SUPERVISORS VOTE YES ON EXPLORING OVERSIGHT COMMISSION FOR LA COUNTY PROBATION DEPARTMENT
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supes Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas to form a working group to look into establishing a civilian oversight commission for LA County Probation Department similar to that of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
The working group will report back to the board in 90 days with a plan for moving forward.
“This motion is an essential next step in ensuring that the County’s Probation Department is willing and able to provide services needed to support the new and innovative criminal justice policies being adopted at the County and state levels,” said Supervisor Kuehl, the motion’s primary author.
The Supes’ decision follows the release of a fiscal audit two weeks ago that found problematic spending (and non-spending) in the probation department. The largest red flag was an unspent $161 million that should have gone to much-needed rehabilitation and re-entry efforts for adults and kids.
Probation has also gone through a pile of probation chiefs in the last ten years.
The county’s most recent probation chief, Jerry Powers, was persuaded to resign after allegations surfaced that he was involved romantically with another probation employee, whom he hired, and who was inappropriately placed in charge of the department’s $820 million budget without any prior related experience.
Cal Remington, who took over as interim chief upon Jerry Powers’ exit, expressed his support of creating oversight. “The Probation Department is making a commitment to this Board and the public that we will become more transparent, and this is one way to do that. I’m looking forward to this period of study.”
Supe. Ridley-Thomas pointed out that the mission of probation—rehabilitation—has, in some ways, been forgotten. “The fundamental mission [of probation] is to engage in rehabilitation of the youngsters and, for that matter, the adults who are under the supervision of probation,” said Ridley-Thomas. “It is almost as if the language of rehabilitation is an afterthought, in many respects. And I would like to see us return to that fundamental mandate and mission.”
Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California, said the timing is right for a “bold” effort to reform probation in LA County as the state and the rest of the nation shift into a focus on rehabilitative reforms. “There’s a climate shift—a national climate shift, and a statewide climate shift—for the criminal justice and juvenile justice reform era,” said Johnson. Government agencies, advocates, community-based organizations, and the public at large already demonstrated care and commitment to coming together for reform.”
DOJ’S REVIEW OF SAN FRANCISCO POLICE WILL NOT FORCE REFORMS, ONLY SUGGEST THEM
Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice announced it would launch a review of the San Francisco Police Department following the controversial shooting of Mario Woods.
Normally, when the feds step in, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by forcing the re-training of officers and policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s demands.
But this time, the DOJ will be conducting the SFPD review via a Collaborative Reform Initiative run by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) that was used for the first time in 2011. This form of review, rather than forcing reforms upon an agency, makes recommendations and then leaves the rest up to city or county officials.
Frontline’s Sarah Childress has more on the collaborative review process, including where it has worked, and where it has failed. Here’s a clip:
The reform process doesn’t preclude federal officials from opening a pattern-or-practice investigation later on, if they deem it necessary, as they did in Baltimore last year.
In October 2014, the Justice Department began a review of the Baltimore police department amid residents’ complaints of police misconduct. But then in April 2015, after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, died in police custody, federal officials decided to open a pattern-or-practice investigation.
In explaining the decision at the time, Lynch told reporters that the collaborative review process needed support from the police and city officials, but also local residents. Community trust in the police had been “severed” in Baltimore, she said, and the issues facing the police department were “much more serious, and they were much more intense” than when the review process began.
Lynch said that federal officials would seek a court-enforceable agreement in Baltimore. The investigation there is still ongoing.
The Justice Department has had the ability to investigate departments since 1994, but the collaborative reform initiative only started in 2011. Just one department, the Las Vegas Metropolitan police, has completed the process so far, and data there suggests some progress.
LA CITY AND LA COUNTY: WHERE THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR TACKLING HOMELESSNESS LIES
The LA Times’ Robert Greene says LA County, rather than city, holds the largest share of culpability for—and obligation to reverse—LA’s homelessness crisis. Although in the past the supervisors have avoided the responsibility, the county’s current homelessness plan, which the board is expected to consider next week, looks promising. Here’s a clip:
Los Angeles County government handles jails, foster care, emergency rooms and, in large portions of the county, law enforcement. But the county — with its 100,000 employees, its $26.9-billion budget and its five-member Board of Supervisors — is almost unknown compared with the city, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council. The city gets the headlines for its emergency declarations and its promises of funding. The county is mistakenly seen as an obscure bystander.
Yes, the city of Los Angeles has an important role in meeting the homelessness challenge. City laws and police practices determine whether people living on streets and sidewalks will be arrested and whether their belongings will be confiscated. City leaders have to figure out how to meet the need for housing units, how to pay for them and how to overcome community resistance to new buildings and new neighbors who have histories of homelessness and, perhaps, mental illness or addiction.
The same is true for Long Beach, the next most populous city in Los Angeles County. And for Glendale, the next biggest after that. And for the next, and the next – Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Palmdale, Pomona and in fact each of the county’s other municipalities. Their local policing and land use ordinances have a direct bearing on the fate of people who live on the streets of each of those cities. Any solution to L.A.’s homelessness necessarily includes all 88 city halls.
But county government has by far the largest responsibility for homelessness and for solutions meant to address it. The county is on the supply side, because county institutions feed the streets and stoke the misery when they discharge people who have nowhere to go: Young adults who age out of foster care with no home and no income. Medical patients who are discharged from county hospitals. Inmates leaving jail. Patients leaving mental health clinics. And the county bears at least partial responsibility for people such as domestic violence victims who leave shelters but can’t go back home, and young sex trafficking victims who flee from their abusers.
Because it operates the jails, foster care and all those other institutions, it is the county as well that holds the key to ending much of the misery. County government is the chief provider of social services and has the obvious responsibility for people who are discharged to the streets. The county has the same responsibility that cities do to site and build affordable housing; but it also has the ability to craft solutions that require no new housing and little new money for people like the inmate returning from jail, wanting to get his kids back.
The county may lack the tools to deal with more systemic problems like poverty and inequity, both of which push people to the streets. But apart from the federal government, the county has the chief role in dealing with the fallout.
There are many ways the county can abdicate that responsibility, and it has tried most of them…
CA BILL TO HELP HOMELESS AND EXPLOITED KIDS
On Wednesday, Assemblymember Young Kim (R-Fullerton) announced a bill that would ramp up emergency services, including temporary housing, for California’s homeless and trafficked kids.
According to California Homeless Youth Project estimates, in 2014, over 298,000 kids in grades K-12 experienced homelessness at some point during the year.
Together the two programs only receive $1.3 million in state funding, which allows the programs to serve around 5,000 kids per year. Kim’s bill would increase that number by $25 million.
“The number of homeless youth in California is staggering. In my district alone, there are nearly 8,600 homeless public school children,” said Kim. “Current services for homeless youth aren’t getting the job done in providing them with the basic necessities like food, shelter, job training, and basic life skills. By providing them with our love and support while young, we can put our homeless youth on the road to successful careers and bright futures.”