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Lie & Deny: What Does the Still Unsolved Death of Mitrice Richardson Say About the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department?

April 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Lost Compassion Trailer 2015 from Chip Croft on Vimeo.


In February, six years after Mitrice Richardson’s body—or what remained of it— was found in a nearly impenetrable area of the Santa Monica Mountains called Dark Canyon, the Office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris agreed to launch a formal investigation into the way the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department handled the Richardson case. Whether the investigation will be pro forma or truly aggressive remains to be seen.

(WLA reported on the AG’s decision to take up the case here.)

Now Newsweek’s Alexander Nazaryan, has taken a new and very interesting look at the matter of Mitrice Richardson—her arrest, her incomprehensible release in the middle of the night, without her car, purse, cell phone or any cash, the staggeringly clumsy treatment of her remains.

But instead attempting to reinvestigate Richardson’s case, Nazaryan has instead examined the larger departmental context in which these actions involving Richardson occurred.

The result is disturbing.

Here’s a clip from Nazaryan’s excellent longread story. We strongly recommend you read the whole thing.

We hope the relevant people in the California Attorney General’s Office will also read the story.

Sitting in a car parked outside an Albertsons supermarket, Ronda Hampton was sobbing. “I can’t do this,” she cried, holding a bouquet of flowers, afternoon shoppers pushing past us, the Santa Monica Mountains aflame with sunlight in the distance. Chip Croft, a documentarian, made some feeble attempts to calm her down, but Hampton kept crying, so the three of us sat there awkwardly, two white men somberly watching a black woman wail over the death of another black woman.

After a time, Hampton’s tears subsided, and we headed off into the hills of Malibu Creek State Park, around where the 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson disappeared on September 17, 2009, several hours after being released from police custody in the middle of the night. Croft, who did not know Richardson but recently made a documentary about her with Hampton, drove, at times pointing out where celebrities lived, as if we were on one of those Hollywood tours.

Richardson had been arrested at a popular restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway, just down the road from the beachfront estate of Steven Spielberg; Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies towed her car and took her inland to the Malibu/Lost Hills station, close to the Albertsons where Hampton broke down. That’s the station made briefly famous in 2006, when Mel Gibson was transported there after being pulled over for drunken driving. Deputies eventually escorted Gibson from Lost Hills to his towed car; the department tends to treat the famous with deference. Richardson had competed in beauty contests, but she was not a celebrity. She was released into the night at 12:38 a.m. without money or phone, expected to hike the 11 miles to the tow pound, which is on the Pacific coast.

Richardson was last seen the following morning in a residential area of the Santa Monica Mountains called Monte Nido, near the house of retired television news reporter Bill Smith, not far from the vast estate of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith (no relation). Richardson’s half-decomposed body was found several months later, in a remote stretch of the park called Dark Canyon, the clothes she’d been wearing scattered nearby. Some law enforcement officials surmised that Richardson, who suffered from bipolar disorder, walked into the canyon, took off her clothes and succumbed to anaphylactic shock from extensive poison oak exposure. This is highly unlikely, but so is every other hypothesis about her death: violent vagrants, drug cartels, neo-Nazis. Nobody knows anything, though most everyone suspects something. The most grave of these suspicions are aimed at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

Mitrice Richardson was a young woman who became a case but also cause. To many in Los Angeles, she is a symbol too, as potent as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, or Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, of a law enforcement culture that has grown contemptuous of both laws and men. “I consider Mitrice Richardson to be a victim of police brutality,” says Jasmyne Cannick, a Los Angeles journalist who writes frequently about race.

To those familiar with the LASD, everything about the handling of the Richardson case is horrific, but none of it is surprising. “The Sheriff’s Department is much worse than LAPD,” one lawyer said in a Knight Ridder investigation into the LASD. That was in the summer of 1991, blurry footage of Rodney King being beaten by four Los Angeles Police Department officers haunting the nation. The lawyer continued: “A growing joke in our circles is you never would have had the Rodney King videotape if they were sheriff’s deputies, because they just would have shot him.”

The sheriff at the time was Sherman Block, who died in 1998 and was replaced by Leroy “Lee” Baca, who had spent three decades rising steadily through the LASD ranks. The department was his from 1998 until 2014.

Now, though, Baca is probably headed to prison for lying to federal investigators looking into abuses in the jails run by his department. Because he took a plea deal, the sentence, to be doled out in May, won’t be longer than six months. The sentence for Baca’s longtime undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who was convicted earlier this month on a similar array of charges, could be up to 15 years. Neither man had any direct connection to Richardson’s disappearance, but the secrecy, tribalism and cynical dishonesty that tarnished that investigation have manifested elsewhere: in the horrific abuses in the Los Angeles jail system, the nation’s largest, which the LASD operates; in the racial profiling by LASD deputies across the Antelope Valley; in charges of fawning favoritism for celebrities but often belligerent disdain for the average citizen.

Bob Olmsted, a former LASD commander who mounted a failed bid for the department’s top spot in 2014, tells me the men in charge of the department had an modus operandi for all potentially troublesome situations: “lie and deny.”

“They destroyed the organization,” he says of Baca and Tanaka. “They destroyed the public trust.”

Posted in LASD | 33 Comments »

Brave & Beautiful: Prince – 1958-2016

April 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Posted in Life in general | 1 Comment »

Foster Kids’ Rights, Suspensions in the OC, LA City Approves Officer Rape Settlement

April 21st, 2016 by Taylor Walker


The Foster Youth Bill of Rights, enacted in 2001, says that (among dozens of other rights) foster children have the right to live in a safe and comfortable home, free from abuse, with enough clothes and healthy food, and the ability to visit with and contact siblings, parents, and other family members, and participate in after school and social activities.

Foster kids also have the right to refuse medication—a particularly noteworthy right considering California’s epidemic of doctors over-prescribing psychotropic drugs to foster kids. (For more on that issue, read Karen de Sá’s series, “Drugging Our Kids,” for the San Jose Mercury News.)

But in the 15 years that the law has been in effect, it has shown its weaknesses. Foster kids are sometimes not even aware of their rights, and often, ones that do know their rights don’t report rights violations out of fear that they will be removed from their homes or face retaliation by their caregiver.

A bill sponsored by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Compton) would update and improve on the original Foster Youth Bill of Rights. A working group would be tasked with identifying the rights of kids in the child welfare system, and review the way foster youth are notified about those rights. The bill is sailing through the legislature without opposition. Anna Johnson, of the National Center for Youth Law, says she hopes the working group’s recommendations will look something like this:

- Establishment of a required form, filled out by the social worker and signed off by foster youth every six months to vouch that the youth were informed of their rights under the law. This proposal is intended to increase accountability in making sure information on the law is properly disseminated.

- Information on the law being made available on a more user-friendly website as well as on phone apps in order to reach its intended audience.

- Clearer outlines to foster youth of their rights to mental health services.

Glenn Daigon has more on the issue for The Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

Findings in the 2013 Annual Report released by the Office of the California Foster Care Ombudsman demonstrate how the Foster Youth Bill of Rights is falling short:

“In some instances during interviews and presentations to youth in foster care, the FCO [Foster Care Ombudsman], found that not all social workers had reviewed the foster youth rights with dependent children as required by W&IC section 16501.1(f)(4). Children and youth in foster care reported to the FCO that they were not always aware that they had rights and that no one had informed them of their rights.”

