Restorative Justice Transforms Colorado High School, Recommended Longreads, $6.4M for a Wrongful Murder Conviction…and MoreFebruary 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker
REPLACING HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE WITH CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Once consumed by chronic suspensions and expulsions, Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado has seen significant success using a “restorative justice” student discipline model. (We’ve pointed to other schools successfully swapping zero-tolerance policies for practices that foster positive behavior changes and keep kids in class—here, and here.)
The above PBS NewsHour video and transcript can be found here.
LIFE AS AN LAPD TRAINEE, AND A SQUAD BUILT TO FOSTER GOOD POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS IN THE JORDAN DOWNS PROJECTS
This week the LA Times featured two longform stories we didn’t want you to miss. Both are a testament to the value of narrative journalism’s ability to communicate the things standard reporting cannot.
For several years, Joel Rubin and photographer Brian van der Brug followed a class of LAPD recruits, from their first day in the academy, through graduation, and beyond.
Here’s how it opens (read the rest and watch the video by van der Brug):
Before they hit the streets as new cops, the recruits took a final run together.
It was a fitting end, given all the miles they had logged over the last six months. In a few days, they would graduate from the Los Angeles Police Department’s training academy and scatter to stations throughout the city for their rookie years.
On this misty morning in November 2010, they sang like soldiers do as they jogged from a training facility near LAX to the beach. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we tell them, ‘We are the LAPD! Best department in the world!’”
In the front was Clay Bell, a young ex-Marine from Texas who had emerged early as the class leader. In the pack behind him, Ed Anderson sang the loudest. At 46, Anderson was the oldest in the class and the most unlikely cop among them. Vanessa Lopez lagged in the back. Lopez hated running. Barely cracking 5 feet, she had come to the LAPD after the Army told her she was too short to be a helicopter pilot. The LAPD had helicopters.
“Up early with the California sun. Pride run! Last run! Oh, yeah! Almost done!”
They arrived at a bluff overlooking the Pacific and scrambled down to the beach. They stared out onto the water, each of them lost for a moment in their own thoughts. The quiet was broken when a few charged into the water. Others who held back were tossed in. Anderson walked up to Lopez. Still dry, she crossed her arms and shook her head.
They had come to the academy from different worlds — she was a Mexican American from Compton, Anderson a father of two from a wealthy Bay Area town.
They had forged a tight bond over the one thing they had in common: They wanted to be LAPD cops.
“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Anderson said. “Like the hard part is only about to begin.”
In the other LAT longread, Kurt Streeter follows an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts. Here’s how it opens:
Officers Keith Linton and Otis Swift stopped their patrol car, rolled down a window and motioned to a hoodie-wearing teenager. In this part of South L.A., such encounters can be tense — or worse.
“Hey, Linton. Hey, Swift,” the teen said. “How y’all doing?”
“Doing good, my man,” Linton replied, launching into a conversation about basketball.
Similar scenes played out all afternoon as the cops worked their beat in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Watts with a violent reputation and a history of ill will between residents and police.
Part of an experimental LAPD squad trying to bring a softer style of policing to the area, Linton and Swift didn’t make arrests or issue tickets. Instead they greeted every resident they could — even giving respectful nods to the gang members hanging out in an area known as the “parolee lot.”
“We haven’t had anyone cussing us out and no one has flipped us the middle finger,” Swift said. “Around here, that’s progress. Not long ago we’d pop in, make an arrest…. We were the invading army.
“We’ve found out that way doesn’t work.”
Jordan Downs, once predominantly African American, is now mostly Latino. More than half its adult residents are unemployed, only two in 100 have college degrees and the average family earns about $1,250 a month. It is home turf for the Grape Street Crips, whose reputation largely defines the development’s identity and whose blood-soaked feuds with rival gangs created the feel of a war zone.
But Los Angeles officials are pinning their hopes on a transformation. They have launched a nearly $1-billion plan to tear down all 700 units and replace them with up to 1,800 mixed-income apartments and a shopping center. The hurdles are significant. The plan leans partly on federal funds that may not materialize. And a parcel of land slated for construction needs cleanup after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil.
Anticipating that a makeover eventually will occur, the city’s housing authority is attempting to change the culture of Jordan Downs. The idea is to fill the new buildings with residents who have a fresh outlook and brighter prospects. The authority has poured at least $6 million into programs like job training classes, gang intervention and support groups for parents.
It also wants to do what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: heal the community’s relationship with police…
MAN EXONERATED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON GETS COMPENSATED $6.4M
A New York man who spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City.
Former detective Louis Scarcella allegedly manufactured David Ranta’s confession and coerced witnesses to lie about Ranta’s involvement in the murder. And Ranta may not be the only victim. Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson has created a panel to review more than 50 of Scarcella’s suspiciously obtained convictions. (Go here for WLA’s previous post on the issue.)
The NY Times’ Frances Robles has the story. Here’s how it opens:
A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department — which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a “groundbreaking” decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced.
The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.
“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”
CREATING AN EFFECTIVE LASD COMMISSION
In part three of his editorial series this week, LA Times’ Robert Greene says the Board of Supervisors should consider the structure of the LA Police Commission and the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when (and if) they create independent oversight of the embattled sheriff’s department.
The format cannot be exactly the same as either. Nor would it be as powerful: the sheriff (unlike the police chief) is an elected leader, and answers to the public. But, Greene says, bits and pieces can, and should, be taken from both the LAPD commission and MTA oversight models to build an influential LASD commission that is more than just an extension of the Board of Supervisors.
Here are some clips:
The city commission actually heads the LAPD and has an essential role in the mayor’s selection of a chief. It conducts weekly sessions which the police chief skips at his peril, and the chief or his staff must answer commissioners’ questions, usually in public although sometimes in closed session.
The commission has its own staff, including an inspector general who is independent from the chain of command. The commission is in some sense the eyes and ears of the mayor, who appoints the members as well as the chief. But because it holds its sessions regularly and mostly in public, and because the chief must appear, present documents, and answer questions as demanded, the commission is also the eyes and ears of the public.
And because the chief knows that in reporting to the mayor, the commissioners have a loud voice in determining whether the chief gets appointed to a second term, the body’s oversight of the Police Department is genuine.
No sheriff’s oversight commission could have any such voice in a second, third or any term for an independently elected sheriff, at least not under current law, and it could only request, not demand, that the sheriff appear and produce documents. How, then, could it exercise genuine oversight?
On its own, the Board of Supervisors can push forward with reforms, as it did with some recommendations offered over the last two decades in 33 substantive reports on the Sheriff’s Department by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; or it can ignore them, as it did with many others. The task is to make the commission more than just the eyes and ears of the board; like the Police Commission, it must be the eyes and ears of the public.
Because it lacks the Police Commission’s formal power, it must be adept at using moral suasion and focusing public attention; and to do that it must have the credibility of a body that transcends the Board of Supervisors and is not merely the board’s proxies.
(Read the rest of Greene’s suggestions here.)