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Addressing Implicit Bias Countywide

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Testifying before the Board on implicit bias training. L-R: Susan Burton, A New Way of Life; Probation Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro; and Patricia Guerrera of Community Coalition. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by its chairman, Mark Ridley-Thomas, to enhance the training of Los Angeles County employees to stifle implicit biases and subconscious prejudices that adversely affect public service.

“As a Board, our mandate centers on a commitment to social justice for all as an administrative responsibility,”Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said before the vote. “As the environment in which we work and serve becomes more diverse, we simply need to up our game.”

“This should not be construed as a stick, but more of a tool to help respective County departments, and the employees therein, to do their jobs more effectively,” he added. “We seek to root out prejudicial dispositions, and do it in a way that celebrates the dignity and worth of every single person with whom our employees come in contact.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis spoke out in support of the motion, as did Inspector General Max Huntsman and Probation Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro and several others.

Centinela Youth Services director Jessica Ellis told the Board, “As experts in conflict resolution, we know how easy it is for all of us humans to unconsciously label each other. We also know the damage that this does, particularly when a person who is in a position of power, who is in control of resources, is unaware of their biases with respect to the people they are meant to serve.

Melanie Ochoa, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, also applauded the motion, saying biases can do serious harm, particularly in law enforcement. “When law enforcement targets individuals because of their identity or responds more severely to harmless or ambiguous conduct by minorities than by whites, it impedes effective policing,” she said.

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In foreground, Jessica Ellis of Centinela Youth Services. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

“Biased policing is a public safety concern,” she added. “As we have seen, many instances involving African American civilians that culminate in officers’ uses of force – deadly or otherwise – evolve from situations where an individual who was not actually engaging in criminal activity was nonetheless viewed as suspicious and approached by the police, or were engaged based on minor infractions that elicited more aggressive policing actions than the same infractions committed by others.”

In August 2016, the Board approved a separate motion by Board Chair Ridley-Thomas to examine implicit bias and cultural competency training within the County’s law enforcement departments and agencies, and to study the best constitutional policing practices in the nation. The County’s Chief Executive Office found that few departments and agencies in County government mandate regularly scheduled training on implicit bias and cultural competency, and none evaluate the effectiveness of such training in operations and contact with the public.

The directives in Board Chair Ridley-Thomas’ motion include developing and enhancing protocols to examine employees’ limitations with cultural competency, and the root causes and impact of prejudices.

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In foreground, Sunny Kang of St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, sitting beside Melanie Ochoa of ACLU. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

Support for In-Home Caregivers

The Board of Supervisors took a stand against Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to slash $626 million from the state budget for in-home caregivers starting this July, essentially passing the cost onto counties.

Acting on a motion by its Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, co-authored by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the Board voted to send a letter signed by all five of its members endorsing AB 675.

Authored by Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, AB 675 calls for appropriating $650 million from California’s general fund to continue the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program as a benefit available through Medi-Cal managed care health plans under the Coordinated Care Initiative.

“The Governor’s proposed budget cuts would have a potentially devastating impact on our County,” Board Chair Ridley-Thomas said. “It could jeopardize funding for other critical services such as healthcare and child welfare for our most vulnerable residents.”

Supervisor Barger added, “The elimination of IHSS funding would result in significant funding curtailments for critical County programs and many individuals in need of care may wind up in hospitals, which would cost the state even more.”

IHSS helps pay for services to low-income elderly, blind or disabled individuals, including children, enabling them to remain in their own homes. It is an alternative to more expensive out-of-home care, such as nursing homes or board and care facilities.

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County CEO Sachi Hamai testifying about the impact of the Governor’s proposed state budget cuts to IHSS programs. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Under the Governor’s proposed budget cuts, Los Angeles County stands to lose $220 million in IHSS funding in fiscal year 2017-2018, based on estimates by the County’s Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai.

The price tag is projected to soar to $500 million by fiscal year 2020-2021, as the number of IHSS patients grows and state-imposed actions such as the minimum wage increase to $15/hour, paid sick leave and overtime benefits take effect.

Several in-home caregivers attended the Board meeting to applaud the Supervisors’ unanimous support of AB 675, and to plead with the Governor to leave state funding for IHSS intact.

“It’s something that’s so very important to people with disabilities, senior citizens and children that need care,” said Louie James, who looks after his paraplegic wife, Charlsa Tina James.

Patricia Santana, who takes care of her disabled husband, said, “Governor Jerry Brown, now is the time to put your hand on your heart, give dignity to our workers, to our families, and to our clients. You have the power in your hands.”

Representatives of several labor unions representing IHSS caregivers also attended the Board meeting or expressed support, including SEIU Locals 2015 and 721, the Coalition of County Unions, the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association and the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

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IHSS workers attend the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting to urge that state funding for the IHSS program remain intact. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

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.

