Pre-Primary Election LASD News, Some LA Schools May be Using “Off-the-Books” Suspensions, and Pope Francis on Juvenile Life Without ParoleJune 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker
LASD NEWS ROUNDUP BEFORE THE JUNE PRIMARY ELECTION (TOMORROW, JUNE 3)
Throughout the campaign season, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has had good coverage of the sheriff debates and fundraising numbers, along with helpful profiles on (most of) the candidates.
With the June 3 primary nearly upon us, Stoltze asked the sheriff hopefuls three jail-related questions. All but Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Patrick Gomez responded. Here is the first question:
Question: The Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence said one of the problems with inmate abuse is that deputies trained to patrol the streets are assigned to serve as jail guards in their first few years on the job. The panel recommended that the next Sheriff adopt a “dual track” system whereby deputies are recruited and trained specifically as jail guards for careers inside the jails. Do you support this recommendation – why or why not? How would you overcome objections from the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which has vowed to fight the change?
This may have been the easiest question for Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who wrote: “Not only do I support the recommendation for a ‘dual track’ system, I helped craft it as a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.”
But as the only person running who’s never served in the department, McDonnell would have to deal with the powerful labor union that represents deputies for the first time. “I have experience working successfully with police unions at the LAPD and in Long Beach and am confident that I could work with the deputy union,” he wrote.
Only former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka refused to commit to the dual track system. “I believe that we must explore the options available to us,” he wrote. “I do believe that we should make sure that those assigned to the jails and want to move on to patrol, should be able to do so – we need those individuals keeping our neighborhoods safe.”
Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold, former Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted and LAPD Sgt. Lou Vince all committed to a dual track system for deputies.
Hellmold said all deputies should receive the same training, however, in case jail guards must also end up working in the field during emergencies. He also said he’d limit street deputies to serving no more than two years in the jails.
“I have already been involved with communicating my vision with [the deputies' union] leadership and members and confident my vision reflects that of our members,” Hellmold wrote.
Olmsted included this in his response: “Although the dual-track is one method to resolving the problems in the jail, however, the primary concern is the lack of good leadership and adequate managerial oversight.” He noted he reduced use of force at Men’s Central Jail by 25 percent when he ran the facility.
Vince, a former Sheriff’s Department reserve officer, said he would convince the deputies’ labor union to accept any changes by offering perks: “I would also ‘sweeten’ the deal by seeking to implement organization-wide compressed work schedules and returning ‘gym time’ (they would get 15-20 minutes for on duty physical fitness),” Vince wrote.
The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has an interesting profile on Paul Tanaka, and what both his supporters and opponents have to say about his tenure at the Sheriff’s Dept. Here are some clips:
A county commission concluded that he helped foster problems with brutality inside the jails. And the FBI is investigating allegations that he played a role in obstructing their investigation into the abuse.
Supporters say his reputation has been unfairly tarred by former subordinates whom Tanaka cracked down on for being lazy or inept. They describe him as hard-working, good at managing budgets and hyper-focused on lowering crime.
“If you’ve worked hard, he liked you…. If you were lazy, didn’t do your job, he didn’t give you the time of day,” said sheriff’s Capt. Louie Duran.
In 2003, Tanaka drew federal scrutiny for helping funnel hundreds of sheriff’s bulletproof vests to Cambodia through Gardena without declaring them to customs officials. The odd transaction, which did not become publicly known until 2013, did not result in charges.
Eventually, Baca’s loyalty to Tanaka eroded.
After a sergeant pointed a gun at another sergeant at the sheriff’s Compton station, Tanaka and other top officials ignored a recommendation to demote the supervisor, instead giving him a 15-day suspension. Baca was upset, stripping Tanaka of his role in making discipline decisions.
Their relationship continued to strain after a blue-ribbon commission created by the county to examine inmate abuse found in 2012 that Tanaka had helped foster a culture of misconduct. The commission recommended that Tanaka be stripped of most of his authorities. Baca listened, and months later took it a step further, pushing his undersheriff to step down.
Tanaka has since gone on the offensive, saying that the sheriff’s officials who spoke out against him were former subordinates he had cracked down on for subpar work.
In his interview with federal agents, Tanaka gave an example. He recalled making a surprise visit to a sheriff’s station. There, in the middle of the work day, he found the lieutenant in charge not in uniform, but rather in shorts, T-shirt and sneakers.
According to Tanaka, the lieutenant greeted him, then said: “I was just getting ready to go to softball practice. You need me?”
“He gets in his car like an idiot and drives away,” Tanaka recalled. “I call his chief and I say, ‘I want him gone.’”
That lieutenant later spoke before the jail commission and accused Tanaka of mismanagement.
LASD UNION POLL RESULTS
The Professional Peace Officers Association, one of two LASD unions, polled 1,374 active and retired members on who they thought should be the next sheriff. After considering the results, the PPOA board of directors chose not to endorse any one candidate. Here are the numbers:
Jim McDonnell — 507
Bob Olmsted — 450
Jim Hellmold — 184
Todd Rogers — 170
Paul Tanaka — 54
Lou Vince — 9
(Paul Tanaka and Pat Gomez were not on the ballot because they did not participate in the PPOA debate (which was a requirement). Tanaka’s votes are write-ins.)