The report goes on to say that some children and youth didn’t talk to their social worker or attorney about rights violations out of fear of being removed from their current home or that their caregiver might retaliate.

These problems with the law’s implementation were also reflected in an August 2015 hearing on foster group home reviews by the California Department of Social Services. When foster youth in group homes were asked if they or their peers would receive a negative consequence if they refused to take their psychotropic medications, 49 out of the 76 responded “yes.”

Vanessa Hernandez of California Youth Connection, a foster youth advocacy group, also highlighted the underperformance of the current law. “Caregivers were accessing ombudsman services at a greater rate than foster youth. This is a clear sign that the information was not being properly disseminated,” Hernandez said.

Tisha Ortiz, a Youth Advocate with the National Center for Youth Law, got a bird’s eye view of this problem. She was a client in the California foster care system from 2001 to 2010. During that time, she witnessed the following abuses against herself and/or her peers:

- Verbal abuse by group home staff, particularly when it came to disparaging overweight clients.
- The use of food as a weapon, i.e. the lack of adequate portion sizes at meals for some.
- Punishment for refusing to take medications in the form of stripping almost all personal belongings, extended lock– ups and isolation in rooms, and not being allowed to leave the group home for extended periods of time.
- Use of excessive manual labor, sometimes up to four hours of heavy physical work, as a punishment for some clients.
- A staff member putting his fingers down Ms. Ortiz’s throat in an attempt to force feed her medications.

According to Ms. Ortiz, group home staff did not review the Foster Youth Bill of Rights with clients. She was only vaguely aware of the law through a poster. Ortiz felt that if more foster children knew about their right to complain to an ombudsman, their right to refuse taking medications and other legal rights, then these types of abuses in the system would be drastically reduced.


Thanks to a statewide push to reduce harsh school discipline, California has seen a 33% drop in out-of-school suspensions between the 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 school years.

For the most part, Orange County school districts’ suspension rates lined up with the state trend, according to a Voice of OC analysis of CA Department of Education and UCLA Civil Rights Project data.

Huntington Beach Union High reduced suspensions by 64% during that time period. And Santa Ana Unified, the largest of the OC’s 28 districts, cut suspension rates by 58%.

There were two districts that broke from the pack, however—Anaheim Union High and Tustin Unified—which reported a 203% and 45% spike in suspensions, respectively.

Anaheim’s suspensions rose in every category—weapons, drugs, violence with injury, violence without injury, disruption/defiance, and “other.” Specifically, suspensions for violence with injury jumped from 42 during the 2011-2012 school year, to 684 during the 2013-2014 school year. Willful defiance suspensions increased from 332 to 487. Tustin Unified showed a similar pattern: willful defiance suspensions went from zero during 2011-2012, to 259 during 2013-2014.

Los Angeles Unified, San Francisco Unified, and Oakland Unified have recently banned suspensions for willful defiance—a harmful catchall term for most anything that can pass as disruptive behavior, and is used disproportionately on students of color. In 2014, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill banning expulsions for willful defiance for every grade, K-12, and willful defiance suspensions for kids in grades K-3. (We at WLA will be interested to see what that law, which went into effect in 2015, will have on school discipline numbers for the current school year.)

Here’s a clip from Voice of OC’s Thy Vo’s analysis:

It’s unclear why Anaheim and Tustin are going in the opposite direction from most other OC school districts. But we can consider a few factors that come into play.

Anaheim Union High is the only district in the county that saw increases in every category of suspensions. The largest increases were seen in suspensions for violence with injury — from 42 to 684; for drug offenses, which spiked from 74 to 462; and for willful defiance, which went from 332 to 487.

Suspensions increased in every category but weapons in Tustin Unified. The largest jump was in suspensions for willful defiance, which went from zero during the 2011-12 school year to 259 in 2013-14.

The increase in the two districts in willful defiance suspensions — a loose term for acting out in class — is surprising given that they have been dropping rapidly statewide.

Countywide, suspensions decreased in every category, with the 53 percent drop in willful defiance suspensions being the largest. Suspensions for violence with injury was the only category to increase, with 17 percent more suspensions in 2014 than 2011.

The increase was driven by a handful of schools where violent incidents are increasing: Anaheim Union High, Tustin Unified, Brea Olinda Unified, Los Alamitos Unified and La Habra City Elementary.

Nationwide, minority students, English learners and students with disabilities have the highest rates of suspension.

A 2015 Report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project highlighting the “school discipline gap” found that in 2011-12, black students were suspended at the highest rates — 23 percent — followed by disabled students at 18 percent, American Indians at 12 percent, and Latinos and English learners at 11 percent. Meanwhile, 7 percent of white students were suspended that year.

This remains true in Orange County, where Latino and black students tend to be suspended disproportionate to their share of the student body.


On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved a $750,000 settlement with a woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted by an LAPD officer while his partner stood as lookout.

In February, the two veteran LAPD officers, James Christopher Nichols, 44, and Luis Gustavo Valenzuela, 43, were charged with raping four women repeatedly between 2008 and 2011. “They’ve disgraced this badge. They’ve disgraced their oaths of office,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said back in February.

Prosecutors say Valenzuela and Nichols used threats of arrest to coerce their victims into compliance. Two other women allegedly raped by the Valenzuela and Nichols have also sued the city, and are each seeking more than $3 million in damages.

The two officers face life in prison, if convicted.

The LA Times’ Emily Alpert Reyes has the story. Here’s a clip:

Valenzuela and Nichols were placed on unpaid leave more than two years ago, after a halting internal investigation that was first launched when one of the women stepped forward. Criminal charges were eventually filed after an elite investigative unit took over the case.

The woman who brought the lawsuit said that in September 2009, Valenzuela and Nichols ordered her into their car as she was walking her dog, then drove the car to a secluded location where Valenzuela sexually assaulted her while Nichols kept a lookout in the front seat.

In the lawsuit, the woman said she later recounted her story to detectives after being arrested and brought to the Hollywood station five years ago. Police repeatedly told her not to hire a lawyer and urged her to be patient, according to her complaint.

The lawsuit alleges the city strung her along “to keep her quiet and avoid getting sued.” The woman hired a lawyer after reading about other lawsuits against the officers, her suit says.

The city agreed two years ago to pay $575,000 to settle one of those other cases, brought by another woman who accused the men of threatening her with jail unless she had sex with them.

Los Angeles faces additional legal challenges tied to the allegations against Nichols and Valenzuela. Two other women recently sued the city over alleged assaults by the officers, each asking more than $3 million in damages.

Posted in Foster Care | No Comments »

The Blue Curtain….How Prosecutors Accused of Misconduct Become Judges…LA City Attorney on Prop. 47…and More

April 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


In this week’s LA Weekly, reporter Gene Maddaus writes about the culture of secrecy surrounding police records, what information the public has the right to know, and the negative impact lack of law enforcement transparency has on community trust.