LA Based ‘Napalm Girl’ Photographer Retires After 51 Years

Legendary Los Angeles-based photographer Nick Ut, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1972 photo that became an iconic image of the Vietnam War, is retiring after a 51 year career with the Associated Press.
Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“Nick Ut, through his hauntingly beautiful photography, has chronicled history and captivated the world’s attention, leaving a legacy for future generations,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who recognized Ut proclaiming April 4, 2017 as Nick Ut Day in the County of Los Angeles.

Born in Vietnam in 1951, Ut was 15 when his brother and war photographer, Huynh Thanh My, was killed at war in 1965. Promising to himself that he would continue his brother’s mission of taking a photo that would end the war, Ut showed up at the AP’s Saigon bureau, seeking a job.

He was only 21 when he took the famed photo of a naked 9-year-old girl fleeing her village after a napalm attack on June 8, 1972. At 12:30 p.m. that day, four napalm bombs were dropped on Trang Bang. Nick watched in horror as people emerged from the fireball and smoke. He photographed a grandmother carrying a baby who died in her arms. He then photographed nine-year-old Kim Phuc whose clothes had been burned off her and whose skin was beginning to melt off of her body in strips. Badly in need of immediate medical attention, Kim had third-degree burns on more than 30 percent of her body. Nick set his camera aside, covered her with a raincoat and drove Kim and other injured children to a hospital in nearby Cu Chi. After the hospital refused to admit her, Ut used his media credentials to get her treated by doctors who ultimately saved her life.

“I cried when I saw her running,” Ut once told an AP reporter. “If I don’t help her — if something happened and she died — I think I’d kill myself after that.” Ut is still close with the now 53-year-old Kim Phúc who is a wife and mother of two.

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim's cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Nick Ut was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his photograph of Kim, which is credited with swaying public opinion against the war in Vietnam.

Los Angeles police form a line to prevent a crowd from going into a building, April 30, 1992, in a day of fires and looting. It was a long day as officers moved from trouble spot to trouble spot. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Los Angeles police form a line to prevent a crowd from going into a building, April 30, 1992, in a day of fires and looting. It was a long day as officers moved from trouble spot to trouble spot. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Ut would go on to take tens of thousands of photos over the next 44 years. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Ut came to California as a refugee. AP sent him to Tokyo, and then to Los Angeles in 1977. He became a fixture in Los Angeles, where his images from the 1992 civil unrest, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the recent brush fires became an international lens to tell the story of current events in Los Angeles County.

During his retirement, he plans to spend time with his family, especially his grandchildren, teaching photography, and, yes, taking more pictures. “I’ll take pictures until I die,” says Ut. “My camera is like my doctor, my medicine.”

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

 

Revolutionizing the Voting System

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Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Determined to revolutionize its voting system, Los Angeles County unveiled a high-tech and user-friendly prototype to replace the aging InkaVote Plus, as well as a host of other proposed innovations and reforms to better serve the nation’s largest electorate.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said this reimagining of the voting system, tentatively slated for a full rollout in 2020, could have a profound effect on the democratic process. He said, “Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy, and these improvements will make elections more accessible, secure, transparent and trustworthy.”

DFB_8722 (1)Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan added that efforts to modernize and streamline the voting system go beyond upgrading technology. “We envision a systemic and holistic improvement in the way we provide election services, providing more accessible and flexible voting options,” he said. “The new system will allow us to meet voters where they are, and give them the ability to have choices and customize their experience in a manner that instills trust, confidence and possibly even excitement in the experience of casting a vote.”

The County’s five million registered voters currently cast ballots using the InkaVote Plus, which relies on components developed in 1968. To ensure greater citizen participation in designing the next generation of voting machines, the County kicked off the Voting Systems Assessment Project in 2009. Consultations with elections, security and technology experts, as well as different kinds of voters, concluded that none of the existing off-the-shelf voting machines could satisfy the County’s complex needs. IDEO, an award-winning global design firm credited with helping design Apple’s first computer mouse, among other innovations, was then brought in to develop a prototype.

DFB_8697 (1)The vision for the new voting system includes a Ballot Marking Device that lets voters click on a touch screen, press buttons on a tactile handheld device, or make voice commands to cast ballots. It would also be able to “read” Interactive Sample Ballots on smartphones.

Another novel idea is to create a 10-day early voting period and allow voters to go to any conveniently located Vote Center to cast their ballot, instead of limiting them to a specific polling place on Election Day. Also being rolled out are an Electronic Pollbook that would replace paper rosters for checking in voters, and Vote-by-Mail ballots that are easier to understand.

The County purposely made the engineering specifications, intellectual property and functional prototypes to be nonproprietary and remain in the public domain, so that other jurisdictions can take advantage of the data for upgrading their own voting systems.