LA County Probation just released some new figures showing that the number of its employees who have been arrested in the past year is far lower than those arrested in 2011 or 2012. Specifically, there were 56.7 fewer arrested in 2013 than in 2011, a 27.2 percent drop over 2012.
This is heartening news.
When Chief Jerry Powers took over as head of the troubled department in December 2011, employee misconduct, and in some cases, out and out criminality, was occurring with depressing frequency, with often little in the way of consequences.
Powers made reversing that trend one of his primary goals. Now it appears that he and the department are making measurable headway.
ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES (FINALLY)
According to Assistant Chief Don Meyer, who oversees Juvenile Institutions and Administrative Operations for the department, there are number of changes in policy that have helped.
“A fifty-seven percent drop in arrests didn’t just accidentally happen,” he said. “I think, for example, it helped that Chief Powers put the word out that employee conduct was a high priority.”
For one thing, said Meyer, they upped the discipline meted out, “It used to be you’d go out on paid leave, while your case was being investigated. Now in many instances it’s unpaid. And it used to be a minimum of three days of suspension on things like a DUI,” he continued. “Now it’s a minimum of fifteen days.”
Not unsurprisingly, the changes in policy began to act as a deterrent, agreed Dave Grkinich, who is the head of the agency’s Internal Affairs unit. “I think the message got out that a criminal arrest is not going to be helpful in their career.”
One would think that message would be implicit.
For some, it wasn’t, said Meyers and Grkinich.
For example, in the past, they said, misconduct had little or no effect on whether an employee got a promotion or not.
“There wasn’t much of a review done for that sort of thing in the past,” said Grkinich.
LYING & STEALING R BAD
The laxity of the past was so extreme, in fact, that Chief Powers decided he needed reestablish the most basic of ethical guidelines. Thus, in November of 2012, he spoke to all the employees via video to make clear that lying and stealing and the like would not be tolerated. Then again, last March he put out a short and pithy “Honesty Directive,” that reiterated the message.
[WLA reported on the Honesty Directive here.]
The video and the directive irritated many in probation, who felt it was condescending. But it made the point, said Meyer.
It has also helped that Powers got a sign off from the Board of Supervisors to hire more Internal Affairs investigators and lawyers, to make sure that allegations of staff misconduct were investigated quickly and efficiently. In past years, cases were allowed to languish uninvestigated, in frightening numbers, until the deadline for action had passed.
Another change, said the men, is that when an employee is arrested, even if he or she is not charged by the district’s office, it does not mean probation won’t institute it’s own discipline if it believes it is merited.
“For example recently had an employee who shot a citizen outside a bar,” said Meyer “And while there was no doubt that it happened, the DA declined to prosecute for a variety of reasons.” But probation conducted its own investigation. “And we’re going to discharge the man.”
“We’re no longer trying to hide our dirty laundry,” said Grkinich. “We’re setting the bar high. And I think the majority of the employees are really good employees, honest and hardworking. But if people aren’t suited to be here,” he said, “we want to get them out.”