Maddaus talks with Mark Arner, a San Diego Union-Tribune journalist reporting on local law enforcement officers’ “dirty laundry,” who came up against opposition from police attorneys, as well as WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, the LA Police Protective League’s Kristi Eckard, and former LA Times reporter, Robert Faturechi, among others.

A bill by CA Senator Mark Leno would increase public access to officers’ personnel files in instances of serious uses of force and alleged misconduct, but has come up against serious opposition from police unions.

Here’s a clip from Maddaus’ story:

In the year and a half since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, a national movement has spread to demand greater police accountability. A spate of incidents — most of them shootings, many captured on video — has drawn attention to police abuses across the country.

Los Angeles is used to thinking of itself as a model of police reform. But L.A. hasn’t exactly dodged controversial police shootings. Black Lives Matter activists have called for the resignation of Chief Charlie Beck over the shooting of Ezell Ford, an unarmed and mentally ill man who was killed in South L.A.

Still, L.A. has not had a recent incident of police misconduct that captured national headlines. That may be a sign that the LAPD has reformed itself. Or it could be that it is very difficult to get police records in California.

Last May, LAPD officer Clifford Proctor shot and killed Brendon Glenn, a homeless man who was panhandling outside a bar in Venice. Glenn was shot in the back. A surveillance camera captured the shooting, and it was disturbing enough for Beck to recommend that charges be filed against the officer. But the department has refused to release the video, which has kept the Glenn shooting a local story.

In the Ford case, Beck found that the two officers acted according to department policy. The Police Commission overruled him, but the consequence of that decision is unknown. The department may have disciplined them — or not.

“We don’t know what actually happened,” says Melina Abdullah, one of the leaders of the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter. “That has been a huge issue for us.”

“This obsession with secrecy does not make for a healthy relationship between law enforcement and the communities they police,” says Celeste Fremon, editor of the Witness L.A. blog and a former L.A. Weekly contributor, who is writing a book about brutality in the Sheriff’s Department. “If we saw the department’s rationale, then maybe we’d agree with it and maybe we wouldn’t, but we’d at least know what they were thinking. But the attitude is, ‘That’s for us to know and you to find out. Trust us.’ It infantilizes the public.”

On issues such as climate change and the minimum wage, California is on the cutting edge of progressive politics. But the state ranks near the bottom when it comes to providing access to police records. Conservative, law-and-order states like Florida and Texas allow almost unfettered access to records relating to police discipline, while liberal states like California and New York, where law enforcement unions are most powerful, have made them off-limits.

“All of this has been done to protect the job security and reputation of rank-and-file police officers,” says Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

(Further reading: we at WLA have written about this issue before—here and here.)


Two prosecutors tied to a string of jailhouse informant-related misconduct scandals plaguing the Orange County District Attorney’s Office—Michael Murray and Larry Yellin—are currently running for Superior Court judgeships. And if elected, they wouldn’t be the first prosecutors accused of misdeeds to win a seat on the bench.

As part of a recent investigation, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered 120 wrongful convictions due to prosecutorial misconduct in Massachusetts over the last 30 years. And seven prosecutors with histories of misconduct moved on to higher positions, including judgeships.

One scholar studying prosecutorial misconduct at Yale, Laura Fernandez, called the idea of misbehaving prosecutors becoming judges “deeply disturbing.”

The Marshall Project’s Beth Schwartzapfel has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“The idea that an individual responsible for such serious misconduct could effectively stroll into the office of judge is deeply disturbing,” says Laura Fernandez, a Yale research scholar who studies prosecutorial misconduct. No one has yet faced charges related to the scandal, but one deputy district attorney resigned and four sheriff’s deputies refused to testify in a related hearing, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. “More troubling still, this appears to be the tip of the iceberg,” John Van de Kamp, a former state attorney general, and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California-Irvine, wrote last year in a letter to the Justice Department, requesting A FEDERAL INQUIRY1. “Compelling evidence of pervasive police and prosecutorial misconduct in Orange County…has caused us grave concern.”

The judicial election is June 7.

At the heart of the scandal is a database the Orange County Sheriff’s office uses to track the placement of informers in the jail. Use of jailhouse informers is constitutional, as long as the informer happens to hear the defendant talk, unprompted. But the Supreme Court said informers can’t elicit information from someone who already has a lawyer — that would too closely resemble an interrogation. What’s more, any deals brokered with informants, and any information that might undermine the informants’ credibility — say, that they were informants in other cases, or that they have lied on the stand in the past — must be turned over to the defense.

The database first came to light when Orange County Public defender Scott Sanders combed through thousands of pages of records and pieced it together. Sanders was representing confessed mass murderer Scott Dekraai, whom DAs targeted with the scheme. Documents and subsequent hearings revealed that it wasn’t just Dekraai—the DA’s office had been violating these constitutional prohibitions for years. In a searing ruling issued last March, Orange County Superior Court judge Thomas Goethals removed the entire county DA’s office — all 250 attorneys — from Dekraai’s case, the highest-profile murder case the county has ever seen, ruling that the DA had proved himself incapable of achieving “compliance with his constitutional…obligations in this case.”


Now, armed with new revelations from the database and its fallout, defense lawyers have begun to unravel other cases in which jailhouse informers may have been used illegally against their clients. A handful of these cases raise questions about Murray and Yellin.

Read on.


Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer said that voter-approved Pop. 47 has not fulfilled all of its promises.

Prop. 47, which went into effect in November of 2014, reduced six non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, and was supposed to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. That money was supposed to get pumped into community-based rehabilitation and other services targeting recidivism.

But a report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget under-counted the dollar amount Proposition 47 saved the state by about $100 million. And Prop. 47 has taken much of the punch out of alternative courts’ rehabilitation strategies, says Feuer.

LA Downtown News’ Eddie Kim has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Almost no one has gotten anything close to meaningful drug rehabilitation, and we’ve prosecuted thousands of these cases,” Feuer said Monday at a luncheon at the Downtown Palm hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum. “The system is broken at every level.”

Feuer told the audience of approximately 70 people that he understood why such reform was necessary. As a state assemblyman during the recession, he observed then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger siphoning rehabilitation funds away from state prisons. Feuer became City Attorney in 2013.

Feuer said arrests for the felonies-turned-misdemeanors have plummeted “by more than 50%.” Those who are arrested show up for court less frequently, and people who are convicted typically receive a sentence that is shorter than the minimum length for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to hold someone in a local jail, he added.

“So how do you incentivize someone to go through rehab when the consequence of a conviction is no jail time?” he asked. “Which then feeds into the lack of interest of police and sheriffs in arresting in the first place.”

Despite the shortfalls, Feuer said Prop. 47 has yielded some positives. He pointed to unprecedented collaboration and discussion with judges, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck, county supervisors and others.


Here are some not-to-be-missed 2016 Pulitzer prize-winners on the 100th annual awarding of the prize:

- ProPublica’s T. Christian Miller and The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong for “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.”

(For more on this incredible story, we recommend listening to “Anatomy of Doubt,” the accompanying episode of This American Life.)

- Sun Newspaper’s John Hackworth for powerful editorials following Florida corrections officers’ deadly assault on an inmate.

- The Los Angeles Times’ staff members for their reporting on breaking news after the San Bernardino terrorist attacks.

