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New mandate to put 250 field officers in LA County juvenile halls

The emergency plan will shift a minimum of 200 probation officers to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall and at least 50 officers to the Barry J. Nidorf Secure Youth Treatment Facility on 90-day rotation

Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall

Downey, CA - June 29: Aerial view of Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey Thursday, June 29, 2023. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Allen J. Schaben/TNS

By Jason Henry
Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES — A new mandate to redeploy 250 field officers from Los Angeles County’s adult probation program to its troubled juvenile facilities is facing pushback from supervisors and rank-and-file employees, who fear the decision will shuffle a persistent staffing crisis from one side of the agency to the other and potentially leave thousands of probationers without proper supervision.

The emergency plan will shift a minimum of 200 officers to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall and at least 50 officers to the Barry J. Nidorf Secure Youth Treatment Facility on 90-day rotations, according to the Probation Department.

In a February memo, Probation Chief Guillermo Viera Rosa warned field supervisors they will be expected to “cover area office operations utilizing reduced team sizes.” The transferred employees are needed to sufficiently bolster the ranks to avoid state-imposed closures at Los Padrinos and Barry J. Nidorf.

Every field officer is expected to work at least one rotation in the juvenile hall or SYTF over the next 12 months, Viera Rosa wrote. Those who cannot work on full duty or pass training requirements are being told to remain at home.

The Board of State and Community Corrections, the regulatory body responsible for overseeing California’s juvenile halls, in February declared Los Padrinos and Barry J. Nidorf “unsuitable,” a designation that will force the county to empty the buildings if it cannot resolve the remaining violations — most of which directly relate to low staffing — by mid-April.

State inspectors reported juveniles frequently arrived late to school, lacked recreational activities, and had to urinate in their rooms overnight as there was not enough staff available to take them to the restroom. Two of the county’s juvenile halls were shut down in 2023 over many of the same issues related to insufficient staffing.

‘Gearing up for battle’

Members of the Los Angeles County Deputy Probation Officers’ Union, Local 685, have flooded their leadership with confused and concerned emails and phone calls since Viera Rosa’s memo went out, according to a post by President Stacy K. Ford.

In response, the union is “gearing up for battle” and has scheduled meetings with its lawyers and the department to get clarification about Viera Rosa’s plan, according to Ford.

“Remember when everything was good in the Field and super bad in the Halls,” Ford wrote. “DSOs (detention services officers) were being held over for 30+ hours, being assaulted just about every day by youth. Remember that? Now the Field is under attack.”

Field officers are being unfairly “deployed all over the place” now, according to Ford. Officers are “leaving the department, either by retirement or quitting” because they feel mistreated, disrespected or unappreciated, he wrote.

“This is not fair and something has to be done about it,” Ford said. “As a Union, we will explore all of our options.”

A spokesperson for Local 685 declined to comment.

Public safety at risk?

Probation Oversight Commissioner Sean Garcia-Leys, the co-executive director of the Peace and Justice Law Center, has similarly received a barrage of emails from staff expressing concerns about Viera Rosa’s mandate. Officers fear the decision could harm public safety, as the Adult Field Services Bureau will have fewer resources to monitor the tens of thousands of probationers under its supervision.

Field staff members willingly worked shorter shifts in the juvenile hall under prior mandates, but they feel the 90-day rotations are too disruptive, according to Garcia-Leys.

The smaller scale redeployments over the last year did alleviate some of the staffing woes at Los Padrinos and Barry J. Nidorf, according to Garcia-Leys, who participated in recent inspections. However, he isn’t convinced the wider shift will pay off, as it could lead to the deployment of many staff members without the necessary skills, or physical condition, to handle working in environments where violence can occur.

Employees have cited low morale, increased violence and worries about excessively long shifts as the driving forces behind the staffing crisis. Now, a whole new group of employees could find themselves in similar situations.

“Part of the reason we’ve had these incredibly high absenteeism rates is because people are angry and frustrated about these exact problems,” Garcia-Leys said. “How many of those 250 people are going to actually show up when they’re told to?”

L.A. County needs the support of probation officers to meet the narrow deadline imposed by the state. If the officers challenge the mandate — either officially through the union, or unofficially by not showing up — the department could find itself in an even worse position when state inspectors return to check whether the county is still out of compliance.

Unlike last year, L.A. County does not have a backup facility large enough to house the roughly 300 juveniles currently at Los Padrinos and Barry J. Nidorf, and state law does not permit the BSCC to grant any more extensions.

Problems with adult oversightThough the county’s attention is on the juvenile side of the agency right now, its poor oversight of adult probationers has faced significant criticism in recent years as well. Last year, the Los Angeles County Office of Inspector General found the department failed to act on information that a probationer was using drugs and carrying a firearm in the weeks before he killed two El Monte police officers and then himself in 2022.

The report found the department had not properly monitored Justin Flores, a convicted gang member, for years. Flores’ probation officer did not make contact with Flores, despite saying he had, on multiple occasions, and did not follow up after learning that Flores wasn’t living at the address provided to the department. Though he received warnings about Flores using PCP and carrying a gun a week before the shooting in El Monte, he did not pass that information along to law enforcement.

“Everybody has been focused on the juvenile system because the facilities have become such a crisis, but there were serious problems in the adult system before that focus was diverted,” Garcia-Leys said.

‘Delicate’ balancing actIn a statement, the Probation Department confirmed the redeployments and said it is “actively engaged in the delicate task of balancing the demands of the juvenile halls with those of the adult probation program.” Field supervisors will “address any gaps” created by the reassignments, officials said.

Asked how the remaining staff will handle the workload, the department stated that probation officers “understand the challenge of adapting to shifting responsibilities” and “will continue to prioritize their time and focus on high-priority cases while leveraging resources efficiently.”

The Probation Department is actively recruiting new probation officers to bolster its staffing, according to the statement.

“We recognize the unique needs and vulnerabilities of both populations and continue to work to implement strategic measures to ensure equitable attention and resources,” the statement read.

The Probation Department has yet to publicly unveil its plan to fix the juvenile halls before the April 16 deadline imposed by state regulators. A spokesperson for the BSCC said the county has not submitted a plan yet. Inspectors will revisit both Los Padrinos and the SYTF within the next month to determine if the facilities are still “unsuitable” to house youths.

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