FORMING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a plan for appointing members to a civilian oversight commission for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
The motion allows former law enforcement to serve on the nine-member panel, but only if they had been disengaged from the LASD (or other law enforcement agency) for at least a year.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who submitted the motion with Supe. Hilda Solis, defended the inclusion of former members of law enforcement, saying, “This is not about anti-law enforcement from my point of view, it is about pro-accountability of law enforcement. You want the best people to be part of causing that to happen, irrespective of their discipline.”
Supervisor Solis added that moving toward the creation of an oversight commission is a step toward better fiscal responsibility—better use of taxpayer money. “The County spends millions of taxpayer dollars settling lawsuits. That money could be spent on housing, services, or tax relief.”
You can read more about the decision on Supe. Ridley-Tomas’ website. Here’s a clip:
The motion also drew praise from Jose Osuna, director of external affairs at Homeboy Industries, which provides job training to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, allowing them to become contributing members of society.
“We are highly encouraged by the commitment that is demonstrated by this motion to improve relationships between law enforcement, government, and the community,” Mr. Osuna told the Board.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell expressed support for the motion, saying, “I welcome the opportunity to work with the Inspector General and to have the Civilian Oversight Commission to be able to validate the good that’s being done (by the Sheriff’s Department) on behalf of the public.”Since the Sheriff signed a memorandum of agreement last month to provide the Inspector General with unprecedented access to information, the Board will wait until May 31 before considering asking voters to give the Commission subpoena powers via Charter amendment.
Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA, supported the move. “I agree with the makers of the motion that it is worthwhile to allow the Sheriff to demonstrate that his voluntary agreement to share information with the Commission will be sufficient,” he told the Board. “[Afterwards], the Supervisors can consider what, if any, changes should be made involving subpoena power and changes to state law.
Under the motion, the five Supervisors would each appoint a Commissioner. The Board as a whole would appoint four other Commissioners from a pool of candidates recruited by a consultant.
LA TIMES EDITORIAL PRAISES LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK’S RECOMMENDATION FOR CHARGES IN OFFICER-KILLING OF HOMELESS MAN
An LA Times editorial lauds LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendation that a deputy be charged in the fatal shooting of a Venice homeless man as a rare and welcome change from what we have come to expect from the nation’s police chiefs. Here’s a clip:
To some, it may seem like an overtly political act. Some may suspect that Beck threw an officer under the bus to appease local activists and perhaps city officials in an effort to avoid the kind of uproar faced in Chicago and other cities where police officers have shot unarmed African Americans with seeming impunity. And who wouldn’t be suspicious? After all, this sort of recommendation isn’t made by police chiefs very often.
But maybe it should be done more often. Not the throwing under the bus part — obviously a police chief should base his decision on the facts and the evidence, and not on political pressure or public outcry. But the willingness of a chief to acknowledge that sometimes use of force is not justified even if a suspect was behaving badly is an important step forward. Historically, police chiefs in L.A. and elsewhere have been part of the cone of silence in cases of deadly use of force. No doubt the public outrage over police killings has made that stance more difficult.
The police union, however, is not at all thrilled with Beck’s decision to recommend charges. The LA Times Kate Mather has more on the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s statement, as well as a story about Beck’s responses to critics and outreach to his officers.
And the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has more on the fatal shooting of Brendan Glenn, an unarmed homeless man in Venice, and Chief Beck’s recommendation to charge Officer Clifford Proctor.
THE POTENTIAL TRAUMA OF CLOSED ADOPTIONS
After losing nearly all contact with her four nieces and nephews after their closed adoption—an process that has been traumatizing for all involved—17-year-old Jordain Rodriguez has stepped up to fight for children in the child welfare system. Rodriguez believes that regular contact with her nieces and nephews, whom she helped raise, would have been far more beneficial for the children, helping to reduce abandonment-related trauma.
