New Program to Help Kids Get to School Safely, Bill to Defer Sentencing on Certain Misdemeanors, No Nationwide Data on Police Shootings, and Celebrating Successful Family ReunificationsSeptember 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
CITY ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO REDUCE TRUANCY BY HELPING KIDS GET TO SCHOOL SAFELY
Earlier this week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced an extensive new LAUSD pilot program to combat truancy by ensuring kids have “safe passage” to school.
Often, kids in high-violence neighborhoods don’t feel safe getting to school, so they just don’t go. The Neighborhood School Safety Program (NSSP), launching at four middle schools across the district, will create a “neighborhood school safety attorney” for each school. These attorneys will collaborate with parents and LAUSD administrators to keep kids safe by reducing gun violence and negative environmental factors. A number of parents from each school will also be trained to keep students safe on their walks to and from school.
The San Fernando Valley Post-Periodical’s Matt Thacker has more on the program. Here’s a clip:
A designated “neighborhood school safety attorney” will work with parents and Los Angeles Unified School District administrators to develop plans for improving safety for children who walk to school, reducing truancy, preventing gun violence and reducing environmental threats near schools.
One component of the program includes “safe passage to schools” – a partnership between the City Attorney’s Office, Casa Esperanza and school administrators. Feuer said they are recruiting and training 15 Vista parents to make sure children make it to and from school safely.
A number of other programs have been implemented, including the City Attorney’s Truancy Prevention Program which combats truancy through educational letters, parent and community meetings and enforcement hearings.
“Kids need to know they can be safe in school so they will go to school,” Feuer said. “School truancy issues are very important to all of us. We need our kids to stay in school.”
The neighborhood school safety attorney also organizes a “parent safety cadre” which educates parents how to address safety issues near schools. Following a recent meeting on tobacco enforcement, a parent contacted a local store which was selling e-cigarettes to minors, and the store’s owners agreed to stop the illegal practice immediately, according to Feuer.
A gun violence prevention coordinator will work with the Los Angeles Police Department to check that people who live near the schools and are not allowed to own or possess guns do not have firearms or ammunition. A multi-agency task force called “Los Angeles Strategy Against Violent Environments near Schools” began conducting compliance checks on parolees, probationers and registered sex offenders who reside near schools. On Aug. 12, nine felony arrests were made in an operation near Vista, while five children were removed from unsafe environments.
BILL WOULD ALLOW JUDGES TO GIVE SECOND CHANCES ON FIRST-TIME MISDEMEANOR OFFENSES
A new pilot program awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2124, would give judges the ability to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed. The defendant would have a year to complete restitution, participate in any required programs, and fulfill any other conditions. If the defendant meets all requirements, they will walk away free of a criminal conviction.
An LA Times editorial urges the governor to sign this smart piece of legislation. Here’s a clip:
Many people convicted of misdemeanors are sentenced directly to probation, especially in counties such as Los Angeles, where jails are crowded and cells are generally held for the most serious criminals. For the offenders, that means they don’t have to lose their jobs or school placements while they sit in jail. But they still end up with criminal records that could hinder their full reintegration into society as law-abiding members.
Some states have recognized that they can do even better by putting probation on the front end. The defendant pleads guilty and complies with various conditions, including monetary restitution, and the judge can opt not to enter the plea or the conviction. At the end of the year, presuming the offender has made amends, he or she is on a better track and winds up with no criminal conviction. If the conditions aren’t met, the conviction is entered and the offender is sentenced.
Hawaii has had a great deal of success with a version of the program. Virginia has its own twist, with some good results.
So how about California? Lawmakers here have slowly — very slowly — come to realize that we convict and lock up too many people for less serious crimes and in so doing put people on a path that limits their chances to move on with a crime-free life.
WHERE’S THE NATIONAL DATA ON OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING NUMBERS?
The federal government does not have keep a comprehensive record of the number of fatal (and non-fatal) shootings by law enforcement officers. Instead, the Department of Justice lets police agencies “self-report” officer-involved shootings. Advocates say the uncollected data keeps law enforcement agencies from creating better policies and practices to lower the number of avoidable deaths.
The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery has more on the issue. Here are some clips:
Police unions and some law-and-order conservatives insist that shootings by officers are rare and even more rarely unjustified. Civil rights groups and some on the left have just as quickly prescribed racial motives to the shootings, declaring that black and brown men are being “executed” by officers.
And, like all previous incarnations of the clash over police force, the debate remains absent access to a crucial, fundamental fact.
Criminal justice experts note that, while the federal government and national research groups keep scads of data and statistics— on topics ranging from how many people were victims of unprovoked shark attacks (53 in 2013) to the number of hogs and pigs living on farms in the U.S. (upwards of 64,000,000 according to 2010 numbers) — there is no reliable national data on how many people are shot by police officers each year.
The government does, however, keep a database of how many officers are killed in the line of duty. In 2012, the most recent year for which FBI data is available, it was 48 – 44 of them killed with firearms.
But how many people in the United States were shot, or killed, by law enforcement officers during that year? No one knows.
Officials with the Justice Department keep no comprehensive database or record of police shootings, instead allowing the nation’s more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies to self-report officer-involved shootings as part of the FBI’s annual data on “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement.
That number – which only includes self-reported information from about 750 law enforcement agencies – hovers around 400 “justifiable homicides” by police officers each year. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics also tracks “arrest-related deaths.” But the department stopped releasing those numbers after 2009, because, like the FBI data, they were widely regarded as unreliable.
Law enforcement watchdog groups and think tanks say that the lack of comprehensive data on police shootings hampers the ability of departments to develop best practices and cut down on unnecessary shootings.
DCFS HONORS PARENTS WHO TURNED THEIR LIVES AROUND TO GET THEIR KIDS BACK
The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services has faced intense scrutiny since the horrific and preventable death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. But the department does have triumphs, including many successful and safe family reunifications.
On Tuesday, DCFS held its fifth annual Family Reunification Heroes ceremony to celebrate reunited families and honor the parents who turned their lives around to win their children back.
LA Daily News’ David Montero has the story. Here’s how it opens:
On a clear night four years ago, Angel Ramirez got ready to sleep in a parking lot again. Homeless, strung out from years of heroin use, he thought this — after years of hitting bottom — was, in fact, rock-bottom.
He was alone. Broke and broken. His sister didn’t talk to him anymore, his children hardly knew him sober, and the weight of shame he carried on that patch of hard asphalt in East Los Angeles seemed to prove it was the lowest point in his life.
Ramirez said he just looked up into the dark sky and cried out.
The memory was fresh Tuesday when he recalled the gang ties, the jail time and the hopelessness. He stood up — sober since 2010 — and thanked Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials who helped him start to get his life back.
And his children back.
Ramirez, 49, of Los Angeles, joined three other parents honored at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting as DCFS officials marked the fifth annual celebration called Family Reunification Heroes. Each parent, who had been chosen from a board member’s district, received a scroll and a picture with a board member.