Education, Arts & Culture

Protocol to Protect Sex Trafficking Victims

As Los Angeles County announced progress in combatting the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion aimed at building on the success of the First Responder Protocol which, during its first four years, led to the recovery of 361 young people from traffickers.

Authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, the motion called for an external evaluation and longitudinal study of the Protocol to maintain consistency in practice and fidelity to the model as it is scaled up.

“The First Responder Protocol has made an undeniable difference in the lives of hundreds of exploited and abused young people,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “While it is disheartening to learn of the history of trauma and maltreatment that has plagued so many of these children and teens, it reminds us that there are multiple opportunities during a child’s life for any one of us to report abuse, provide support, and prevent or intervene in the pernicious crime of child sex trafficking.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, center, with LA County Department of Children and Family Services Division Chief Ed Fithyan; LA County Probation Department Child Sex Trafficking Unit Director Michelle Guymon; Dr. Carly Dierkhising of CalState LA; and Atty. Kate Walker Brown with the National Center for Youth Law after they provided the Board of Supervisors with a report on the First Responder Protocol.

“As this innovative Protocol enters its fifth year, it is rightfully held up as an exemplar for other jurisdictions,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “I believe it is worthy of an outside evaluation – one that will validate its findings and strengthen its effectiveness as it is scaled up.”

The Protocol was the result of a motion approved by the Board. Launched in 2014, it defines key steps that law enforcement, County safety net agencies and community-based partners should take within 72 hours of coming into contact with a potential victim of commercial sexual exploitation. Instead of re-traumatizing them by arresting them for crimes committed by pimps and johns, the Protocol diverts these children and youth from incarceration, and connects them to safety, stability and hope.

Given the physical and mental trauma they have experienced, the Protocol focuses on meeting their immediate needs and supporting them to achieve long-term safety and stability through intensive wrap-around services, including making sure they have a community-based advocate and a team of other professionals who remain in their life for a minimum of 90 days, but sometimes for several years.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has long been an advocate for these children and youth and, in 2015, authored a motion that led to the creation of the Integrated Leadership Team (ILT), a collaboration among several County departments now tasked with overseeing and implementing the County’s response and approach to their commercial sexual exploitation. The ILT’s findings in its report on the first four years of the protocol include:

  • 361 children and teenagers were recovered from August 14, 2014 to August 14, 2018, some more than once – one youth was recovered nine different times;
  • the average age at first recovery was just under 16 years old, and the youngest victim was 11 years old;
  • 359 are girls; 2 are boys;
  • 85 percent had one or more prior child welfare referrals;
  • 71 percent are African-American, 18 percent are Latino or Latina, and 10 percent are white;
  • 65 percent received a medical evaluation within the first 72 hours after recovery;
  • the immediate wrap-around services resulted in a significant drop in the number of youth who ran away once they were recovered. With continued support and engagement, only 12 percent disappeared after the first 72 hours.

The Protocol was piloted in areas served by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Compton and Century stations, and by the Long Beach Police Department. As of July 2018, the protocol was fully implemented at all Sheriff’s stations and at all divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department. Representatives from multiple jurisdictions, including the Counties of San Diego and Alameda, and the states of Alabama, Texas, and Washington have met with protocol personnel to learn how to implement the Protocol in their respective jurisdictions.

In the meantime, County departments and community organizations will continue working together to ensure that Los Angeles County remains a transformative leader in how the country serves youth and families who have been affected by commercial sexual exploitation.

Below is a series of videos about the issue of sex trafficking in Los Angeles County:

 




Harvest Party Mixes Pumpkins and Development Projects

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas greets a younger community member at the October 27, 2018 Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

Youth show up for face painting, games, and other activities at the Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

More than 200 people turned out for a fun-filled Harvest Party on the site of the mixed-use development slated for the intersection of Vermont and Manchester avenues in South LA. The site, formerly a blighted lot, had been converted for the afternoon into colorful, family-friendly area, with bright yellow benches and overhead canopies for shade. There were free pumpkins and face painting for children, mini-soccer balls for toddlers, free tacos and beans for all and healthy cooking demonstrations.

But this was a party with a purpose. Fulfilling a promise to keep the community informed and engaged as the affordable housing, retail and educational project slated for the site moves forward, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas — who sponsored the event — invited area residents to meet the developers who will be transforming the site.

A young community member selects a pumpkin at the Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

Bridge Housing heads the team which will be responsible for constructing and operating the retail, affordable housing, transit plaza and parking planned the site. Their partners include the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and Primestor Development, Inc. all of whom have deep roots in community and economic development across South Los Angeles. Throughout the afternoon, community members moved from the child-oriented events to booths where they casually chatted with the team and shared their ideas.

