Preparing for El Niño

As the sun grilled officials on the steps of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urged residents to use the opportunity to prepare for upcoming storms.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas was joined by Assessor Jeffrey Prang, Fire Chief Daryl Osby, Insurance Commissioners, the Office of Emergency Management, and the Department of Public Works to outline services being provided by the county to help residents prepare for the storm system known as El Niño.

“We are asking our citizens to partner with us to insure they are properly trained and prepared for a potential disaster or flood or the impact of El Nino,” Fire Chief Osby said.

Eric Bauman, a commissioner serving on the Los Angeles County Insurance Commission provided residents with ten tips for preparing for adequate flood insurance.

“This year with the onset of El Niño we thought it was very important that consumers knew how to prepare and how to understand what their insurance does and doesn’t provide them in terms of protection in the event they have damage from El Niño,” said Bauman.

According to the National Flood Insurance program, just two inches of flood water in a home can cost an average of $12,000 to clean as the water subsides.

The preparation by the county included its recent activation of its Emergency Operations Center to support County and local jurisdictions, agencies and community organizations preparing for and responding to the winter’s storms wrought by El Niño.

The County has also opened additional winter shelters, including one with 207 beds at Athens Park on 12603 S. Broadway in Los Angeles, and 100 beds in Del Aire at 12601 S. Isis Avenue in Hawthorne. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s deputies and other workers have been deployed to warn those staying in homeless encampments along riverbanks about heightened flood risks, while firefighters and other emergency personnel have evacuated some homes near burn areas because of landslide danger.

“This is part of a comprehensive county plan to combat homelessness, to rescue those individuals who are currently defined by such circumstances, and to move preventively to cause others not to fall into such tragic circumstances,” the Supervisor said.

Los Angeles County residents and businesses, including persons with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, may call 211 LA County for emergency preparedness information, and other referral services. They can also click on http://www.lacounty.gov/elnino to sign up for emergency notifications, download survival guides, report hazards, and even learn how to apply for disaster loans.

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Photo Credit: LA County FIre Department

Seeking Justice for Marquise Lawrence

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A $10,000 reward is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the murder of Marquise Lawrence in Compton on March 18, 2015.

The Board of Supervisors issued the reward, acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“Marquise Lawrence was known to the community as a hard-working, kind-hearted individual and devoted father,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said in the motion. “The shock and senselessness of this tragedy has left his family devastated.”

Marquise (1)“Help us find the person responsible so we can get some closure,” Marquise’s grandmother, Joann Lawrence-Haynes, said in a news conference to appeal for the public’s help. “Marquise was a good kid, a fine young man who cared about his family.”

Marquise was a 26-year-old EMT hoping to become a firefighter. At the time of his death, he taking classes at El Camino College and working two jobs to support his girlfriend and their then seven month-old daughter.

Marquise’s own father was also murdered when Marquise was 8 – a case that also remains unsolved.

“We hope this reward will be enough to encourage someone to help us catch the person who did this to Marquise and bring them to justice,” Marquise’s stepfather, Keith Haynes, said.

Marquise was driving eastbound on Willowbrook Avenue near Johnson Street around 5 p.m. on March 18, 2015 when he was struck by gunfire from an SUV going in the opposite direction.

Suffering from a gunshot wound, Marquise crashed his sedan into a concrete barrier that separated the street from Metro Blue Line railroad tracks.  He died of his injuries at St. Francis Medical Center.

The suspect is described as a heavy-set African American man in his 20’s, with an “Afro” hairstyle about 2-3 inches long. He escaped in a 1990’s blue Chevy Suburban, last seen heading west on Johnson Street and then north on Acacia Avenue.

The Sheriff’s Department hopes witnesses will come forward and provide information to Homicide Detective Steve Blagg or Sgt. Guillermo Morales at (323) 890-5500. Those wishing to remain anonymous can call CrimeStoppers at (800) 222-TIPS, or texting the letters TIPLA plus the tip to CRIMES (274637) or using the website: http://lacrimestoppers.org.

