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Historic Vote Strengthens Oversight of Probation Department

Probation Oversight Commission and Inspector General to Have Unprecedented Powers

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, and guided by a yearlong public process, the Board of Supervisors voted to overhaul and strengthen oversight of the long troubled Probation Department, including by creating a Probation Oversight Commission (POC) with unprecedented authority. The POC would have the power to compel the Probation Department, via subpoenas issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), to provide information and testimony required for its investigations.

The POC will be endowed with all the authority currently vested in the existing Probation Commission, as well as new powers, including the ability to:

  • advise the department and the Board on wide-ranging matters that affect the well-being of department staff as well as youth and adult probationers, guided by the Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT)’s Reform Plan;
  • conduct investigations through the OIG;
  • access department data, documents and direct testimony, and have the authority to  compel its production through the  OIG;
  • conduct facility inspections; and
  • establish an independent grievance process for  the public and probation clients, and a process for advising on systemic staff issues.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks during the historic vote on October 1, 2019. Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

“Reforming the Probation Department has never been more urgent, with both youth and staff in our juvenile facilities reporting feeling unsafe,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Robust oversight of the largest and most complex department of its kind is long overdue and critical to the success of any reform, and this motion is intended to enhance transparency and accountability and, ultimately, restore the public’s trust in Probation.”

“The new Probation Oversight Commission will help guide the Probation Department toward positive culture change, reduced juvenile facilities, expanded and improved community services, and strengthened accountability and performance management,” Supervisor Solis said. “The Probation Oversight Commission will ensure that changes to the Probation Department are aligned with a truly transformational mission and vision, supported by modern best practices, and are created in partnership with community and labor stakeholders. This large leap forward will provide the public with ongoing opportunities to shape the future of probation in LA County.”

Earlier this year, the OIG demonstrated its ability to shed light on important issues involving the Probation Department, including investigating its use of pepper spray.

“As we’ve been reminded by events at the Sheriff’s Department in recent months, robust civilian oversight is critical for justice system fairness,” Inspector General Max Huntsman said. “Empowering the Probation Oversight Commission based on lessons learned in a way that maximizes access and input is essential to reform.  The Office of Inspector General looks forward to providing the same investigative support to the Probation Oversight Commission that it has provided to the Civilian Oversight Commission for the Sheriff’s Department.”

Composed of experts in criminal justice, violence prevention and intervention, as well as social justice advocacy, the PRIT worked over a year to engage the community to help design the oversight structure for the Probation Department. They held 14 public hearings, many of which were attended by hundreds of stakeholders.

PRIT Executive Director Saul Sarabia provides testimony to the Board.  Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

“The motion approved by the Board adopts many of the powers and authorities the PRIT recommended based on input from the community,” PRIT Executive Director Saul Sarabia said. “By erecting a robust Probation Oversight Commission, the Board has created a venue that all county stakeholders can work with to achieve accountability and transparency.”

Susan Burton, founder of the justice advocacy group, A New Way of Life, said, “For decades, probationers have been under the authority of a Probation Department with no oversight, and probationers have suffered from this lack of checks and balances. I’m excited to see the Board listen to the people and create a Probation Oversight Commission with the authority to compel the information it needs to ensure public safety as well as the health and wellbeing of the people of Los Angeles County.”

The Probation Department 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.

The Probation Oversight Commission would consist of nine members, including positions reserved for a person who has been an adult or youth probationer, a family member of someone who has been on probation, and a legal defense expert.

Community advocate demonstrates support for probation oversight during the historic board vote. Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors Convenes in LA

Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors convenes in Los Angeles. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Governor Gavin Newsom’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors convened in Los Angeles a day after he highlighted three priorities in the statewide effort to address homelessness. The Governor asked the Council to focus on alleviating street homelessness, building more housing, and connecting more people to treatment. He also sought recommendations for how city and county governments can distribute funding in this year’s state budget to address the crisis most effectively.

An estimated 130,000 Californians are homeless on any given night, about 90,000 of whom are unsheltered.

Council Co-Chair and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas addresses the meeting. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

“The Governor has used the power of his purse and his pen to take bold action to address homelessness, and he charged this Council to act with urgency to dramatically expand the safety net for our most vulnerable residents,” Council Co-Chair and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “I am confident that the Council will rise to the Governor’s challenge and identify both short-term actions and long-term recommendations for ensuring all Californians have a roof over their head and receive the treatment and other services they so desperately need.”

