Light LA Against Gun Violence

In honor of more than 30,000 people killed by guns each year, including the children who were slain at Sandy Hook Elementary two years ago, Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl joined gun violence survivors to promote the first ever “Light L.A. Day.”

Speakers at the event included Sarah Wirtz and Rhonda Foster, whose niece and son respectively, were lost to gun violence. Wirtz, whose niece was one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, told the audience, “You don’t think it can happen to you, until it does.” Foster, whose son was killed at the age of seven, said, “We have lost too many loved ones to gun violence.”

Light LA Day, sponsored by the advocacy groups, Women Against Gun Violence, Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, local Brady Campaign chapters, and the network of gun violence prevention organizations throughout the county, is part of a national remembrance coordinated by the Newtown Foundation in partnership with the Washington National Cathedral and other anti-violence groups.

To help shine a light on the devastating toll that gun violence takes on society, faith organizations and gun violence prevention groups held vigils in each of the 50 states. According to the Newtown Action Alliance, there have been 91 school shootings nationwide since the tragic assault in Newtown.

“Enough is enough,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “For the sake of our children, it is time to take a stand and work toward a more peaceful and better future for all.”

Board Approves Sheriff’s Oversight

After two years of debate, discussion and impassioned testimony from residents, reform advocates and former jail inmates, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a citizen’s oversight commission for the Sheriff’s Department. Broadly framed, the purpose of the commission will be to ensure heightened public scrutiny of the department. The commission, first proposed by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and then Supervisor Gloria Molina, became a reality under the newly constituted board. Supervisor Hilda Solis co-authored the motion with Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

Allegations of excessive force, significant litigation costs and a moral imperative to ensure constitutional policing in the jails and communities illustrate the need for an oversight entity, the majority of Supervisors agreed.

Although he was not present at the board meeting, newly sworn in Sheriff Jim McDonnell has stated his strong support for such a commission, promising to work closely with the commission and forge a positive working relationship with the panel.

With the nation highly shaken by the publicized shooting deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, the creation of an oversight panel – long a best practice in municipalities across the country – gained new urgency. “Ferguson” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, has become a byword for a host of issues that Los Angeles County must proactively seek to avoid.

Board of Supervisors Meeting – Item 2 / Civilian Oversight“The sheriff’s department has long required a level of scrutiny that has been missing. The time has come,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.  “New department leadership has been elected with a mandate for reform that embraces accountability and transparency and recognizes that an independent advisory oversight commission is an important tool in restoring public confidence.”

“For more than two years, the county’s citizens have called for creation of a citizen’s oversight commission,” said Supervisor Solis. “Across this county, the public trust in the people charged with keeping us safe has fallen to a new low.  Under the new leadership we have a chance to restore the trust given the county”.

Supervisor Solis added that the creation of an oversight commission is a fiscally prudent step, one that ultimately will result in better policing, fewer lawsuits and therefore more resources to be used on pressing policy matters.

The vote for the Citizen’s Commission, calls for the creation of a working group that includes the Sheriff, the Inspector General and one appointee of each Supervisor, that will come up with recommendations on the oversight commission’s mission, authority, size, structure, relationship to the Office of the Sheriff and to the Office of the Inspector General.

“An advisory citizen’s commission would ensure that all segments of our community feel a greater investment in our Sheriff’s Department and that they are able to work with us in ensure that the LASD’s policing is effective, fair and constitutional,” noted Sheriff McDonnell in a letter of support.

Each supervisor will appoint a commissioner to the panel. In addition, it calls for a funding and staffing plan for the commission and for a formal agreement between the Sheriff’s Department, the Office of the Inspector General and the board.

Supervisor Kuehl also noted that a commission would increase public trust, and protect both sworn officers and inmates, adding:  “It’s certainly been shown to be effective in other counties.  It’s also a smart policy. We need a single centralized body to cut through this confusion and monitor the department.”

More than 50 speakers testified before the Board on the issue, the overwhelming majority in support of the commission. Speakers included Rabbi Jonathan Klein of Clergy & Laity for Economic Unity, Marsha Temple, executive director of the Integrative Recovery Network and Kim McGill, executive director of the Youth Justice Coalition and Patrice Cullors, executive director of the Coalition to End sheriff Violence.


Los Angeles County Supports City of LA in Supreme Court Case

Los Angeles County is backing the City of Los Angeles in its effort to crack down on motels and hotels that are magnets for criminal activity, including child sex trafficking.

Recently, the Board of Supervisors agreed to join in an amicus brief in support of the city in a case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Los Angeles v Patel will determine if the Los Angeles Police Department can check motel registries on demand or penalize motel owners for refusing to cooperate without allowing the motel owner a chance contest the inspection before a judge. In December, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, ruled against the city, saying the ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the county have witnessed the use of these motels to facilitate the sale of children for sex along prostitution tracks. At least 70 cities across the nation, including Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, have similar laws. Courts in other parts of the country have upheld similar laws.

With ordinances like this, traffickers, predators and drug dealers are less likely to use these motels if they know guest information can be made available to police on a moment’s notice. The prevalence of the internet is pushing the sale of commercial sex from the streets, behind the doors of motels and hotels.

