So let’s get to it.

I don’t know if I’ve told you how I come to this issue, but I should say for everyone reading this that I am from Baltimore — the West Side, as we used to call it. I came of age in the late 1980s and early 90s, a period in which violence spiked in our cities. I don’t know if Chicago today is as bad as it was in, say, 1988, but this was a period of deep fear for everyone in the black communities of Baltimore. And the fear was everywhere.

It changed how we addressed our parents. It changed how we addressed each other. It changed our music. The violence put rules in place that often look strange to the rest of the country. For instance, the mask of hyper-machismo and invulnerability — the ice-grill, as we used to say — looks strange, until you’ve lived in a place where that mask is the only power you have to effect a modicum of safety.

I’m in my late 40s. I was a typical suburban kid graduating high school outside New York. It wasn’t as tough for me as it was on the west side of Baltimore, but crime certainly touched my life. On one occasion, I was in Washington Heights on my way to an AP class at Columbia University. A group of middle-school or early-high-school kids jumped me in the subway station, and they attempted to wrest away my watch. My high school sweetheart had just given it to me; I didn’t want to give it up. So a kid grabbed me by the hair and smashed my head against the concrete floor until I finally relented. As you know, my cousin was beaten to death by two teenage house burglars a few years later.

So I remember very well both the fear and the anger that accompanies one’s sense of physical vulnerability. Of course this anger often comes with a race/ethnic/class tinge that poisons so much of what we are trying to do in revitalizing urban America.

Read on.

Posted in Gangs, guns, prison, prison policy, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, torture, Uncategorized, Violence Prevention, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Five Months at Harper High School in Chicago—With 29 Kids Shot at & 8 Dead

February 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: WitnessLA is taking Monday off. We’ll be back to our regular reporting tomorrow.

In the meantime, we want to strongly recommend to you a completely extraordinary 2-part story produced by the public radio show, This American Life.

This 2-part series takes a look at the violence affecting Harper High School in Chicago where, during the last school year, 29 current and recent Harper students were shot. Twenty-one of those kids were wounded. Eight of them eight died.

“Watching this,” said the program’s host, Ira Glass, “it’s hard not to think that if you grafted these facts on to another high school, in a wealthier place, maybe a suburb…In other places that would be national news, right? We would all know the name of that school.”

But most of us have never heard of Harper.. Nor do we hear much about a similar kind of everyday violence that goes on in certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles. When we do hear about a shooting, it’s often labeled “gang-related,” the unstated implication being that the victim must have somehow deserved it, that what goes around comes around—unless, of course, the victim is specifically designated “innocent.”

This story of Harper High School drills down past those careless assumptions.

“For everything we’ve all heard about children and gun violence,” says Glass, “there are basic things we don’t hear so much about. Like what it’s like to live in neighborhoods that have to cope with so much bloodshed. This is a school that knows this problem in a way that most of us around the country don’t.”

The administrators at Harper (who seem, by the way, like unusually caring and level-headed educators) gave TAL’s three reporters remarkable access for a full semester, five months. When violence struck—as it does with some regularity—the reporters recorded the staff as they jumped into action. They recorded private and painfully difficult meetings with families and students.

The result is one of the most affecting and accurate pieces of journalism I’ve run across in a very long time.

I’ll have more to say after Part 2. But for now, just listen.

Back tomorrow with our regularly scheduled programming.

Posted in Education, Gangs, guns, juvenile justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention, Youth at Risk | 9 Comments »

Does Leaded Gas Cause Crime?……Yoga in Lock-Up….and the Cost/Benefit of Having Armed Guards in Schools

January 4th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Yes, it sounds loopy. But the seemingly whacked-out notion that there may be a cause-and-effect relationship beween the discontinued use of leaded gas and the dive—20 years later—in America’s crime rate, is a theory that is slowly gaining traction among serious researchers.

Even sober-minded law prof Doug Berman over at Sentencing, Law and Policy, calls Kevin Drum’s story about the relationship between lead and crime in the January/Fberuary issue of Mother Jones’ Magazine “the the first ‘must read’ of 2013 for crime and punishment fans.”

No single clip really does the story justice, so I recommend reading the entire thing. But here’re a couple of snippets that will give you at least a feeling for what Drum is on about:

….it’s not just New York that has seen a big drop in crime. In city after city, violent crime peaked in the early ’90s and then began a steady and spectacular decline. Washington, DC, didn’t have either Giuliani or Bratton, but its violent crime rate has dropped 58 percent since its peak. Dallas’ has fallen 70 percent. Newark: 74 percent. Los Angeles: 78 percent.