“Today’s meeting brings some of the state’s best minds together to continue our search for the best practices to solve the crisis of homelessness in California,” Council Co-Chair and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said. “Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and I are committed to pushing for bold action. We can no longer tacitly accept that it’s ok for 90,000 people to sleep outdoors in dangerous and unhealthy conditions.”

Council Co-Chairs Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

The day before the meeting, the Governor signed a package of bills that would remove regulatory barriers to help city and county governments address homelessness, including granting CEQA exemptions for supportive housing and shelter construction. The Governor also signed a bill that would enable the sharing of information between multidisciplinary teams to better connect people to housing and critical services. The legislation builds on the historic $1 billion investment in this year’s budget to address homelessness.

Besides the co-chairs, the 13-member Council includes:

  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
  • Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria
  • San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher
  • Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez
  • Arcata City Councilmember Sofia Pereira
  • County Welfare Directors Association of California Executive Director Frank Mecca
  • Corporation for Supportive Housing Associate Director Sharon Rapport
  • Western Center on Law and Poverty Policy Advocate Anya Lawler
  • County Behavioral Health Directors Association Executive Director Michelle Cabrera
  • Former U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Director Philip Mangano
  • Former Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne

This was the Council’s second convening and more than 300 members of the public attended at the King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in Willowbrook. The Council’s first meeting was held in early September 2019 in Modesto.

While in Los Angeles, Council members toured Skid Row to look at the comprehensive array of integrated housing and services for people experiencing homelessness. They visited the headquarters of street outreach teams; a supportive housing complex with a built-in clinic; a sobering center; and the Downtown Women’s Center. At each stop, they met with community-based nonprofits that partner with Los Angeles County to provide crisis response and supportive housing to assist people living on the streets of the Skid Row.

They also visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus to see the Recuperative Care Center where patients experiencing homelessness can receive treatment after a hospital or clinic discharge. They also visited the Psychiatric Urgent Care Center and learned about the first-of-its-kind Behavioral Health Center, which will break ground next month.

Council members tour the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recuperative Care Center. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Governor’s Bold Action to Address Homelessness

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Governor Gavin Newsom on a visit to Skid Row last year.

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Co-Chair of the Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, on the Governor’s Bold Action to Address Homelessness

“I applaud Governor Gavin Newsom for responding with urgency and conviction to address what I consider the moral and civic crisis of our time.

“By signing a compendium of critical legislation, he removed regulatory barriers that have slowed or prevented us from building supportive housing and shelters. This complements his historic $1 billion investment in the state budget specifically to address homelessness.

“Today, the Governor directed his Council of Regional Homeless Advisors to identify the most effective ways to spend state money to alleviate chronic street homelessness. He also sought recommendations for bringing our most vulnerable residents indoors and providing them with treatment and other services.

“I am confident that the Council will rise to the challenge with urgency and conviction to identify the short- and long-term solutions that the Governor has requested.

“The Governor has used the power of his purse and his pen to take bold steps to help address this humanitarian crisis. His Council of Regional Homeless Advisors will heed his call and work swiftly to identify complementary solutions to build on this effort, motivated by our common goal and obligation — making sure all Californians have a roof over their head and are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

LA County Bans Flavored E-Cigs and Flavored Tobacco to Protect Youth

 

With nicotine use back on the rise among youth after decades of decline, the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance banning flavored e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products, including menthol, throughout Los Angeles County’s unincorporated areas.

The ordinance regulates smoke shops by establishing business licensing requirements and by further strengthening existing public health laws.

“The growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping puts the health and wellbeing of our communities, particularly our youth, at risk,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “This is not an assault on businesses but a thoughtful and balanced approach to regulation.”

“For decades, we were making incredible progress in decreasing tobacco use among young people. But flavored e-cigarettes have reversed that trend. Now nearly 1 in 10 high schoolers report using e-cigarettes,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “By taking action now and banning the sale of flavored products that mask the smell and taste of tobacco, we may be able to save this next generation from the same terrible health effects of nicotine addiction that generations before them suffered from.”

 

According to the LA County Department of Public Health, 1 in 10 high school students are current e-cigarette users; 83 percent of current tobacco users reported using a flavored tobacco product; and 61 percent of current e-cigarette users bought e-cigarettes from vape shops.

“The rapid increase of severe vaping-associated pulmonary illness proves we have no time to lose in protecting populations disproportionately targeted by the tobacco and e-cigarette industries, especially our youth,” LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said.  “With 530 cases nationally, sixteen of which are in LA County, including one death, the time to make real change is now.”

