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Problems remain with probation employees

The number of L.A. County probation workers investigated for serious crimes showed little change from 2011 to 2012, despite efforts to weed out misconduct through improved training, a report says.

April 03, 2013|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

The number of Los Angeles County Probation Department employees investigated for serious crimes last year remained roughly the same as in 2011 despite efforts to weed out misconduct through improved training, according to a report released Wednesday.

In 2012, 64 employees were either arrested or questioned in crimes ranging from burglary to attempted murder, according to a report by the county's Office of Independent Review. In 2011, 69 probation employees were arrested.

"The frequency of off-duty employee misconduct continues to plague the department," according to the report.

Twenty-five of last year's arrests involved driving under the influence, and other cases include an officer accused of shooting another man in the chest after an argument, a man accused of stealing electronic equipment from a store and a division chief who defrauded a bank and two credit unions of nearly $200,000.

Probation Chief Jerry Powers pointed out that several employees were arrested for multiple crimes, but acknowledged that it could take time to reduce the number of misconduct cases.

"Any kind of systemic change takes awhile," he said.

Only one probation employee has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence this year, Powers added. "That's huge," he said.

Investigators also uncovered several instances where employees got into fights with youths at probation camps and then did not properly report what happened.

In one, a juvenile punched a female staff member without warning and then struggled while several other employees attempted to subdue him. The staff submitted reports about the incident and a review found that they acted properly.

When the juvenile sued the department several weeks later, however, probation staff reviewed video tape of the altercation and found that employees peppered-sprayed the youth several times, hit him in the shoulder and head, and stood on the minor's shoulders as he laid on the floor.

Those actions were not included in the staffs' original paperwork, according to the report.

As a result, probation officials began requiring supervisors to review available videos after violent incidents, something investigators believe will help prevent similar problems.

"We expect this systems change to have a lasting impact," the report stated.

It also credited the department with instituting stricter hiring guidelines, background checks and drug policies.

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