- The Washington Post staff for its eye-opening database detailing when and why law enforcement officers use deadly force.

KPCC has won a different award—an Edward R. Murrow award in the Investigative Reporting category—for it’s “Officer Involved” series on LA County law enforcement shootings.

Posted in law enforcement | 6 Comments »

Missing: Mental Health Services in CA Schools, Mortality Rates Among SF Homeless Youth, and CA’s Prison Budget

April 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


California school districts are failing to provide students with the mental health services they are legally entitled to, and sending mentally ill kids into the juvenile justice system instead, according to a report from the Western Center on Law & Poverty, Mental Health Advocacy Services, and Learning Rights Law Center.

Even with a $400 million per year budget for mental health services, California school districts have not done enough to identify the 580,000 students eligible for—and in need of—mental health services, as required by the state’s Mental Health for Students Law. And the inability to identify kids that need mental health treatment, leads to harsh school discipline and creates a funnel for kids into the juvenile justice system.

“We are limiting too many of our children, especially children of color, who can and will do well in school, graduate with their class, and go on to successful careers, if given the right services,” said Antionette Dozier, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “We know what the services are, we have providers who can provide them, and we have the funding available for the services.”

The study’s authors collected data from 15 California school districts (including the Los Angeles Unified School District), special education advocates representing more than 900 kids every year, mental health providers in 20 counties, and over 70 parents.

Advocates in Los Angeles told researchers that 50% of LAUSD students who were involved with the Probation Department, receiving special education services, and had serious emotional disturbances, were not getting the mental health services they needed in school. The same was true of Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Joaquin counties. And when schools did provide kids with mental health services, they were often inadequate or the wrong kind of treatment altogether.

Here’s the story of one young Long Beach Unified student and his family:

Michael is a 9-year-old, male student with social phobia and anxiety disorders, which included symptoms that made leaving his room a serious obstacle. Michael’s mother informed the school numerous times about his condition, and made multiple requests for a special education assessment. The district replied that they could not assess the student because he could not attend school, essentially using the child’s mental health condition against him as an excuse for their inaction to address it.

The report calls for a wider offering of school-based mental health services and crisis intervention, increase parent participation, and tracking of data on mental health spending and kids’ outcomes, among other actions.


The risk of dying is ten times higher among homeless San Francisco teens and young adults between the ages of 15-24 than their housed peers, according to a report by the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

The study followed 218 homeless transitional age youth between 2004-2010. Of the 218, eleven died during the six-year study period (around 5%), mostly from drug abuse and suicide.

“Given that these youth come disproportionately from groups for which society has a fiduciary responsibility, including survivors of physical and sexual abuse, foster youth and youth with a history of involvement in the juvenile justice system, our collective mandate to address their disparity in mortality is even more pressing,” the report reads.


A California bill by Assemblymember Young Kim (R-Fullerton) would allocate $25 million for emergency services for homeless children, including up to three years of transitional housing, as well as life and family skills, employment, and interventions.

Read more about the bill in Kim’s editorial for the OC Register. Here’s a clip:

According to the California Homeless Youth Project, approximately 298,000 kids in the state will experience homelessness during the school year. And according to the Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County, more than 32,000 of our county’s kids are homeless. This is a tragedy.

Many of these kids come from a background of violence, neglect and poverty. They typically end up on the streets, exposed to risks that jeopardize their health and well-being.

That is why it is imperative we provide different programs and services to help homeless youth – so we can earn their trust, transition them into permanent homes, and help them achieve successful lives. Through intervention at an early age, we can get them the tools they need to ensure that homeless children do not grow up to be homeless adults.

I am leading the fight in the Legislature to address this growing problem. First, I introduced Assembly Bill 1699, which passed the Assembly Human Services Committee with bipartisan support and would set aside $25 million for homeless youth emergency service projects. These projects would provide transitional living for up to 36 months and create access to education and employment assistance. They would also teach independent living skills, family engagement, and interventions.

I also have asked the Budget Committees in both houses to allocate the funds that my bill calls for, and just last week the relevant budget subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the $25 million that I requested for homeless youth.

I am hopeful that by tackling this issue in both the legislative process and the budget process, we will be able to provide the help that these children need. And it can’t happen soon enough.


Despite a 22% decrease in California’s prison population—thanks in large part to realignment and Prop. 47—prison spending continues to rise. Part of the overall increase can be attributed to more rehabilitative services and federally mandated improved health care within the state prison system, but pay for prison staff is also on the rise, even though there are fewer inmates to supervise. Part of the problem, according to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, is that prisons were already understaffed. And the state doesn’t have plans to close any prisons in the near future—one particular move that would reduce the number of corrections officers needed.

The SF Chronicle’s editorial board explores the issue and the influence of law enforcement unions on spending. Here’s a clip:

…salaries for the approximately 29,000 members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) cost the state about $2.1 billion last year, not including an additional $350 million for overtime and other special payments.

The CCPOA is negotiating a contract. If approved, the latest agreement would add incremental annual costs to the state that top out at $588 million in fiscal year 2018-19. In addition to getting raises (9.3 percent over three years), CCPOA members would also receive enhanced benefits like an increase in “physical fitness incentive pay” from $65 to $130 per month per member. The enhanced benefit would also be counted as base pay — meaning that it would count toward retirement.

The members would begin contributing to a retiree benefits trust fund, but that’s a relatively small concession for any state worker in 2016. The general trend is increased state costs for a union that has fewer charges. And the choices the state makes with regard to the CCPOA are crucial to doing the right thing on criminal justice reform.


…the legislative analyst’s office says that the new contract will increase overtime costs by tens of millions of dollars each year. And while the state has decreased the number of state prisoners, it has no plans to close any prisons — the kind of move that could reduce the number of corrections officers.

Posted in Education, mental health | No Comments »

LA County Sheriff’s Department Takes Gang Diversion to College

April 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

This past Saturday morning, April 16, in a lecture room at the University of California, Irvine, a UCI student, whom we’ll call Luis,* spoke to 46 teenagers about how, as a 14-year-old living in Compton, he and his cousin, who was also 14 at the time, were sitting, kicking it outside his uncle’s house—also in Compton—when everything changed.

“Two Lincoln Navigators drove really slowly up to my uncle’s house,” said Luis, who is member of the university’s Sigma Delta Alpha fraternity. “And we saw the gun come out. It was an Uzi. And they started shooting. I dropped down to the ground. But then I saw that my cousin didn’t duck. He was choking with blood.”

Most of the teenagers in the audience had never been on a college campus, and they listened to Luis’s story with nearly breathless intensity. Ranging in age from 12 to 18, they were part of a Gang Diversion Team program (GDT) that was started ten years ago by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy, Fred Noya, out of the department’s Carson station.

On Saturday, Noya’s GDT kids had come to UC Irvine for an all day event that was designed to persuade the group of young men and women of the worth and joys of college, along with giving them the message that, if they wanted to go to a really good school like UCI, or other highly rated colleges and universities, if they were willing to work toward that goal, such a school was within their reach.

One of the first events of the day was the morning session featuring talks by several motivational speakers. And far and away the most popular of the presentations was the talk given the group by Luis.