More than 100 students attended the Board of Supervisors meeting to support the ordinance, led by United Parents and Students. Experts from UCLA, USC, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and many other organizations testified in support of the ordinance.

Annie Tegen, Western Regional Advocacy Director with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, applauded what she described as a strong ordinance that would protect Los Angeles youth from the dangers of tobacco. “This measure will go a long way toward combating the youth e-cigarette epidemic as well as keeping dangerous menthol cigarettes out of the hands of Los Angeles kids,” she said.

“Because of menthol, African American communities experience the greatest burden of tobacco-related mortality of any racial or ethnic group in the United States,” said the Rev. John Cager III, Pastor of Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church. “When the FDA banned flavored cigarettes in 2009, they left an exemption for menthol because it was just too profitable for the tobacco industry. The Supervisors must reverse this mistake and make Los Angeles County a leader in putting Black lives before Big Tobacco.”

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hahn filed a motion in early 2018 directing Public Health to work with the LA County Department of Regional Planning, County Counsel, Sheriff, Treasurer and Tax Collector, and community stakeholders to assess the number and location of nuisance tobacco shops countywide, and to research ways to monitor and regulate them. The motion also called for developing education and outreach strategies to address the use of tobacco and certain other substances.

Some of their findings and recommendations became the basis of the ordinance.

Currently, LA County has 85 tobacco shops. To give them time to come into compliance with the new requirements, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed a motion to extend the implementation period to 180 days.

Public Health will work with the LA County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs to offer small-business concierge services and other resources for businesses that are impacted by this ordinance.

Board Authorizes Implementing Body-Worn Cameras

The Board of Supervisors voted to begin implementing a much-anticipated program to equip the Sheriff’s Department with body-worn cameras.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, the program will first pilot in five stations, one in each Supervisorial office, before expanding countywide. The goal is to have all deputies equipped with this technology, as well as to have footage from the body-cameras shared with the District Attorney, Public Defender and the Acting Alternate Public Defender.

As part of implementation, the Board authorized the Sheriff to phase in technology infrastructure upgrades at patrol stations and other locations. Additionally, the County will move forward with a procurement process for the body-worn camera device and digital management system, as well as hiring additional Sheriff Department staff.

The County Chief Executive Officer has set aside $35 million for the program.

The Board also requested that the Sheriff lay out the policies that would govern the use of body-worn cameras to both the Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the outset. Both oversight agencies have done reports supportive of this technology, as well as made policy recommendations to ensure effective and transparent implementation.

“Body-worn cameras are an essential component of 21st century constitutional policing,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “These devices can help increase transparency in law enforcement, improve both officer and citizen conduct, and ultimately improve police and community relations.”

“I have been a longtime advocate for body worn cameras. We know that when body camera policies are focused on building trust between the community and law enforcement, they have been found effective in reducing community complaints as well as excessive and unnecessary uses of force,” said Supervisor Solis. “Implementation of this new technology requires that the public, the Office of the Inspector General, the Civilian Oversight Commission, and the Board of Supervisors have an opportunity to view and weigh in on the Sheriff’s body camera policies. Together, we will work towards ensuring that the use of this technology aligns with our shared goals to increase transparency, accountability, and trust between our communities and the Sheriff’s Department.”

The OIG would monitor the implementation of the program, in consultation with the Sheriff, Public Defender, Acting Alternate Public Defender, District Attorney, Chief Executive Officer, County Counsel and the COC Executive Director.

“Body worn cameras are necessary equipment for modern urban policing,” Inspector General Max Huntsman said. “When the government uses force, the public has a right to see what happened.”

“After years of work on this issue, we’re happy to see progress on the implementation of the body-worn camera program,” said COC Executive Director Brian Williams. “We’re looking forward to reviewing the final body-worn camera policy from the Sheriff’s Department.”

In 2012, the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence (CCJV) was the first entity to recommend that the Sheriff’s Department use “lapel cameras as an investigative tool” to address problematic use of force.

In 2015, the Office of Inspector General echoed CCJV’s recommendations. In July 2018, the Civilian Oversight Commission (CoC) recommended implementing a body-worn camera program over two years. These recommendations were informed by national research, several community town halls, and over 2,500 survey responses.

In August 2018, Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis called for hiring an independent consultant to provide expert analysis. The International Association of Chiefs of Police issued its report last month that validated the COC and OIG’s recommendations and cost projections.