The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
…at age 13, life abruptly changed for Rodriguez. She was taken from her parents by child protective services and placed in relative foster care with her grandmother. Not long afterward, her nieces and nephews entered the system as well.
She remains haunted by the experience, especially when social workers arrived to take away some of the children.
“It was the worst thing I have ever had to do,” Rodriguez said. “They didn’t want to go, and they were scared to go in the car with a stranger.”
About a year later, the children were placed with an adoptive family, and Rodriguez and other family members—including her parents, her brother, her boyfriend and both of her sisters—were allowed a final visit before the children disappeared into the adoptive system.
“We didn’t tell the kids it was the last visit, but you could tell they knew this was the last time,” she said. “They were all upset. You could just tell.
“After the visit, I was very mad that I couldn’t do anything to keep them with me and that I had no say so about what the parents decided. I started crying a lot. It just broke my heart to see them leave.”
During the process, she worked with the Real Family Project to create a video about her story and listened to the experiences of adults who had been adopted in childhood. Issues like grief, abandonment and identity development may often follow adoptees into adulthood, leading to unresolved trauma long after an adoption occurs.
“I didn’t think that the hurt would stay with them so long after the adoption,” Rodriguez said. “It opened my eyes. Without answers, kids are always going to wonder where their families are.”
Rodriguez is not content to let fate handle matters or wait until her nieces and nephews reach 18, when they’ll be able to access information about their biological family if they wish. In February, along with other CYC members, Rodriguez will make a visit to the state capitol in Sacramento, where she’ll present some of her research to legislators in support of a bill to better protect the rights of family members in the adoption process.
“In closed adoptions, [adoptive parents] have all the power,” Rodriguez said. “The biggest thing is not making this just about siblings. It needs to be about all of the biological family. If they’re a good influence on the kids and if they have good intentions, [the law] shouldn’t just let adoptive parents rip them away.”
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM LARGELY ABSENT FROM OBAMA’S STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH
Among the State of the Union guests seated next to Michelle Obama last night was Sue Ellen Allan, a woman who spent close to seven years in Arizona’s state prison for women. Once she was released in 2009, Allan fought to get back into the women’s prison to help the locked-up women with education services and employment training to disrupt the recidivism cycle. Sue Ellen’s non-profit re-entry program, Gina’s Team, is named after her cellmate who died while locked up.
Allan’s inclusion on the list of State of the Union guests is particularly noteworthy because while we hear often about initiatives and services meant to help imprisoned men, we rarely hear about women-specific programs and other efforts.
You can read more about Sue Ellen’s story over at Buzzfeed.
Also among the guests in the First Lady’s Box was Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who has become a national leader for community policing practices.
The White House also left an empty chair in the First Lady’s Box to represent the people killed by gun violence in the US each year.
Despite a handful of important criminal justice guests, the president only touched lightly on a couple of criminal justice topics. “I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse,” Obama said early on in his speech.
ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the social justice-related topics that Obama skipped, including gun violence.
Slate’s Leon Neyfakh has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
Besides the reference he made to the issue at the very beginning—in which he used justice reform as an example of a bipartisan effort he hopes Democrats and Republicans can work on together during the coming year—Obama brought up the criminal justice system just once, gesturing somewhat obliquely at the end of the speech to his belief that employers should not reject applicants based solely on their criminal record. (In a reference to the national debate over police use of force, he also gave a shoutout to “the protester determined to prove that justice matters” and “the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”)
While reform advocates might take solace in the fact that criminal justice came up mere seconds into Obama’s remarks, it still got barely any airtime. Some experts in the field are speculating that it’s a strategic move—that Obama doesn’t want to associate himself too closely with the ongoing efforts to push a criminal justice bill through Congress, lest it scare off Republicans who would rather not be seen supporting his agenda. There’s also an argument to be made that, given the federal government’s relatively limited ability to make a dent on what is fundamentally a state issue, it’s only appropriate that the president prioritize other topics.