Improving Civil Service Accountability

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All photos by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

The Board of Supervisors voted to review the civil service hearing process to ensure Los Angeles County employees are held to the highest standards of trustworthiness, especially if they are responsible for public safety or serve vulnerable populations.

BCA_8892 (1)Acting on a motion by Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the Board called for analyzing whether civil service rules should be amended to allow the discharge, reassignment, or other discipline of employees who have made false statements, misrepresentations and omissions of material facts in internal investigations. It will also assess whether to keep track of different classifications of employees who should be held to a higher standard of honesty in the workplace.

“We are committed as a Board to maintaining a diverse and skilled workforce dedicated to serving our residents with integrity, courtesy and excellence,” Board Chair Ridley-Thomas said during the Board meeting. “If there is a question of whether the disciplinary systems here in our County are effective enough, we have an obligation to address any gaps in a manner that is fair and transparent while, at the same time, honoring and respecting employee rights.”

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Urban Peace Institute executive director Fernando Rejon testifies with Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families member Sydney Kamlager in support of the motion.

“County residents should be able to put their faith in the trustworthiness and honesty of all County employees, most especially those who are responsible for public safety and where lives are at stake,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “The motion will provide the Board of Supervisors with the tools we need to hold our employees accountable if they violate that trust and lie in internal investigations.”

Several people who attended the Board meeting to testify in support of the motion expressed concern over recent events involving County employees. Last month, former Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted of making false statements, obstruction of justice and conspiracy in connection with a federal investigation into excessive use of force at County jails. This coincided with the filing of assault charges against Probation officers in connection with the videotaped beating of a 17-year-old at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. Days later, a judge ordered four social workers to stand trial in connection with the torture and murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in Palmdale.

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Melanie Ochoa, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, testifying in support of the motion.

Daniel Heimpel, publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change, an online publication with a focus on child welfare and juvenile justice, noted existing civil service rules led to the reinstatement of one of the social workers fired in connection with the Gabriel Fernandez case. He told the Board, “What you’re doing today, in terms of trying to create a transparent and accountable system, not only helps (social) workers do their job better but it will also help protect the children.”

The County’s Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, blamed a “dysfunctional discipline system” for hampering the department’s ability to fire a certain deputy who has admitted to falsifying hundreds of police reports. “Civil service reform is a critical part of repairing that process,” he told the Board.

Merrick Bobb, the Board’s former Special Counsel monitoring the Sheriff’s Department, said the motion is “necessary for expanding accountability and for increasing transparency… (which are) critically important to maintain the integrity of the system.”

Alberto Retana, president of the nonprofit Community Coalition, said, “Failure to hold public servants accountable for misconduct threatens public trust and confidence in local government.”

A year ago, Board Chair Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Kuehl filed a separate motion to evaluate the selection, qualifications, training and responsibilities of Civil Service Commission members, hearing officers and department advocates. In response to that motion, the Board’s Executive Office submitted a report listing several recommendations, including providing more training and offering an increase in compensation to attract a larger pool of candidates.

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Merrick Bobb, the Board of Supervisors’ former Special Counsel monitoring the Sheriff’s Department, testifying in support of the motion.

A Second Chance at a Better Life

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All photos by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County is taking steps to help people clear their criminal records under Prop. 47. The Public Defender’s Office and Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas recently joined forces to host a Jobs, Legal Services and Resource Fair in the Vermont Manchester area, offering assistance with everything from job-hunting to housing to reducing traffic fines. One of the day’s key offerings: legal help for those seeking a second chance under Prop. 47.

Image-10Hundreds of people flocked to the Rita Walters Learning Complex to meet with attorneys, County service providers, employers and community-based organizations. Aside from meeting several potential employers, including FedEx, Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles Community College District, they were also able to apply for health insurance, housing, Cal Fresh/Medi-Cal and other  services. Several in the crowd also obtained free legal services to clear their record and to benefit from the Traffic Amnesty Program. 