As the kids watched fraternity guy speak, Noya watched his GDT charges whom he noted were “glued” as Luis continued his story.

Luis said that four bullets hit his cousin on that awful day-–”three in the stomach, one on the side.” Luis paused. “I saw him die in front of me….A kid shouldn’t have to do that. It changes you. It traumatizes you.”

Although he didn’t realize it right away, Luis had also been hit. A bullet grazed the side of his head just above his ear. Luis parted his hair with his fingers to reveal a still very visible scar.

“I usually don’t show this to people,” he said.

Luis went on to tell his young audience that, right after his cousin’s death, he stopped going to school, and began spending time on the street.

“I was blindfolded by rage and anger,” he said. “I stopped going to school for about three months.” All he could think about, he said, was retaliating for his cousin’s murder.

“It was a dark time.”

For a teenager in his painful state, Luis said, “you need someone who gives you hope.”

Over the next few years, Luis said he was “living two lives,” one of them in school, one on the street. Yet, despite his increasingly problematic behavior away from school, some of his teachers didn’t give up on him. In particular there was a physics teacher who was “extraordinary,” he said. She made it clear she thought he was someone who mattered by driving to at his house when he didn’t show up at school. The physics teacher did whatever else it took to get the boy out of the emotional spiral that had taken possession of him after his cousin’s murder.

At home, Luis said, he “didn’t have any guidance.” His parents worked very long hours and were exhausted during the show time they were at home. His dad had been deported twice. No one was pushing him to stay in school or helping him stay out of trouble.

“So having someone believe in me,” said Luis, made the crucial difference. He gradually reengaged in classes. And, with the help of the physics teacher, he applied to college.

By his senior year in high school, Luis had managed a near miraculous turnaround, a 4.7 GPA, plus he was class salutatorian at graduation. Even better, he got a full ride to UCI where he is now majoring in business economics. He plans to go on to graduate school and wants a career in finance.

“Don’t be a statistic,” said Luis to the kids in the audience, near the end of his story. “Anyone can change. It’s a lot of work. I worked really hard. But you can do it.”

When you come from Compton, Luis added, all you hear about is “famous rappers and basketball players.”

Since the kids in the audience came primarily from Compton, Lynwood and Carson, many of them nodded. What about the doctors and lawyers? What about the rest of the professions? Luis asked. “Don’t listen to the stereotypes,” he said.

For the rest of the time on the Irvine campus, the GDT kids toured the school with student volunteers who acted as guides and mentors for the day, telling stories from their own lives, and answering questions.

At lunch, when the GDT youth were asked to give feedback about which of the day’s speakers and activities had most affected or inspired them, the response was unanimous. The story of Luis was easily the winner.

“With all he had going against him and nobody always pulling for him, he kept at it,” said one UCI visitor. “I want to be like that.”

Luis had made college seem possible, they said. “He’s one of us.”


Ten years ago when GDT began, LASD Deputy Fred Nova was, as he explained it, on the suppression side of law enforcement when it came to gangs. Specifically, he worked in a COPS Bureau** “suppression team” at the LASD’s Carson station. Then one day Todd Rodgers, who was then the captain at Carson, asked him to come up with a gang intervention and diversion program that would have a positive effect on the city’s gang members who were “causing damage to property and lives in the city,” said Noya. (Rodgers is now an assistant sheriff at the sheriff’s department.)

Enforcement could only go so far, Rodgers felt. He wanted a ““community-based intervention strategy” that interwove police efforts with those of community organizations.

Noya signed on enthusiastically. “I decided I had to make it personal,” he told me. “I had to act as if it was my own kids I was working with.” If he looked at the nascent program any other way, “like as a stepping stone” on a career path, “it wouldn’t have worked.”

The need was apparent. “We’d had a lot of parents coming to us. Mom’s crying that they were afraid of their kids,” or that their kids wouldn’t go to school.”

When it was first launched, the program dealt mostly with active gang members. But, over time, it widened to include kids who were on the fringe of gangs, the wannabes and the soon-to-be’s. “We thought, why don’t we get ‘em before they get to the point” of arrest or serious police involvement, said Noya.

The way the program worked was that kids would be referred to GDT—by parents, by school officials, by law enforcement, and in some cases, just walk ins who’d heard something interesting was going on.

Each kid would go through assessment by a case manager to determine their level of risk, the details of their family situation, educational needs, drug involvement, mental and emotional issues, and more. Then after a thorough review, each boy or girl would be referred to a list services in the form of a detailed action plan.

The programatic referrals included things like mentoring, tutoring, a life skills class, anger management, drug and rehab programs, and various kinds of rewards, like trips or outings offered as incentives. During the process, each kid’s progress is monitored and documented.

The GDT program serves both boys and girls, although boys are still in the majority. On the girls’ side of things, Deputy Noya pointed to the example of a girl named Kiani Dean, whose grandma brought her to the program. Kiana, Noya said, was a frequent runaway who was overly tattooed, and suffered from depression, and a general lack of self worth. After participating in a year of mentoring and conflict resolution programs through GDT, Noya said, Kiani was able to begin to turn things around. Now, after graduating from high school with honors, Kiani is an honors student at Hampton University, with plans to become a doctor.


Sometimes, Noya noted, the success stories are far less obvious than that of high-achieving Kiani.

One night just before Christmas 2014, he said, “this guy came up to me in the station.” The boy, now an 18 year old, had been in the program a few years before, but not done well. A gang member who continued to cause trouble and get into regular fights, Noya’d had more than a few “go-rounds” with the kid, he said.

Then one night the boy—now legally a man—approached Noya at the Carson station house and said, “Hey, Deputy Noya, remember me.”

“I remember you,” said Noya cautiously.

“Can we walk outside,” the kid said.

The deputy found himself instantly on alert, thinking that perhaps the kid intended to take a swing him, Noya said when he told me the story.

Once outside, the young man’s expression changed. “I just wanted to say ‘thank you,’” he said. “I never had a dad and I appreciate all that you said to me.”

Noya listened, stunned. “I don’t do crime anymore,” the young man continued. “I’ve done some bad things. But now I’m managing a pizza place.” He didn’t make a lot of money, he said. “But I make enough to take care of my mom.”

Noya remember that, a few years before, he’d become so exasperated with the kid, and the trouble he caused, that he’d told him it would be better for all concerned if he left town.

The former gangster reminded Noya of his advice about leaving. “You were right,” he said. And he did leave.

He now lives in Inglewood, he said.

Noya was blown away. “Honestly, when he asked me to walk outside, I thought for sure we were going to battle.” Instead the young man thanked him over and over.

But the thanks didn’t end with the one visit.

Late one night after the reunion at the station, the young man texted Noya.

“Thanks for getting me out of the dark place,” read the text.

Noya allowed amazement to creep into his voice as he told me the story.

“Kids’ll surprise you,” he said. “You never know when something you say is going to take root.”

That’s why he loves this program, Noya said.

*”Luis’s” real name was not be used to protect his privacy.