There must be more going on here than just a change in policing tactics in one city. But what?

THERE ARE, IT TURNS OUT, plenty of theories. When I started research for this story, I worked my way through a pair of thick criminology tomes. One chapter regaled me with the “exciting possibility” that it’s mostly a matter of economics: Crime goes down when the economy is booming and goes up when it’s in a slump. Unfortunately, the theory doesn’t seem to hold water—for example, crime rates have continued to drop recently despite our prolonged downturn.


…..More prisons might help control crime, more cops might help, and better policing might help. But the evidence is thin for any of these as the main cause. What are we missing?

Experts often suggest that crime resembles an epidemic. But what kind? Karl Smith, a professor of public economics and government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has a good rule of thumb for categorizing epidemics: If it spreads along lines of communication, he says, the cause is information. Think Bieber Fever. If it travels along major transportation routes, the cause is microbial. Think influenza. If it spreads out like a fan, the cause is an insect. Think malaria. But if it’s everywhere, all at once—as both the rise of crime in the ’60s and ’70s and the fall of crime in the ’90s seemed to be—the cause is a molecule.

A molecule? That sounds crazy. What molecule could be responsible for a steep and sudden decline in violent crime?

Well, here’s one possibility: Pb(CH2CH3)4.


The NY Times’ Mary Pilon has the story. Here’s a clip:

….The ancient art of yoga, a physical, spiritual and mental practice whose benefits have been promoted as improving relaxation, has found an unlikely home: prisons.

When many states have cut their wellness and education programs for inmates, citing cost and political pressure, some wardens looking for a low-cost, low-risk way for inmates to reflect on their crimes, improve their fitness and cope with the stress of overcrowded prison life are turning toward yoga.

The number of yoga programs is not officially tracked, but many wardens said they were interested in pursuing them. Typically programs start informally, a hodgepodge of volunteer efforts by instructors and correctional facilities. At least 20 prisons now offer yoga through the Prison Yoga Project, a program that began in California 12 years ago when its founder, James Fox, began teaching yoga to at-risk youth. Mr. Fox holds trainings for yoga teachers and said he has sent more than 7,000 copies of his manual to inmates to practice yoga on their own.

States’ spending on corrections has quadrupled during the past two decades, to $52 billion a year, according to a 2011 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Despite a focus on rehabilitation and deterrence of future crimes, however, roughly 4 in 10 adult American offenders return to prison within three years of their release, the report found.

“Any program that gives an inmate a chance to reflect is going to have positive benefits,” said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which has expanded yoga offerings to most of its 33 adult prisons.

“What we’re trying to do with any program is get is get inmates to think about how responsible they are for the crime they’ve committed and the consequences.”


Approximately one third of the nation’s public schools have armed security staff on campus.

In an Op Ed for the San Diego Union, Barbara Raymond, director of schools & neighborhoods policy for The California Endowment, looks at whether armed guards really make schools safer.

Here’s a clip:

In the 2009-10 school year, about one-third of all public schools had armed security staff. These are typically sworn officers who are part of local police or sheriff’s departments. Additionally, many large school districts operate their own police departments, with the Los Angeles Unified School District having the largest force in the nation with more than 350 officers.

Despite the growing number of school police, research does not support the thesis that an armed presence improves school safety. What is proven, however, is that more police on campus means more young people are sent into the justice system. Police are not typically trained in youth development, child psychology, or how to best respond to youth misconduct, which sometimes leads to an escalation of conflict and charges filed for misbehavior that used to be handled by the school. One study found that campuses with school resource officers had nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without an officer, even when accounting for school poverty. And in Los Angeles in the last three years, school police issued 33,000 tickets to young people that required them to go to court – with 40 percent of those tickets going to kids younger than 14.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, prison, prison policy, Violence Prevention, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 22 Comments »

BIg Mike Gets Wellness Foundation’s Peace Prize, the LA Weekly Profiles Baca…and More

December 13th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Last night, Michael “Big Mike” Cummings was one of the three winners of the California Wellness Foundation’s 2012 Peace Prize, (and the only winner from So Cal).