FairAmong the many County departments present at the event were Public Social Services, and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. Southwest College and the nonprofits A New Way of Life and Drug Policy Alliance were among the partners. Several more fairs are planned throughout the County.

Prop. 47, approved by 60 percent of California voters in 2014, downgrades certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors, and requires misdemeanor sentencing for petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging or writing bad checks when the amount involved is $950 or less. No one is automatically released from state prison because of Prop 47. Instead, it allows those already serving a felony conviction to petition the court for resentencing. Those who have already completed their sentences can ask the trial court to downgrade their conviction.

Statement on the Passing of former
Attorney General and District Attorney
John Van de Kamp

John Van de Kamp“We have lost a brilliant legal mind and a dedicated public servant with the passing of John Van de Kamp.

“When I was a state Senator and he was chairman of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, we worked together in pursuit of legislation that would reform California’s criminal justice system.

“I was deeply impressed by his commitment to ensuring that justice is administered fairly and accurately so that the guilty are convicted and the innocent remain free.”

“He was man of integrity who will be deeply missed. I offer my sincerest condolences to his wife, Andrea, and daughter, Diana.”

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A Fighting Chance

It’s a knockout opportunity for kids in the Florence-Firestone area. At the Sheriff Department’s Century Station boxing gym, deputies and volunteers offer homework help and guidance — along with tips on throwing that perfect left hook.

The Sheriff’s Department’s Youth Activities League uses a sports-based approach to help kids and teenagers develop self-confidence and discipline. The boxing program in Los Angeles County’s Second District requires participants not only to condition themselves physically and mentally for competition, but also to eat well, live healthy, and keep their grades up. Several of the boxers have gone on to become junior champions.

Step into the ring and watch them show off their moves.

Fighting to Stop Human Trafficking

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Displaying a poster with the hotline to report human trafficking. (All Photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors)

Both the County and City of Los Angeles will strengthen enforcement of a state law intended to help victims of modern day slavery, under efforts announced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Councilwoman Nury Martinez on the last day of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Under Senate Bill 1193, authored by then state Senator and now Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, certain establishments are required to display a poster listing a telephone hotline such as (888) 539-2373 and other information that would enable victims and members of the public to report human trafficking. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Councilwoman Martinez each plan to look into how more establishments can be brought into compliance.

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Supervisor with Councilwoman Nury Martinez

“The County targets certain locations for intensified awareness-raising, such as emergency rooms, urgent care centers, transit centers and motels, which provide prime opportunities for trafficked persons to seek help in escaping from their traffickers,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“SB 1193 must be enforced, because having access to that hotline information can be the one thing that saves her from the bondage of sex trafficking,” Councilwoman Martinez said. “When a young girl is being trafficked by a gang member pimp, she rarely knows whom she can turn to for help.”

Back in 2014, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed a motion calling on the County’s Chief Executive and District Attorney to check compliance with SB 1193. Shortly afterwards, he joined the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) in launching the Human Trafficking Outreach Project (HTOP), which trains volunteers to reach out to establishments mandated to comply with SB 1193.

More than two years after its launch, HTOP reported that more than 50 percent of the establishments visited by its volunteers remain out of compliance. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas will request a compliance update from the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Integrated Leadership Team, a multi-department entity  charged with coordinating the County’s response to CSEC, which he established by motion in 2015.

“It is imperative upon all of us to do whatever we can to stem the tide and stop the worldwide business of human trafficking,” NCJW/LA executive director Hillary Selvin said, adding, “Human trafficking is slavery.”

Kay Buck, president and chief executive of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), said SB 1193 would help connect more victims to community support services such as those provided by her organization. “Since SB 1193 went into effect, CAST has seen a significant increase in the number of calls to our hotline, including calls from victims themselves seeking help,” she said.

A study funded by the National Institute of Justice has found that requiring the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline to be posted in public areas was the most effective way to increase the number of human trafficking arrests. From 2007 to 2015, the NHTRC provided more than 6,500 tips to law enforcement.

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