**COPS Bureau, is the federally funded Community Oriented Policing Services, which include targeted gang suppression.

Posted in Gangs, LASD | 3 Comments »

Appeals Court Reverses Teacher Tenure Ruling, Retaining Relative Caregivers, and Drugging Foster Kids

April 15th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


In what teachers unions are calling a huge victory, a state appeals court reversed a major Superior Court ruling that struck down five provisions of California’s Education Code—including teacher tenure, layoff, and dismissal statutes—as unconstitutional.

Here’s Students Matter’s explanation of the three statutes:

Permanent Employment Statute: The permanent employment law forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after an evaluation period of less than 16 months—before new teachers even complete their beginner teacher induction programs and before administrators are able to assess whether a teacher will be effective long-term.

Dismissal Statutes: The process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works. Out of 275,000 teachers statewide, 2.2 teachers are dismissed for unsatisfactory performance per year on average, which amounts to 0.0008 percent.

“Last-In, First-Out” (“LIFO”) Layoff Statute: The “LIFO” law forces school districts to base layoffs on seniority alone, with no consideration of teachers’ performance in the classroom.

The original Superior Court decision in Vergara v. California established that the teacher tenure laws take away kids’ right to equal education by effective teachers, and are especially harmful for low-income and minority students.

In a 36-page decision, the appeals court said the plaintiffs failed to show that the provisions violate equal protection and result in some student groups receiving inferior education, and “failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.”

“Every student deserves a great public education; yet California’s education laws make this impossible,” said Dave Welch, the founder of Students Matter, the nonprofit organizational sponsor of Vergara v. California. “Today, the courts failed to safeguard students’ constitutional rights. I hope and expect that the California Supreme Court will step in and protect the rights of millions of students across California.”

“We have a looming teacher shortage that is made worse by lawsuits like this one and the constant attacks on teachers and public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. “We need to work together to raise up teacher performance and create a climate that keeps veteran teachers in the classroom and attracts young people to the profession.”

The nine California public school students who filed Vergara v. California say they plan to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.


The Resource Family Approval Program, California’s new accelerated foster and adoptive family approval process is aimed at qualifying more potential parents, boosting permanency, and increasing preparation for new foster and adoptive parents. But advocates worry that the process—the extra requirements and the earlier 90-day deadline—will discourage relative caregivers from fostering their young family members.

RFA is going into effect statewide with funding from a child welfare system overhaul bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October. The new process combines the approval processes for foster parents, relative caregivers, and adoptive parents, which before, had different standards. Now, all applicants, including relatives seeking to foster, will have to submit to a psychosocial assessment, give references, undergo training, and pass an annual review.

Thirty-six percent of the state’s foster children are placed with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or other family members. After completing a home environment check within five days of taking in children, and a criminal background check within ten days, all applicants have to complete the rest of the RFA requirements within the 90-day time frame, a deadline advocates say may be unrealistic for relative caregivers.

Lauren Johnson has the story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

Until now, foster parents who wanted to adopt a child have had to repeat portions of the lengthy and invasive approval process that includes a social worker visiting and assessing their home. RFA combines the approval standards for adoption, relative foster homes, and non-relative foster homes. Under the program, every potential parent will undergo a single approval process, authorizing them to be able to both foster and adopt.

“The new coordinated process will eliminate duplication, reduce paperwork and maximize the efficient use of staff and system resources,” according to an overview of RFA produced by CDSS.

It will also more thoroughly assess and train potential foster and adoptive families, and a single case worker will shepherd the parents through the approval process. According to a CDSS webinar, this change will allow parents to build a relationship with their case worker, making the process less confusing and intrusive.

At the same time, all parents will be required to complete a psychosocial assessment, provide references, and complete training before they are approved, as well as undergo an annual review. CDSS and advocates hope these steps will better prepare parents for taking children into their home and that, ultimately, this will lead to greater placement stability and the forging of lifelong relationships.

Though RFA is a positive step in many regards, the additional requirements of RFA combined with its time constraints may prove to be a stumbling block for relative caregivers.

When a child is removed from his or her home, the social worker first looks for relatives who may be able to foster the child before searching the pipeline of approved non-relative foster parents.

Unlike non-relative caregivers who typically complete the approval process prior to having a foster child placed with them, relatives often take in a child before they fully complete the process. These relatives step up in an emergency situation to foster a particular child, for instance a grandchild, niece or nephew.

Once RFA takes effect, relative caregivers will have to complete a home safety check within five days of receiving the child and a criminal records check within 10 days. They must complete the full Resource Family Approval process within 90 days.

Meeting these time constraints may prove difficult for relatives given the other demands on their time and the traumatic nature of the situation. While completing RFA requirements, relatives are caring for a child or multiple children for whom they were unprepared. They are helping the child to cope with the trauma of being removed for his or her home. They may also be helping with the legal or psychological issues of the family member from whom the child was removed.


A bill to combat the excessive and alarming prescribing of psychotropic medications to California’s foster kids has made it past the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development in an 8-0 vote. (For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)

The bill would trigger quarterly reports of prescription claims, making it easier for the Medical Board of California to confidentially identify, conduct investigations of, and hold accountable doctors who over-prescribe psychotropic drugs to foster children. SB 1174, which builds on a package of similar reform bills inspired by de Sá’s powerful reporting, now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

De Sá has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

California’s foster care system has come to rely on powerful antipsychotic drugs to sedate troubled teens, the newspaper’s investigation revealed. But while a series of bills passed last year instituted many new measures to curb the practice, the laws did nothing to target the source of the drugs: the doctors who prescribe them.

“The vast majority of medical professionals are doing their job well, but as in any industry there are going to be outliers, and medical professionals are no different,” said McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. “And if there is an outlier, it could cost someone their life, or cause permanent damage for a child.”

Lobbyists for the California Medical Association, the California Psychiatric Association and the California Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry oppose McGuire’s bill, unless it is watered down to include an “education-first” rather than an “enforcement-first” approach.

They argue that the additional oversight will drive physicians from working with foster children and “add another bureaucratic layer to a process that is already highly regulated.”

Under McGuire’s bill, the medical board would monitor physicians through quarterly reports of prescription claims that would not reveal patient names, but rather the prescribers’ practices. Prescribing to very young children, high dosages of medications, and the use of multiple psychotropic medications at once could be grounds for investigation under the bill.

While physicians have due process rights to defend themselves, ultimately the worst offenders could lose their licenses. The new scrutiny of psychotropic prescribing is similar in some ways to curbs on the overuse of pain medications, now tracked by the state Attorney General’s Office.

Posted in Education | No Comments »

LAPD Commission Sez Venice Shooting Was Unjustified, a Bill to Bar For-Profit Immigrant Detention Contracts, and Pt. Two of MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge

April 14th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission sided with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, unanimously deciding that LAPD officer Clifford Proctor’s fatal shooting of an unarmed homeless man, Brendon Glenn, was an unjustified use of deadly force.

Video and other evidence from the May 2015 shooting led police investigators to determine that during an altercation, Proctor shot 29-year-old Glenn twice in the back while Glenn was lying on his stomach on the ground. Proctor said he believed Glenn was trying to take his partner’s gun, but the video evidence did not show Glenn’s hand to be on or near the holster, nor did Proctor’s partner do anything to indicate Glenn was going after his gun, according to the report.

