LA IS NUMBER ONE!
While we await the final report by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence-–the CCJV—which is due to be presented to the public on Sept. 28 (but could be delayed until Oct. 5), Sheriff Lee Baca has been attempting to get ahead of the story with a series of appearances, interviews and the like during which he has pronounced LASD’S jail violence problems as all but solved and the department’s force policies and practices as exemplary.
“All of the dynamics in the jail are fully understood, fully addressed and force is at an all time low,” Sheriff Baca told the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
“We’re the best in the nation,” the sheriff continued, “and that includes Riker’s Island and Cook County, which others like to say are better models. But in fact they’re coming to us asking more about what we’re doing to improve the situation.”
It is probably relevant to mention here that, in the course of their investigations, commission staffers visited both Illinois’ Cook County’s jail system and New York’s Rikers Island jail complex, and consulted with both facilities’ directors and their staffs. In fact, two of the best known former heads of the NYC Department of Corrections—Marty Horn and Michael Jacobson—came to LA to testify before the jails commission about their own extensive collective experiences with corrections policy and what they observed about LA’s system. They were not particularly complimentary.
Ditto Matthew Cate, the head of the California Department of Corrections.
On Friday, the sheriff will appear on KPFK radio at 3 p.m. to talk with Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s show about the jails issue on The Hutchinson Report.
If the past is any guide, Hutchinson will discuss hard topics, but will not truly challenge the sheriff.
Or, as one LASD source said of the interview, “He’s going to the trenches and connecting with his community base.”
However, in contrast, neither the sheriff nor his spokesman Steve Whitmore were available to spend 15 minutes talking about the same issues with Warren Olney on Which Way LA? on Sept.10 on KCRW. (Warren is the most respectful of pros, but he does not let guests wriggle easily off hooks.)
And then, of course, there was Baca’s Op Ed in the LA Times last week in which he wrote:
When the American Civil Liberties Union first raised allegations of excessive force being used by deputies, I launched a full-scale investigation into each and every one. Because allegations and anecdotes are not the same as facts, it was important to discover what was true, and I think that when these investigations are completed, which I believe will be soon, the public will be surprised by the factual findings.
But I have not waited for the results of that investigation to take action to improve the jails. After I heard about the excessive force allegations, one of my first steps was to meet with more than 100 inmates and listen to their concerns……
“I LAUNCHED A FULL INVESTIGATION INTO EACH AND EVERY ONE”
Um, yeah. About Baca’s “full-scale investigation” into the allegations made in the various ACLU reports.
Let’s see, in September 2011, in reply to what was then the newest ACLU report detailing abuse in the jails (not to mention a plethora of negative media reports and a widening investigation by the FBI) the Daily Breeze reported the following about the sheriff’s opinion of the allegations:
Baca held a news conference following the release of a scathing report by the American Civil Liberties Union that he and his top commanders are willfully indifferent to claims that deputies viciously assault inmates on a routine basis.
“That is a very false allegation,” Baca said. “There are no gangs in the Sheriff’s Department working custody.”
And in reaction to that same ACLU report, the sheriff told the LA Times this:
“If an investigation reveals excessive force, that employee is discharged. The LASD is never hesitant to discipline itself,” Baca said, defending his department. “Investigating the facts is what gets the truth, That is what we do.”
Then the year before, in reaction to the ACLU’s 2010 report detailing allegations of a culture of violence, abuse and intimidation by deputies in the jails, Steve Whitmore told the Daily News:
“We believe that is not true,” Whitmore said.
“But don’t believe us. Go to the Office of Independent Review. The deputy sheriffs do not have that culture. All the complaints we get are thoroughly investigated, not only by the Sheriff’s Department, but are overseen by the OIR.”
And so on.
There are gobs of similarly colorful denials and dismissals of the ACLU’s yearly findings by the sheriff and/or his spokesperson, where those came from.
THIS IS NOT TO SAY THERE AREN’T IMPROVEMENTS
Let us also give credit where credit is due: Force is down the Men’s Central Jail and elsewhere in the county system. Plus the education based incarceration program that the sheriff is championing is truly an enlightened and important idea in incarceration policy.
In fact, the department will hold its next graduation for its jail-based “MERIT program—MERIT being short for “Maximizing Education, Reaching Individual Transformation”—this coming Thursday morning, September 20.
I hear they are very emotionally affecting occasions that mean a great deal to the inmates who take part. (Were I not in West Glacier, MT, I’d assuredly be there.)
But these essentially surface changes do not address the underlying culture of violence, abuse and us-versus-them mentality that the commissions’ investigators said infected the jails to a highly toxic degree and begin at very high levels in the department.
AND SO….WE WAIT FOR THE REPORT
Which brings us, again back to the commission and its looming report. If the CCJV follows the lead that has been set by the very bluntly stated findings of its investigators, presented on Sept. 7 (see WLA report), it will ask for some fairly large changes from the sheriff and his department—including some changes at the top.
If so, what will the sheriff do then? Will he thank everyone very much for their time and effort, and continue to say he’s got it all handled, that there’s nothing to see here, folks?
Regrettably, that is precisely what his performances this week and last would suggest.
But perhaps Lee Baca will surprise us. Perhaps he will genuinely become the transformational leader he has presented himself to be all these years.
As Jake said to Brett in the last line of The Sun Also Rises: Isn’t it pretty to think so?
(If you’d like to check out the sheriff’s conversation with the Supes, it begins on page 78 of the preliminary transcript of Tuesday’s meeting linked below.)
AND IN NON-LASD NEWS…..LA COUNTY PROBATION EXECUTIVE (AND FORMER STATE ASSEMBLYMAN), CARL WASHINGTON, ARRESTED FOR BANK FRAUD
We’ll be writing a lot more about LA County Probation this fall, but we cannot let this story pass about the arrest of Probation exec Carl Washington. It is covered well by Christina Villacort at the Daily News.
Here’s one small-but-startling clip from her story:
Washington is the 39th Probation employee arrested so far this year and he will not be the last, according to Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers.
About half of the previous arrests were for driving under the influence.
There was one for attempted murder, and several for fraud and drug-related charges, most of which were allegedly committed while off duty.
“That’s about one arrest a week,” said Powers, who began running the department in January. “Certainly, 39 is way beyond reasonable or expected.”
That number is expected to go even higher, as Probation and the county Chief Executive Office have launched a crackdown on workers compensation fraud in the department.
The arrest numbers are, of course, slack-jaw-making. But the crackdown by Probation Chief Powers is good news. It’s about freaking time.
PS: I wonder how many of those arrestees—past and future—have been working with kids in juvenile probation.