A mountain of a man with a commanding presence, a grand heart, and excellent sartorial taste in (very large) suits, Big Mike is a former Grape Street Crip turned paster who now runs his own tow-truck service, and is the founder of such community projects as Project Fatherhood, a remarkable program in Watts where, together with my pal UCLA’s Dr. Jorja Leap, he helps troubled men find themselves through becoming better fathers and, in so doing, help their communities.

Congratulations to the incomparable Big Mike Cummings.

[I'll be at the Wellness Foundation's Violence Prevention Conference all day Thursday, but will return with news and bulletins.)


The Weekly's Gene Maddeus has a long, must-read story on Sheriff Lee Baca and his Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Here's a representative clip:

....The jails are just one symptom of a more general decline affecting the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Discipline is lax. Revelations of cronyism are routine. Investigators and plaintiffs' lawyers are combing through every facet of the department's operations.

"It troubles me deeply to see the reputation of the department where it is now," says William T. Sams, a retired sheriff's chief. "It's a pariah in a lot of ways."

Two men bear the greatest responsibility for the department's low standing: Leroy D. Baca and his undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

Baca is a nice guy. Even his critics tend to begin by saying, "I like the man." Now 70, he has always been quiet, introverted and a little strange. When he was first elected sheriff, in 1998, supporters hailed him as a Zen mastermind. He was overflowing with ideas about how to make policing more humane.

Detractors called him a social worker with a badge, or Sheriff Moonbeam. But progressives adored him, and so did voters. Scandals that would have scarred others' reputations glanced off him. He got another nickname: the Teflon Sheriff.

But Baca was beset by insecurities and self-doubt, which made it hard for him to see his own flaws clearly, much less confront them. He seemed to resolve his self-doubts by banishing them, closing himself off from anything that might disturb his sunny aura.

Early in Baca's tenure, his deputies learned not to express reservations about his ideas — no matter how impractical they were. Eventually, the doubters retired. "Lee has surrounded himself with people who are going to say yes to everything he says," Al Scaduto, a retired chief, says.

Tanaka has become his most trusted aide. In many ways the men are opposites. Tanaka is an accountant, good with details. He's also a cop's cop — aggressive and wary. Unlike Baca, his critics do not claim to like him. In their telling, he's a full-metal asshole, a shouter, a "little Napoleon."


Barbara Leonard of the Courthouse News Service has the story about this case. Here're some clips:

The 9th Circuit voted to rehear claims that Burbank, Calif., retaliated against a detective who blew the whistle on abusive interrogation tactics in the department.

Angelo Dahlia claimed that he saw a fellow detective in the Burbank Police Department
stick a gun in the face of a suspect, while squeezing the man's throat and saying, "How does it feel to have a gun in your face, motherfucker?"

Dahlia said he heard yelling and the sound of people being hit as the detective continued to interview suspects.

He said he told Burbank Police Lt. John Murphy that "things were getting out of hand, the interviews were getting too physical, and too many people were doing their own thing and were out of control."

But Murphy allegedly told Dahlia to "stop his sniveling," and the beatings continued.


Dahlia said he disclosed his colleagues’ abusive interrogation tactics in a May 2009 interview by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Four days later, Burbank Police Chief Tim Stehr allegedly placed Dahlia on administrative leave.

Posted in Gangs, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized, Violence Prevention | 39 Comments »

1st Annual LA Gang Violence Prevention and Intervention Conference, May 21/22.

May 18th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

<—-Click to en-biggen

An important 2-day conference to discuss effective and innovative community-based programs
aimed at reducing gang violence in Los Angeles, takes place next Monday and Tuesday, May 21 and 22.

The event, sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, Hospitals Against Violence Empowering Neighborhoods and Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations will bring together gang interventionists, prevention experts, researchers, elected officials, and policymakers (plus a few journalists, like myself.)

The two days include a list of hot shot keynote speakers who include Father Greg Boyle, Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith (Harvard School of Public Health, U.N.I.T.Y.), Connie Rice—and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,

Plus the schedule is loaded with excellent panels and stellar panelists.

I’ll be reporting from the conference both days. (So if you come by, say hello.)

Here’s the rest of the salient info:

Los Angeles Gang Violence Prevention & Intervention Conference
MAY 21 & 22, 20128:30 AM-5:00 PM
1000 N. Alameda St. Los Angeles, CA 90012

Cost: $150

(NOTE: The event is full, I’m told, but you may email Kristin Bray at if you would like to be added to the waiting list.)

Posted in American artists, Gangs, Public Health, Violence Prevention | 1 Comment »

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