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LA County probation chief orders all officers to work monthly shift in juvenile halls

All 3,000 sworn officers in the department, regardless of rank, were ordered to work at least one shift per month in the county’s juvenile halls to help alleviate a staffing crisis

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Having everyone serve a shift in the halls will “show support for, provide aid to and ensure the safety of our besieged and exhausted fellow officers as we turn the page to Los Padrinos.”

Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS

By Jason Henry
Pasadena Star-News, Calif.

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County’s probation chief has ordered all 3,000 sworn peace officers in his department, regardless of rank, to work at least one shift per month in the county’s juvenile halls to help alleviate a staffing crisis that has created such dire conditions that the state is now forcing two of the largest facilities to shut down by the end of July.

Interim Chief Probation Officer Guillermo Viera Rosa issued the order in an email Wednesday, May 24, in which he offered his thanks to the employees who have “shown up every day to perform your duties with dignity and integrity,” despite working double shifts “under the most difficult of circumstances.”

“Although the Board of State and Community Corrections voted yesterday to shut down Central and Nidorf by late July, this is no reflection on you,” Viera Rosa wrote. “You are the reason we have been able to operate these outdated facilities for as long as we have.”

Last week, Viera Rosa issued a similar order requiring executives, including himself, to work a line shift every month.

“I estimate these orders will increase the number of officers by ten-fold at the halls, flooding them with the personnel needed to reverse the chronic staffing shortages that have been at the heart of our problems there,” he said. “The staffing shortage is an emergency. But our response goes beyond numbers. It’s about solidarity and promoting a culture of professionalism.”

Officers ‘besieged, exhausted’

Having everyone serve a shift in the halls will “show support for, provide aid to and ensure the safety of our besieged and exhausted fellow officers as we turn the page to Los Padrinos,” he wrote.

Officials in the three unions representing the department’s field deputies, supervisors and directors have blamed the staffing issues on a hiring freeze that has left more than 1,000 positions vacant. In a statement, the Coalition of Probation Unions acknowledged the order and urged the department’s leadership to “keep a watchful eye on potential issues that may arise in field services from pulling staff out of field supervision of juveniles and adults as they are a critical component of protecting the public and crime victims.”

“The Board of Supervisors has created this crisis by refusing to properly staff the probation department, and the crisis will not be resolved until the staffing crisis is resolved,” a coalition spokesperson stated.

Ahead of the impending shutdowns, the county is attempting to execute a dramatic plan to consolidate 275 youths and the majority of its staff to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, a facility that closed in 2019 amid abuse allegations. County construction crews are working two shifts daily — from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. — to prepare the facility for the youths by July 24, according to the Probation Department.

The county must empty its two primary juvenile halls — Barry J. Nidorf in Sylmar and Central in Lincoln Heights — by that date to meet a deadline set by the Board of State and Community Corrections, which declared both halls “unsuitable” for the continued confinement of youths at its meeting Tuesday, May 23.

Dozens of deficiencies

Earlier this year, the BSCC concluded a biennial inspection of all of the county’s juvenile detention facilities and found dozens of deficiencies at Nidorf and Central. Inspectors found the department has struggled to retain employees and faces an “unprecedented amount of staff call-outs, staff no-shows and staff otherwise not reporting for work per shift.”

Staff members reported working back-to-back shifts that sometimes went beyond 24 hours. Youths were being kept in their rooms for excessively long periods of time, missing school and visitations, and even forced to urinate in their rooms, which do not have toilets, because there wasn’t anyone to take them to the restroom during overnight shifts. A recent report from the county Inspector General’s Office indicated lax security at the halls had contributed to an influx of illicit substances, including fentanyl.

At least four overdoses, one of which was fatal, have occurred in the past three months.

The Board of Supervisors fired Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales in early March as a result of the turmoil. His replacement, interim Chief Karen Fletcher, then resigned less than two months later.

Beyond the BSCC’s shutdown, the county is required comply with the terms of a 2021 judgment requiring it to fix “unsafe” conditions at the two juvenile halls. An L.A. County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the California Department of Justice in early May and has indicated the county could face sanctions if it fails to make the mandated changes.

The county and the DOJ are currently negotiating a deadline to present to the court sometime in June.

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