LA UNIFIED’S SUSPENSIONS ARE DOWN, BUT SOME SCHOOLS MAY BE USING “WORK-AROUNDS” TO LOWER THEIR NUMBERS
Statewide, and at the LAUSD-level, suspension and expulsion rates are on the decline.
A growing number of Los Angeles schools (Gompers Middle School in Watts, for instance) are lowering their suspension rates by resolving conflicts through “restorative justice” practices. There are reports, however, that some LAUSD schools are sending kids home without officially suspending them, in order to appear in compliance with the local, state, and federal push against harsh school discipline.
The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has the story. Here’s a clip:
In the heart of Watts, where violence in nearby housing projects can spill over onto campuses, two of the city’s toughest middle schools have long dealt with fights, drugs and even weapons.
Administrators typically have handled these problems by suspending students. But this year Markham and Gompers middle schools have reported marked reductions in that form of discipline — as has the L.A. Unified School District overall, where the suspension rate dropped to 1.5% last year from 8% in 2008.
The drop came after the Los Angeles Board of Education and L.A. schools chief John Deasy called for fewer suspensions as concern grew nationwide that removing students from school imperils their academic achievement and disproportionately harms minorities, particularly African Americans.
But have suspensions really become rarer?
Several African American parents at Markham recently alleged that administrators were sending their children home without officially suspending them. Markham Principal Paul Hernandez flatly denied that practice, known as “off-the-books” suspending.
Similar charges have been made elsewhere in L.A. Unified. The principal at Manchester Elementary in South Los Angeles was removed earlier this year following allegations that he sent at least 20 students home while directing staff not to mark them absent or suspended, according to two knowledgeable sources who asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation. A district official confirmed Gregory Hooker’s removal “pending the outcome of an investigation” but declined to provide further details.
A confidential report by two community organizations in 2012 found that some principals were using “work-arounds” to district mandates to reduce suspensions. Maisie Chin, executive director of CADRE, a South Los Angeles nonprofit that has long worked on the discipline issue, declined to release the report but said it showed that some students were being sent home, sometimes with no given reason, depriving them of the due process rights in the formal suspension process.
“We do think the pressure to reduce suspensions is probably causing a lot of unintended consequences,” Chin said.
Last year, the L.A. school board became the first in the state to ban defiance as grounds for suspension; legislation would expand that ban statewide.
But those in the trenches say it hasn’t been easy to comply with the mandates — especially since years of tight budgets have left limited funding for the extra staff and training they say are critical.
At Gompers, Principal Traci Gholar said she readily suspended disruptive students in 2011-12, her first year at the helm, to drive home to families that she was intent on building a safe, orderly and positive school climate.
When superiors questioned her high suspension rate, Gholar asked for new resources that would support alternative disciplinary approaches: a conflict resolution specialist, a restorative justice coordinator, more campus aides, performing arts events and other activities.
The extra help appears to have made a difference. According to school data, incidents involving student misbehavior declined from 1,035 in the last school year to 663 as of May of this year. And although most of the misbehavior was serious enough to warrant suspensions, Gompers made a greater effort to address it in alternative ways, reducing the suspension rate to 3% from 30% last year.
POPE FRANCIS’ ANSWER TO 500 LETTERS FROM PEOPLE SERVING JUVENILE LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE IN UNITED STATES
Pope Francis responded to a group of 500 letters written by young people across the US who were sentenced as juveniles to life without parole.
Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, coordinated the project and collected the letters, and Father Mike Kennedy, chaplain at Sylmar Juvenile Hall, sent the letters to the pope.
Writing for America Magazine, Kennedy shared Pope Francis’ response, along with his own thoughts on the issue of juvie LWOP. First, here’s a clip from the pope’s letter:
Dear Father Kennedy,
I have read the letters which you kindly sent to me from hundreds of young people throughout the United States sentenced as juveniles to life imprisonment without parole. Their stories and their plea that this form of sentencing be reviewed in the light of justice and the possibility of reform and rehabilitation moved me deeply. I would ask you kindly to assure them that the Lord knows and loves each of them, and that the Pope remembers them with affection in his prayers…
Read the rest here.
Now, a clip from Father Kennedy:
Jody Kent in Washington, D.C., the leader of the national campaign to end LWOP and insure that no children ever get sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, collected 500 letters in many states from incarcerated youth who received a sentence of LWOP. These letters were addressed to Pope Francis because they had faith that this world leader would advocate for them. Some Jesuits and I helped forward them to the pope three weeks ago.
The pope answered these letters by writing me acknowledging receipt of them and to give hope to those who now have no hope. The pope’s letter is strong and clear. He believes our youth deserve a second chance. Each prisoner who wrote a letter will be receiving a copy of the pope’s letter.
As we know, a youth’s brain has not developed to the level of an adult at the ages when they commit these crimes. They should be tried in juvenile courts not adult courts. It is very clear that Pope Francis understands this and has taken this issue of youth locked up as a personal concern.