The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ordered a thorough vetting of the troubled Probation Department, including written reviews of the agency's $700-million budget, internal affairs investigations and schools.
"The department has very serious, chronic problems in virtually every aspect of its operations," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "We're going to have to demonstrate to the Department of Justice and everyone else who is watching that we're going to get this department back on track."
Supervisor Gloria Molina said she was particularly concerned about finances, given recent reports that the department is over budget.
"This is a department that is in crisis," Molina said. "I'm just not willing to put more money on the table until we know what's going on."
Supervisors unanimously approved Molina's proposal that officials from probation, the county's chief executive and the auditor-controller analyze the department's budget to determine if there are problems that could spill over to next year's budget and report back in a month.
The board also ordered Interim Probation Chief Cal Remington to provide a written assessment of the department two months after the new chief takes over April 19. Remington, the county's chief executive, county counsel and investigators from the Office of Independent Review -- which oversees investigations into alleged misconduct by sheriff's deputies -- must report how the department can better investigate and prevent staff abuse of youth in their care.
And the superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which runs schools at the department's 20 juvenile camps and halls, must report in two weeks how the agency screens and hires teachers, including former teacher Stephen Wesley, who was charged last week with child endangerment for organizing boxing-style fights between probationers during class.
Earlier this month, probation officials admitted that at least 170 probation employees have committed misconduct -- including cases of excessive force and abuse -- but that they have so far escaped punishment because there isn't enough staff to discipline them. Most are sworn officers who remain on the job, and about half face allegations of abuse of juvenile probationers.
A Times inquiry found that an additional 112 misconduct investigations are pending, some going unresolved for nearly a year. Of those, 51 involve employees accused of abusing probation youths, department officials said. Many involved complaints of excessive force.
"Physical and sexual abuse in the county's probation camps will not be tolerated," Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.
During the last decade, probation officials submitted to federal monitoring of first the juvenile halls, then the camps as part of agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice to avoid lawsuits by improving, among other things, internal affairs and child abuse investigations. Yet department officials failed to improve internal investigations, with little coordination among investigators and no central tracking of complaints or allegations, according to reports.
Federal officials are aware of the department's recent troubles, but have yet to recommend follow-up investigations, according to Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar.
Probation officials have said they need more investigators in order to discipline problem staff quickly. "We have been under-resourced in that area, so the investigations were taking too long to complete," Remington said. "In the long run, what we need to do is fix the system" for investigating misconduct. Remington said he is consulting former probation chiefs from Orange and Riverside counties about possible improvements.
With 14 internal affairs investigators, including eight in a special child abuse unit, and 4,400 sworn staff, Los Angeles County has about one investigator for every 300 staff members. Last year, the child abuse unit investigated 211 charges of abuse and misconduct in the halls and camps and substantiated 32. Staff could not state the average length of misconduct investigations, but many have languished for months and some have taken nearly a year.
By law, most internal affairs investigations of peace officers expire after a year if the officer is not disciplined.