Los Angeles County supervisors have entered negotiations with Stanislaus County Probation Chief Jerry Powers to take control of their troubled department, officials said.
Powers, who did not immediately respond to a message left on his cellphone, was in Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with the supervisors behind closed doors about the job. At the same time, the supervisors were negotiating the terms of the exit for their current chief, Donald Blevins.
"As far as I know, I am still employed as the probation chief," said Blevins, who has served for one year after the supervisors' decision to dismiss his predecessor.
Blevins said he had a conversation Monday, with county chief executive William T Fujioka, "and I'm just waiting to see what the next steps are. I have committed to a transition period." He declined to say whether his exit was voluntary, and county supervisors declined to publicly comment on the matter.
Cal Remington, the department's chief deputy, said he met with Powers on Monday and hoped he would accept the job. "Jerry is the best out there," Remington said.
Powers currently supervises a relatively tiny department with 250 employees in the state's northern Central Valley. However, he has distinguished himself as president of the state's association of probation chiefs, emerging as an astute political operator with strong ties to the governor and key lawmakers.
In Los Angeles County, he would face a major challenge. The department's 6,200 staffers oversee 60,000 adult probationers and 20,000 youths, including about 3,600 in county-run detention halls and camps. The juvenile operation has been the subject of U.S. Justice Department oversight for misuse of force and county supervisors have criticized persistent management lapses.
The investigation by the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division initially grew out of a 2000 report by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury that uncovered substandard conditions and overmedicated youths. In recent reports, investigators found that more than 2,000 youth offenders in 19 detention camps were still imperiled by broken systems for mental health services, use of force, internal affairs, suicide prevention and transition services upon release.
The county faces a deadline this month for meeting the terms of the federal review. If it fails, the county could find itself party to a consent decree under which it loses operating control of the probation department and its budget. County officials, however, don't expect federal authorities to follow through with the threat. "I don't think there is enough there for them to file on. The abuse that was once there is just not there any longer," Remington said. "I think the more likely outcome is for this to go down to the wire and then we'll negotiate on the final issues."
The department is also under pressure because of a state law that went into effect Saturday that shifts parolees and nonviolent felons from state supervision to the county probation department.