In January, Chief Beck recommended that the LA County District Attorney’s Office charge Proctor in the death of Glenn. It was the first time the chief had recommended criminal charges for a fatal on-duty shooting.

In 2015, in LA, cops shot at civilians 48 times, hitting their target 37 times, and killing 22 total. In a story we crossposted with The Crime Report on Wednesday, Joe Domanick explains and gives context to the LA Police Commission’s revised use-of-force policies, which prioritize “de-escalation” techniques during confrontations to reduce the number of unarmed civilians shot by officers. (Domanick is the West Coast Bureau Chief of the Crime Report and author of Blue: the LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.)

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the commission’s decision regarding the Venice shooting. Here’s a clip:

The decision capped an 11-month review of Glenn’s death, one of several shootings by LAPD officers last year that fueled criticism of police and how officers use force, particularly against African Americans. Glenn was black, as is Proctor.

The ruling also renewed pressure on L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to file criminal charges against Proctor. This year, Beck said he had urged Lacey to charge Proctor. It was the first time as chief that Beck has called for charges against one of his officers in a fatal on-duty shooting.

Such prosecutions are rare in L.A. County, where the district attorney’s office hasn’t charged a law enforcement officer in an on-duty shooting in 15 years. An office spokeswoman said the case was still being reviewed.

Within hours of the Police Commission’s decision, local activists again called for Lacey to prosecute Proctor. Najee Ali said the ruling, coupled with Beck’s earlier recommendation, was further proof that the district attorney needed to act.

“This is a true litmus test for Lacey,” he said.

Beck said the commission’s decision “certainly supports” what he told the district attorney.

“I find many times that shootings are out of policy and they don’t reflect criminal charges,” he said. “But that’s not the case in this one.”


A new California bill sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would block cities and counties from contracting with controversial for-profit prison companies running immigrant detention centers.

“Our state and local governments should not be complicit in this awful practice of profiting off of human suffering,” Lara said. “This critical first-in-the-nation legislation would make the currently unenforceable national immigration standards the law of the land in the golden state.”

Four municipalities, including cash-strapped Adelanto, are contracting with private detention centers and would be affected by the bill.

The small city of Adelanto in San Bernardino County contracts with the scandal-plagued GEO Group, which runs a city jail and the Adelanto Detention Facility, where undocumented immigrants are held. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays Adelanto about $4 million a month to hold around 1,200 immigrants in its detention center. (All-told, ICE holds 62% of its detainees in for-profit detention centers.)

City Councilman John Woodard says a fourth of the city’s income comes from its contracts with the private prison group.

GEO Group, the second largest for-profit prison operator, is often accused of medical neglect and abuse, and at Adelanto and other facilities, enforces lock-up quotas—which trigger financial penalties for empty jail and prison beds.

The bill would also require the immigrant detention facilities to comply with (currently optional) federal standards, and would make it easier for immigrants to take legal action against the private prisons for rights violations.

KPCC’s Leslie Berestein Rojas has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

With the Adelanto facility’s daily population averaging roughly 1,200 and based on the per-diem rate, ICE pays up to about $4 million a month — and more if the detention center is filled to its 1,940-detainee capacity.

But a bill sponsored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) could put an end to Adelanto’s immigrant detention contract.

“For far too long, our immigration system has promoted profits over people,” Lara told KPCC. “The goal is to prohibit these for-profit companies from profiting off the backs of immigrants.”

Cities like Adelanto depend on detention space revenue. In Adelanto, which nearly went bankrupt last year, City Council member John “Bug” Woodard, a self-described Tea Party Republican, said the GEO contracts are vital to the city’s economy.

“I think a good 25 percent of our income comes from those jailhouses,” Woodard said. “GEO is an important part of this community, and any idiot up in Sacramento that would like us not to do business with them, they’ve got their heads where the sun don’t shine.”


On Wednesday, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced just under $25 million in funding for 11 jurisdictions nationwide to move to the second round of the foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, which aims to “create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country.”

The MacArthur Foundation whittled down 11 jurisdictions from an original group of 20 selected in 2015 to be mentored by experts as they created plans to reform their local jail systems.

The 11 jurisdictions are:

- Charleston County, SC
- Harris County, TX
- Lucas County, OH
- Milwaukee County, WI
- New Orleans, LA
- New York City, NY
- Philadelphia, PA
- Pima County, AZ
- Spokane County, WA
- State of Connecticut
- St. Louis County, MO

Los Angeles County was one of original 20 jurisdictions chosen last year, but did not make it to the second round of full mentoring and funding.

Los Angeles and the other eight remaining counties will receive $150,000 grants, as well as technical assistance from experts, to keep up their reform efforts as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network.

Posted in LAPD, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Can “De-Escalation” Training Help the LAPD Shoot Fewer People? by Joe Domanick

April 13th, 2016 by witnessla

The LAPD’s New Plan to Shoot Fewer People

by Joe Domanick

“Every second counts, and hesitation will kill you,” Jamie McBride told the Los Angeles Police Commission last month.

McBride, a director of the Police Protective League, the Los Angeles Police Department’s rank-and-file union, was testifying at a hearing called to discuss the commission’s proposal to establish new guidelines for officers’ use of force—and he didn’t mince words.

The guidelines, he said “will get officers killed, plain and simple.”

The union director went on to deliver a chilling warning to the five civilians who sit on the commission: “Make no mistake, if an officer is killed as a result …. [his] blood will be on your hands.”

McBride’s comments weren’t unexpected. They reflected the traditional distrust of cops for rules set by outsiders that limit officers’ ability to maneuver in fast-moving and often dangerous situations.

But McBride’s testimony was overshadowed by a just-released report on officer-involved-shootings in Los Angeles during 2015. The commission, which sets Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) policy, could hardly avoid the alarming numbers spelled out in the report: 48 officer-involved shootings, 37 of which hit suspects, 22 of them fatally.

The eleven that hit no one were not warning shots: cops had simply missed their target.

It’s not just LA’s problem of course.

Since 2014, caught-on-camera police killings have fueled a national movement for change, which only seems to grow stronger each month.

But no one listening to McBride that day could have avoided a stark comparison with some other big-city police departments. In Chicago, with a population that’s somewhat smaller than that of LA, and where gun violence seems to set new records each year, officers shot 22 people in 2015, killing eight. In New York, with roughly three times as many police officers and a population about twice as large as LA’s, officers shot 32 people last year, nine fatally.

The proposal by LA’s Police Commission, which so angered McBride, was far from radical. It focused on training cops to avoid the kinds of confrontations that lead to officers shooting unarmed civilians—-many of whom, as critics point out, are stopped on the flimsiest of pretexts.

The strategy is called “de-escalation.”

The force behind LA’s new strategy is commission president Matthew Johnson, who was named to the post only last year. Johnson, whose day job is managing partner of an entertainment law firm of 30 attorneys, is an African-American native of New Jersey. A graduate of New York University Law School, he moved to LA “literally three weeks,” as he put it, after the 1992 LA riots.

In formulating the strategy, Johnson took a lawyer’s careful approach. He first ordered a ten-year review of LAPD shootings. At the same time, the review examined a wide range of training policies that guide officer behavior and ultimately influence tactics, including procedures for handling the mentally ill, as well as alternatives to using deadly-force weapons.