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County Probation Oversight Commission

IMG_1717The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to look into creating a Probation Oversight Commission to monitor – and help reform – the world’s largest Probation Department.

Various entities already evaluate Probation, which watches over tens of thousands of adult and juvenile probationers, both in and out of custody, as well as state parolees. None of those entities, however, provides comprehensive oversight of the entire system.

Tanisha Denard of the Youth Justice Coalition, testifying in support of the motion.

Tanisha Denard of the Youth Justice Coalition, testifying in support of the motion.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board created a working group to determine whether Probation needs an oversight commission similar to that recently established for the Sheriff’s Department.

“This is a critical moment for criminal justice reform in Los Angeles County,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“I co-authored this motion to endorse the idea of transformation,” he added. “A Probation Oversight Commission can play a vital role in promoting transparency, increasing accountability, and validating reform.”

Supervisor Kuehl said, “This motion is an essential next step in ensuring that the County’s Probation Department is willing and able to provide services needed to support the new and innovative criminal justice policies being adopted at the County and state levels.”

Testifying before the Supervisors, Interim Chief Probation Officer Cal Remington said, “The Probation Department is making a commitment to this Board and the public that we will become more transparent, and this (motion) is one way to do that. I’m looking forward to this period of study.”

Interim Chief Probation Officer Cal Remington

Interim Chief Probation Officer Cal Remington

Probation union AFSCME Local 685 First Vice President Hans Liang also expressed support for the motion.

“It’s no secret our department has been in chaos far too long,” he told the Board. “Change is needed, and we believe you’re on the right track.”

Denise Herz, Ph.D., of the Cal State LA School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics, noted the Probation Oversight Commission would be the first of its kind and added, “I think L.A. can, in fact, be the model for the United States.”

Eastlake Juvenile Hall chaplain Cheryl Bonacci believes it “will go a long way in strengthening relations between the Probation Department and the community it serves.”

Civilian Oversight Commission Takes Shape

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The Board of Supervisors moved a step closer to launching Los Angeles County’s first-ever Civilian Oversight Commission, aimed at strengthening public trust in the Sheriff’s Department.

The Board voted unanimously to adopt a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Chair Hilda Solis that established guidelines for the Commission’s membership, access to information, budget and staffing.

“There is a moral imperative to ensure that constitutional policing exists in the County’s communities and jails,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, the motion’s lead author. “The establishment of a permanent oversight entity without delay is well justified, and can play a vital role in promoting transparency, restoring public trust and validating reform efforts.”

“Approval of today’s motion is also a critical move toward fiscal responsibility,” Chair Solis pointed out. “The County spends millions of taxpayer dollars settling lawsuits. That money could be spent on housing, services, or tax relief.”

Susan Burton, founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, testifying in support of the motion.

The motion also drew praise from Jose Osuna, director of external affairs at Homeboy Industries, which provides job training to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, allowing them to become contributing members of society.

“We are highly encouraged by the commitment that is demonstrated by this motion to improve relationships between law enforcement, government, and the community,” Mr. Osuna told the Board.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell expressed support for the motion, saying, “I welcome the opportunity to work with the Inspector General and to have the Civilian Oversight Commission to be able to validate the good that’s being done (by the Sheriff’s Department) on behalf of the public.”Since the Sheriff signed a memorandum of agreement last month to provide the Inspector General with unprecedented access to information, the Board will wait until May 31 before considering asking voters to give the Commission subpoena powers via Charter amendment.

Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA, supported the move. “I agree with the makers of the motion that it is worthwhile to allow the Sheriff to demonstrate that his voluntary agreement to share information with the Commission will be sufficient,” he told the Board. “[Afterwards], the Supervisors can consider what, if any, changes should be made involving subpoena power and changes to state law.

Under the motion, the five Supervisors would each appoint a Commissioner. The Board as a whole would appoint four other Commissioners from a pool of candidates recruited by a consultant.

In an effort to diversity the expertise and perspective of Commission members, the Board decided not to ban former LASD personnel from serving on the Commission – but they would be eligible only if they had been on civilian status for at least a year.

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Supporters of the motion establishing the Civilian Oversight Commission.