The buying and selling of women and children for sex is a multi-billion industry increasingly run by gangs. These women and children are subjected to extremely violent and traumatic acts that too often result in death at a young age.

“While we recognize the need to respect the 4th amendment and we must keep a vigilant eye on potential abuse, these surprise guest-register inspections play an important role in cleaning up neighborhoods that have been living under the threat of violence, drug dealing and blight that many of these motels perpetuate,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Don Knabe. “We are in solidarity with the City of Los Angeles in their efforts to keep blight out of our communities.”

County Unveils Pilot Program to Combat Sex Trafficking

Los Angeles County is moving forward to strengthen the safety net for children who have been victims of sex trafficking. After two years of work, county departments are working together to provide wraparound services for these young people.

“It is our job to protect our children,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And we will not empower sick unscrupulous pimps and johns who buy and sell children on our streets to criminalize our children as prostitutes. Our children are victims needing our support.”

1MZ_0150The Supervisor joined Board Chairman Don Knabe and representatives of multiple county departments to unveil the first Los Angeles County pilot program to establish a first responder protocol for sex trafficking victims.

Where once young people picked up on sex-related charges were treated as “prostitutes,” both supervisors, emphasized that no child should be given the label.

“Changing the culture, especially in government, can be very difficult, as we all know,” Supervisor Knabe said, adding “but these girls, who may be a neighbor or may be a relative are being tortured with physical and sexual abuse.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that Los Angeles is one of the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas, and it is estimated that, 3,000 children in the region are victims of trafficking. The average age these young people are forced or coerced onto the streets is between 12 and13 years-old, and increasingly, sex trafficking is a highly lucrative business run by gangs.

1MZ_0141With the new protocol in place, it is the county’s goal to see that underage victims of sex trafficking no longer are arrested, detained and released in what is often an unending cycle. With the paradigm shift, it is the goal of law enforcement, mental health officials, child protection agencies to surround the victim with care and treatment, ensuring, for example, that they are placed in a safe housing, enrolled in school and given proper physical and mental health services. And the program is only the first of many steps that will be coming to help these children.

The board of supervisors will receive quarterly updates on the results of the new system.

“The pilot is an important first step that establishes a strong response team that will be individualized—treating the needs of each victim, one child at a time,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “What we truly hope is that it creates a bond of trust between these children and the adults who do care about their welfare and have their best interests at heart. With trust, these children can heal. As they heal, they can begin to rebuild their young lives.”

A New Way of Life for Former Inmates

Joseph Baddley, 53, became homeless after being in and out of prison. Not having access to medical care, when Baddley became sick, he hit rock bottom. But thanks to a new program to build more supportive housing in Los Angeles County, Baddley has found an apartment to call home. The 43 units, spread over five formerly blighted and foreclosed properties in South Los Angeles, were specifically created for those who were homeless, veterans in need of housing, former inmates re-entering the community, those living with special needs and those with mental health illnesses.

“Many people helped save my life,” said Baddley. “I love my home and I treat it as a gift,” said Baddley.

Recent ribbon cutting for the the Coalition for Responsible Community Development apartments.

The apartments represent the best of what government, the private sector and community organizations can accomplish when they work together. The project was sponsored by the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and involved a successful collaboration among Los Angeles County, Los Angeles City, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles, Los Angeles Housing Department, California Housing Finance Agency and Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health among others. The project was completed in August 2013 at a total development cost of $10.5-million. Ten of the 43 units are specifically designed for the visually, physically or mobility impaired.

“CRCD Apartments, with its support from both the City and the County, is a example of permanent supportive housing that works,” said CRCD Executive Director Mark Wilson, noting that residents will be eligible to receive mental health services, regular health care and an array of social services supported with intensive case management.

Former inmate and resident Yolanda Brown. Photo courtesy of CRCD.

For women who have been incarcerated, the apartments offer an especially important place. Many women who are former inmates have trouble finding jobs and housing and end up on the street, where they are often in danger, explained Susan Burton, executive director of A New Way of Life, one of the organizations responsible for the successful re-entry efforts. A New Way of Life supports these residents by providing therapy and legal assistance at court hearings. Many women residents are mothers with children, Burton said. These mothers also receive job training services and assistance with child care.

Resident and former inmate Joseph Baddley tears up while welcoming Supervisor Ridley-Thomas into his new home.

At the recent grand opening of the apartments, Baddley invited a few guests into his home including A New Way of Life Executive Director Susan Burton and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“He invited us into his home, held back his tears best he could and told us his story,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This is the face of reentry.”

Supporting affordable housing has been a focus for the Supervisor since taking office in 2008. Since 2009, the Supervisor has helped to create 1,100 units in the second district representing a total public/private investment of more than $350-million. And 295 additional units are now under construction representing an additional $121-million.

During his public remarks at the grand opening, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas focused on the economic benefits of supportive housing to the county. He noted that building housing costs far less than incarceration.

“Many talk about redemption, recovery and reentry,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The Coalition for Responsible Community Development is doing it.”