The Los Angeles County Probation Office has cited tougher self-policing and stricter hiring standards for a dramatic decrease in the number of employees arrested for driving under the influence and various other crimes, but the union representing probation officers complained the changes have led to understaffing.
Probation Office Chief Jerry Powers said the number of probation employees arrested for crimes both on and off the job fell from a high of 74 in 2011 to just 32 in 2013. Nearly half the arrests last year – 15 – were for DUI offenses. Most of the remaining charges were theft and assault.
“We’ve come light years from where we were to where we are today,” Powers said at a news conference.
But the president of AFSCME Local 685, the union representing the county’s probation officers, disputed Powers’ claim that the drop in the number of arrests was the result of hiring standards and self-policing.
“It’s like crime statistics, they go up and down all the time,” union president Ralph Miller said. “Taking credit for those numbers going down is like taking credit for the sun rising and setting.”
Powers said stricter hiring standards, including polygraph tests and more extensive background checks of job applicants, were responsible for the decline. The Probation Office has also become more aggressive with internal investigations.
“The amount of discipline has almost tripled, so we’re holding employees accountable,” Powers stated. “I think that sends a message to all employees in the department that you’re going to behave, on duty and off duty, and if you fail to meet our standards, we’re prepared to see that you correct your behavior or you find another employer.”
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors heaped praise on the Probation Office in late 2013 for implementing the new standards, but the union said the changes jeopardized public safety. By January 2014, the union noted, more than 1,000 of the Probation Office’s 6,600 job positions remained vacant, while probation officers were required to monitor some 80,000 adult and juvenile offenders – a number that has increased under California’s Realignment initiative. [See: PLN, June 2014, p.1].
AFSCME Local 685 complained that the new hiring standards are not realistic, and in a letter to the Board of Supervisors accused Powers of having “seriously mismanaged the hiring and promotional process, resulting in a grave public safety crisis.”
Arrests of probation officers fell from 74 in 2011 to 44 in 2012, but included some high-profile cases, including one high-ranking employee who was charged with defrauding banks by falsely claiming his identity had been stolen.
On September 17, 2012, FBI agents arrested Carl Edward Washington, a division chief of intergovernmental relations. In announcing the arrest, the FBI said Washington faced “three counts of bank fraud and three counts of making a false statement to a federally insured financial institution.”
Washington is also an ordained minister and a former lawmaker who was elected three times to the state Assembly. As a Probation Office employee, he reportedly received loans and credit cards to purchase airline tickets and hotel rooms and to obtain cash advances totaling “several thousand dollars,” according to investigators.
Washington eventually stopped paying his debts and claimed to be a victim of identity theft. On July 22, 2013, he was sentenced to one day in federal prison with credit for one day already served, plus three years of supervised release and $193,898.25 in restitution.
Of the 44 Los Angeles County probation officers arrested in 2012, dozens were charged with drunk driving, drug possession and theft. Charges were also filed against a six-year veteran employee for filing false workers’ compensation claims, and against a probation officer for allegedly shooting a man in a bar.
“They shouldn’t have 40 arrests in any department,” said Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney and police watchdog who has been critical of the Probation Office. “If you have 40 arrests, that ought to be a sign that something is very wrong. It’s like, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’”
The number of probation employees charged with crimes fell again to 32 in 2013.
“We don’t want any arrests, but reducing the numbers by half in two years shows our new policies are having an impact,” said Assistant Chief Probation Officer Don Meyer. “If we could reduce it to zero – which is unrealistic – that would be nice, but we’ve obviously done a good job. It’s not by accident that those numbers have gone down.”
Still, some high-profile arrests have continued. In August 2013, probation officer Frank Elliott Boyd III, 48, pleaded not guilty to charges arising from a scheme to defraud the state of $1.6 million in phony childcare payments.
According to prosecutors, Boyd, his ex-girlfriend and four other co-defendants allegedly set up a number of licensed home-based childcare centers, then urged parents to file fake documents with county and state agencies for childcare that was never provided. Boyd was charged with conspiracy, grand theft and perjury.
Also in 2013, a former probation officer was arrested on misdemeanor charges of using his iPad to take photos up a woman’s skirt. Julio Mario Medal was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to perform 120 days of community service after pleading guilty to secretly videotaping for sexual gratification, unlawful loitering and attempted videotaping for sexual gratification.
Arrests have continued into 2014. For example, former Los Angeles County probation officer Robyn Palmer, 29, was arrested on felony charges of insurance fraud, forgery, grand theft and wire fraud on May 16, 2014. She had received over $29,000 in workers’ comp payments for an injury allegedly received while restraining a juvenile offender. However, it was later learned she was not at work on the day she claimed the injury occurred. Palmer was jailed on $100,000 bond.
Meyer noted that most of the Probation Office employees who have been arrested were hired in 2005-2008, when the office did not conduct background checks on job applicants.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, www.scpr.org, https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/, www.examiner.com, www.dailynews.com
(Reprinted with Permission from Prison Legal News)