“This site has been a hot topic for 30 years,” said Juan Molino, editor of a local blog and newspaper. “There’s been a lot of heat over the lack of development in the past because we were sold lots of dreams by the past owner. But I’m a fan of what they’re doing here,” he said, gesturing to the developer’s booths and sweeping his arm to encompass the entire event. “This project is going to be good for us in so many ways.”

Planned for the 4.2-acre site are: California’s first urban public boarding school,180 units of affordable housing, a transportation careers training center, open space and 62,000 square foot of retail space. The school, which will be operated by the SEED Foundation, already is poised to become a one-of-a-kind pipeline for graduates seeking lucrative careers in the STEM and transportation fields.

“This project is designed to be an economic engine for this community,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “In particular, the school will give some of our best and brightest children the tools they need to graduate and either go to college or to begin a job for which they have been fully prepared.

The Empowerment Congress Economic Development Committee showed up to the Vermont/Manchester activation. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

“We are laying the foundation for wealth-building on the Vermont Corridor, starting right here at Vermont and Manchester,” the Supervisor continued.

Lesley Poole, chief executive officer of the Seed Foundation also was on hand for the party. Poole, who is based in Washington D.C., has family ties to the Vermont/Manchester community and chatted easily with community members, introducing herself and listening to their ideas.

SEED runs the nation’s only network of public, college-preparatory boarding schools. SEED Los Angeles will be the foundation’s fourth school; the others are in Washington D.C., Maryland and Miami. The LA school will offer a STEM-focused curriculum for grades 9-12, and the school will recruit students from the local community and across the County, in partnership with the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“Success starts with the community,” Poole said. “Our goal is to ensure young people have agency, opportunity and resources. When people have the necessary resources, they can bring about the changes they want for their own communities.”

Community members play a large version of tic-tac-toe. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

Probation Reform and Implementation Team Weighs Powers of Future Probation Oversight Commission

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) held its fourth in a series of public meetings to develop a comprehensive plan for reforming the nation’s largest Probation Department. They discussed ways to transform the existing Probation Commission into a new – and strengthened – Probation Oversight Commission (POC).

The effort is in line with the Board of Supervisors’ far-reaching commitment to criminal justice reform, and is expected to result in better outcomes for youth and adults under Probation supervision, as well as to make Probation more transparent and accountable to the public.

At the meeting, PRIT members had a chance to hear from experts and stakeholders who discussed empowering the POC to conduct investigations, have access to information, conduct facility inspections, and expand oversight to adults. Speakers included:

  • Brian Williams, Executive Director of the LA County Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission
  • Max Huntsman, Inspector General of LA County
  • Mark Smith, Inspector General, Los Angeles Police Department
  • Patricia Soung, Youth Justice Policy Director and Senior Staff Attorney, Children’s Defense Fund

“It is not every day that the residents of LA County have a chance to design a new entity in County government,” said Saul Sarabia, chairperson of the PRIT. “Shaping the powers of the Probation Oversight Commission by drawing on community wisdom to engage and deliberate about best practices will create public ownership and awareness over the POC – the first step towards increasing accountability and transparency.”

PRIT member Cyn Yamashiro added, “Monitoring a department that has an annual budget of $935 million and jurisdiction over the lives of 7,500 youth and 45,000 adults is no easy task. We need broad community input to fulfill the Board of Supervisors’ charge to design a new oversight body with adequate powers, staffing and community confidence to achieve the systemic reform of the nation’s largest Probation Department.”

“The challenges in Probation are so systemic and persistent that they stymie those in the department who are trying to do good work,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion that created the PRIT. “Strengthening oversight and increasing accountability are absolutely necessary if the department is to improve its operations, fulfill its mandate to rehabilitate, and restore public trust.”

“Oversight is essential to ensuring that the Probation Department maintains fidelity to the values of transparency and accountability, thereby building and maintaining trust with the communities it serves,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “It is imperative that the Probation Oversight Commission is structured to include input with the broadest community reach, and is staffed with experts who can guide the Probation Department, celebrate its wins, address its deficiencies, and serve as our trusted advisors to help the Board of Supervisors and the community keep the Probation Department accountable.”

“Oversight can be a tool to accomplish our mission rather than a punitive process,” said Probation Chief Terri McDonald. “I welcome the Probation Oversight Commission and their healthy criticism, support and guidance. I look forward to accommodating their new mission in a transparent manner.”

