Pepper spray use rises at juvenile halls

fILE PHOTO. probation officer.

County supervisors concerned about how often kids are being pepper sprayed when they’re placed in juvenile halls and probation camps had their worst fears confirmed Tuesday, when they received a report they ordered in December.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors found there’s been “a significant increase” in the use of pepper spray on juveniles between 2015 and 2017, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General. Supervisors requested an examination of use-of-force incidents at juvenile halls and camps, involving pepper spray.

OIG investigators looked at three of the county’s juvenile facilities, from 2015 to 2017, and found: a 338-percent increase in the use of pepper spray at Central Juvenile Hall; a 214-percent increase in its use at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall and a 192-percent increase at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall.

Nidorf, on Filbert Street in Sylmar, is the Juvenile Hall where law enforcement officers take juveniles who are detained in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Supervisors said they want more done to protect the safety of  juveniles, but they also need to empower probation officers fearing disciplinary action against them for using force.

“There is a fear out there of doing anything for fear of getting written up,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said of probation officers. “We have a tall order ahead of is and the solution is not going to be one-size-fits-all.”

“These kids are going to end up in our jails,” she said. “And while violence is not the way I would like to see the mental evaluation team go in — maybe it’s something that needs to be looked at.”

18 recommendations

Those who investigated the escalating rise in pepper spray use in juvenile facilities submitted 18 recommendations to the county, and at the end of the day, the county approved one of them, vowing to revisit the other 17 recommendations later this month.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas reacted to the report immediately with a motion to bring it to the group mandated to implement the recommendations, the Probation Report Implementation Team.

The OIG recommended in its report that the county’s Probation Department dedicate appropriate resources to finalize and implement “comprehensive use-of-force accountability improvements.”

For probation officials, a comprehensive review would spell out clearly what use of force probation staffers can exercise in maintaining order.

Officials representing probation officers sent a clear message to the board that they want improvements made.

Probation officers

Probation Officer Hans Liang, AFSCME Local 685’s First vice president, said: “Probation is squarely for the board to manage.

“We are united,” he said. “We are three unions, one department, one voice.”

Jim Schoengarth, president the Association of Probation Supervisors, said he has shared concerned with county officials are seen no action taken. “It is up to you to take action,” he said.

Debra Lars, spokeswoman for the Association of Probation Managers, said managers are “incredibly frustrated” and that “we need sufficient staffing.”

Addressing the issue of adequate staffing was second on the list of OIG recommendations presented to supervisors. Specifically, the recommendation reads: “The (Probation) Department should dedicate necessary resources and training to effectively implement its internal affairs processes.”

Use of force

Speaking to the issue of probation staffers expressing uncertainty in applying use of force, the OIG also recommended that “PIN (preliminary incident notification) and CIR (critical incident review) directives should more clearly guide staff in determining when to notify leadership of relevant force incidents.”

A couple of the OIG recommendations addressed more and better training for probation officers.

The OIG investigators also recommended installing cameras at its juvenile facilities.

The board is expected to review each of the remaining 17 use-of-force recommendations spelled out in the OIG report on Feb. 19.



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