Based on that review, the commission concluded that the department’s previous approach, which called on officers to demonstrate “a reverence for human life,” was far too vague. Instead, it called for a new approach that was not just aimed at minimizing shootings, but would train and reward officers who used de-escalation tactics to avoid them—and hold accountable cops who did not.

In its revised policy guidelines, the commission said that, henceforth, shooting a suspect would be considered “in-policy” only if it occurred as a last resort.

A key component of the stricter accountability called for in the guidelines was already in place. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the commission had instituted a requirement that all patrol officers wear body cameras, and that every patrol car be equipped with a camera.

Outside critics were already unhappy with some elements of the camera policy, namely providing the right to review any use-of-force tapes before an officer made a sworn shooting statement, thus allowing the officer to present his account in the best possible light, given the hard evidence represented by the video recordings.

Nevertheless, the support of Beck, and the grudging acceptance of the union for the cameras, gave the commission what it considered a crucial new oversight tool in adjudicating use-of-force incidents.

“The cameras,” Johnson said in a conversation with me, “have made a huge difference [in determining accountability.] At the end of the day the video is what the video is. You can only explain so much, but the video is going to stand on its own.”

Beck and the commission had already begun reviewing officer-involved shootings to consider not just whether the shooting was in or out-of-policy, but whether the tactics leading up to the shooting were appropriate. So some elements of the revised guidelines weren’t new.

What is different, however, is that, as a result of the commission’s decision, de-escalation will be written into official policy, mandating that officers be trained in de-escalation techniques that they must use in their interactions with citizens.

Failure to do so will now be cause to declare a shooting “out-of-policy,” even if the officer, because of his failure, had placed himself in a position where he felt he had to fire his weapon to protect himself. An out-of-policy finding has become a serious matter in the LAPD, one that can result in anything from required retraining, to a reprimand, loss of promotion, or firing.

Some of the de-escalation training is also already in place. Shooting scenarios are now performed with actors playing suspects. The scenarios graphically demonstrate how to avoid the need to shoot, focusing on when a trainee might have used de-escalation but didn’t.

“They learn how the right way of talking to a suspect, and the right display of empathy and body language [that] can de-escalate a situation,” said Beck.

Indeed, despite the union’s objections, some experts outside the LAPD do believe a well-executed de-escalation training regime can make officers—and the public—safer.

According to Michael Gennaco, who oversaw reform efforts for the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department, officers can slow down an escalating situation by taking cover, and calling for back-up or specialized units. They can also try to calm individuals, being careful not to get so close to a suspect that a mere gesture might cause the officer to lose his or her cool.

Clearly, as Gennaco says, “Some shootings are unavoidable; you’ll never get to zero.”

But he adds, “You can strive to get the number as low as possible, and avoid the ‘lawful but awful’ kinds of deadly force incidents that we have seen too many times.”

But is following de-escalation policy sufficient by itself?

Training in avoiding interactions that can quickly spin out of control is obviously critical—-but only if it’s built into community policing strategy. Successful police-citizen interaction ultimately has to be based on efforts to gain the acceptance and respect of the public. De-escalation of volatile incidents is only a first step.

Whether they fall “in” or “out” of the new policy guidelines, police shootings will continue to shock the public conscience unless law enforcement departments establish a clear goal of establishing legitimacy in the communities they serve.

Near the end of my interview with Matt Johnson, I asked him how the LA Police Commission would monitor compliance with the new policy, which is scheduled to be implemented within the next 30 days.

“We have an inspector general with a staff of 40 auditors and investigators who will insure the policy is complied with,” he said.

“And if this policy doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”

Joe Domanick is West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report. This column is being published in partnership with VICE and The Crime Report. Joe welcomes comments from readers.

Photo by Chris Yarzeb courtesy of Creative Commons

Posted in LAPD | 9 Comments »

LA County Supes Vote to Track Fiscal Impact of Prop. 47 and Devote 50% of Savings to Prevention Programs

April 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

At last week’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, Auditor-Controller John Naimo informed the Supes—-via an 18-page report—that the county had no way to come up with an accurate estimate of savings (or increased costs) from Proposition 47.

Prop. 47 reclassified six low-level drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors, and was supposed to save the state more than $100 million each year. Money saved by Prop. 47 is earmarked for community mental health and rehabilitation services, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services.

None of the eight county departments included in Naimo’s review had methods in place for gathering and tracking the financial impact of Prop. 47 in Los Angeles County.

“It’s worrisome that many county departments aren’t keeping track of the information they need to understand how Prop 47 is changing their operations,” said John Kim, Executive Director of Advancement Project.

The problem isn’t unique to Los Angeles. “We contacted the counties of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego to identify best practices, and noted that all four counties did not track and quantify Prop 47 cost savings and/or increases at the time of our revÍew,” Naimo wrote in the report.

The Auditor-Controller did come up with a rough estimate (for fiscal year 2015-2016) of $9.2 million in net savings from the voter-approved 2014 law.

On Tuesday, the board approved two important motions from Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The first motion will split the savings, sending 50% to community-based mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and victims services, and 50% will go to Prop. 47 task forces, which among other duties, will ensure the Public Defender’s Office and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office have enough resources to get all Prop. 47 petitions processed before the November 2017 deadline.

“Investing 50% of Prop. 47 savings in community prevention is a big step forward and moves savings upstream, into prevention. But we are only halfway there,” said the LA Coalition for Safety and Justice in a statement released Tuesday. “One hundred percent of the savings should be invested into community based programs that reduce recidivism, increase neighborhood safety, and get residents the appropriate care they need, such as substance abuse treatment and youth development.”

Drug Policy Alliance’s Eunisses Hernandez stressed the importance of the money allocated for local legal resources to get all Prop. 47-eligible petitions processed. “I think this motion is really great,” said Hernandez. “I just want to ensure that we include some of that funding to go into the community-based legal service providers…that are working on implementing Prop. 47, and helping people remove the barriers to employment, housing, and other things that can lead to recidivism.”

At the state level, CA Governor Jerry Brown’s budget has calculated that savings to be $29.3 million. And the ACLU and other advocates have criticized Gov. Brown for putting Prop. 47 money back into the prison system by subtracting certain supervision and court costs from the Prop. 47 savings total. A report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget under-counted the dollar amount Proposition 47 saved the state by about $100 million.

The second motion will have the eight county departments—which include the LASD, Probation, the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender, the DA, Dept. of Health Services, and Dept. of Mental Health—track and analyze work and productivity data in a manner that will clarify Prop. 47 savings and better inform the budget.

“Already tens of thousands of people in Los Angeles County have applied for a change in their criminal record under Prop. 47, allowing them to escape the burden of a felony that for too long has precluded them from accessing jobs, housing, and other things that are key to maintaining stability,” said Danny Montes of Californians for Safety and Justice. “Our county’s justice system needs to adapt to changes in the law. Prop. 47 requires new approaches, and everyone in our county’s justice system needs to be committed to that.”

We at WLA will be keeping an eye on these issues.

This post was updated April 13, at 2:20p.m. to include quotes from the board’s meeting.

Posted in Propositions, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

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