The PRIT is made up of a diverse and committed group of experts with deep experience in criminal justice, violence prevention and intervention, and social justice advocacy. The panel includes members appointed by each of the five County Supervisors:

  • Alex Sanchez, First District: Co-founder of Homies Unidos and an advocate committed to violence prevention through racial tolerance and cultural understanding;
  • Cyn Yamashiro, Second District: Former public defender who established a criminal defense legal clinic at Loyola Law School and currently leads the County’s juvenile indigent defense team;
  • Sheila Balkan, Third District: Research consultant and sentencing evaluation specialist who has participated in over 4,000 state and federal cases;
  • Jose Osuna, Fourth District: Consultant specializing in gang rehabilitation, community based re-entry solutions, community organizing and social justice advocacy; and
  • Mack Jenkins, Fifth District: Expert in evidence-based practices for community corrections, who served as Chief Probation Officer for San Diego County from 2007 to 2016.

The team also includes one representative each from the Probation Department, the Office of County Counsel and the County Chief Executive Office.  The panel was tasked to meet consistently for six to nine months to develop recommendations for the Board, with the public’s input.

Probation has a budget of almost $1 billion and supervisory responsibility for more than 40,000 adult clients and about 8,000 youth, more than 900 of whom are detained as juvenile clients in the halls, camps and other facilities.

Glimpsing the Promise of a SEED School in LA

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and LA County Metropolitan Transportation Agency CEO Phillip Washington at the SEED School of Washington D.C.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led a delegation of Los Angeles County officials to the East Coast to observe first-hand the nationally-acclaimed work of the SEED Foundation, which has been tapped to open an innovative public charter boarding school at the intersection of Vermont and Manchester Avenues in 2021, in partnership with the County and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“This is about building assets and  transforming communities in an indigenous context,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “SEED LA promises to raise up not just the families who will participate, but the region at large.”

The SEED Foundation has earned national praise for its innovative model of partnering with urban communities to design and operate college-preparatory public boarding schools that serve students five days a week, from grades 6-12, in Washington D.C., Baltimore and Miami. For 20 years,  it has integrated a rigorous academic program with a nurturing boarding program, and has taught life skills while providing a safe and secure environment to help children from high-need backgrounds achieve their dreams.

Inside the SEED School of Washington D.C.

SEED Los Angeles, which will be located at the intersection of Vermont and Manchester Avenues in South LA, will provide a STEM-focused college preparatory curriculum for grades 9-12. The school will recruit students from households within the  County’s safety net, and through an innovative partnership with Metro and the County. The goal is not only to prepare them for college, but also for careers within the transportation and infrastructure fields.

The County delegation included Metro CEO Phillip Washington and the leaders of various County Departments, including ‎Probation; Children and Family Services; Public Works; Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services; and Mental Health; as well as representatives from the Board of Supervisors.

A critical step in the development of the school happened on October 25, 2018, when the Metro Board unanimously approved an ongoing financial subsidy to support the operations of the school. The school is anticipated to open in 2021.

Celebrate LA!

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks during the launch of Celebrate LA! All photos by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Massive crowds celebrated as the  Los Angeles Philharmonic marked its 100th anniversary with an eight-mile long street festival connecting both of its venues, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas marches with the Centennial High School Marching Band from Compton.

Dubbed Celebrate LA!, the unprecedented community event featured 1,800 musicians, dancers and visual artists — mostly from L.A. – as well as live shows, food, and family activities. Presented in partnership with CicLAvia and Community Arts Resources, the festival kicked off with a performance by a marching band from Centennial High School in Compton.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to see how the LA Phil has chosen this gift for Los Angeles that celebrates community and creativity as reflected in the myriad performances all day and into the evening,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Arts are a vital part of the engagement, education, and empowerment that builds community every day here in Los Angeles County.”

“This Centennial is a chance to rededicate ourselves to the transformative power of music and to the magnificent City of Angels, where we will continue to make magic happen,” said LA Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel.

“Our Centennial is as diverse as the communities the LA Phil serves,” LA Phil Chief Executive Officer Simon Woods added. “It’s a big embrace of Los Angeles, its people and its amazing creative identity, and it’s as international as the artists who perform on our stages.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles.

The eight-mile route was transformed into an auto-free zone, with people walking, running, skating, scooting and biking on the streets instead. Major hubs along the route included Walt Disney Concert Hall, Koreatown, Melrose, and the Hollywood Bowl. Each featured performance stages, art installations, food trucks, screen-printing, kid-friendly activities, dancing, and live music from LA’s best musicians.

The festivities culminated in LA Phil 100 at the Bowl, a free community concert featuring Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil, and special guests Kali Uchis, Herbie Hancock, and Youth Orchestra Los Angeles.