Los Angeles County’s Office of Independent Review (OIR), released its annual report on the LA’s Probation Department and, while the report points to progress made in the last year, overall the news is not cheering.
The report notes that in the reporting period, probation officers—the bulk of them sworn law officers—have been accused of hurting scores and scores of kids who are in the county’s charge. (Probation houses approximately 2300 kids in either the department’s 15 juvenile probation camps or its 3 juvenile halls.)
Christina Villacorte of the Daily News has this:
Cynthia Hernandez, an attorney with the OIR, said the agency looked at 303 disciplinary cases against probation officers in 2011, and the vast majority of them involved allegations of using excessive force on juveniles.
The report further notes that many of the cases are never resolved due to delays in departmental investigations, failure to preserve evidence, and other missteps. Even with serious accusations, kids often recant, noted the report. Yet when they do, staff rarely seems adequately probe the reasons why, or to examine if the kid has been subject to intimidation.
As the report notes:
When a minor recants serious accusations about staff, this should be an occasion for increased caution and scrutiny. This has not been the rule, however. Interviews of recanting minors have tended to be extremely short and cursory.
While the report remarks on areas of improvement the problems remaining—especially in the camps— are both daunting and perplexing in their implications. There is, for example, the matter of the video cameras: For some years now, the department has been mandated to install cameras in its ten probation camps and its juvenile halls. Yet, somehow the job has not gotten done adequately, as the report makes clear:
Currently, only a fraction of the institutions from which alleged child abuse incidents arise are equipped with any video surveillance cameras. In the institutions that have them, the cameras are often unreliable, poorly maintained or store video in a difficult-to-copy format that slows down investigations.
In many other use of force/child abuse cases, where there is no video because the area of the facility in question or the entire facility has no cameras….
Unhappily, these issues linger uncorrected despite the fact that U.S. Department of Justice has also been pushing for reform in the the department’s juvenile facilities.
As KPCC’s Franks Stoltze reports:
Since 2008, the United States Justice Department has also been examining the Probation Department. In December, federal officials said the department had made “great strides” but failed to comply with more than a dozen reforms, including identifying and treating minors with mental health problems.
Federal officials have left open the possibility of seeking a court oversight of the department, similar to the oversight over the LAPD ordered by a judge in the wake of the Rodney King beating and Rampart scandal.
Stoltze also points to these facts:
The OIR report also said probation faces an “extraordinary rate of employees who cannot return to work or are working with restrictions.”
Nearly 400 of the agency’s 5,630 employees are on some type of medical leave, the report said. “Another 353 employees are … on modified duty.”
The Probation Department’s problems are costing L.A. County money, the report said. In fiscal year 2010-2011, it was the subject of 56 new liability claims, and the county paid out nearly $4 million on claims and lawsuits.
Added to all this, in the last year, the County fired 14 employees for serious misconduct.
Anyway, there’s more. You can peruse all 59 pages for yourself by clicking here.