Two Southern California Lawmakers want to create regulations for youth boot camps. The move comes after online videos showed aggressive exercises being used on young people. Ted Chen reports from Pasadena for he NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on July 31, 2012.
The videos that have circulated on the Internet are shocking to those unfamiliar with boot camp techniques. Children are forced to drink water until they throw up; one boy is yelled at while carrying a heavy tire around his neck.
The reputation of boot camps took an even bigger hit when Pasadena instructor Kelvin "Sgt. Mac" McFarland was charged with kidnapping and sexual assault.
Lawmakers say they don't want the controversial programs banned, but they do want to keep closer watch over them.
"This bill is necessary because there is no regulation in place," said Democratic Assembly Member Anthony Portantino, of La Canada Flintridge.
A bill authored by Portantino and State Senator Carol Liu of Glendale would require private boot camps to be licensed and accredited.
The Los Angeles Police Department is watching the boot camp debate closely.
Two of the department's officers allegedly created their own private boot camp in which children were subjected to screaming. A video that surfaced on the Internet appeared to show a young child in the group, prompting an internal investigation.
"The problem is, when someone represents themselves as a Los Angeles Police Officer that may be leading the public or the parents to believe this is a sanctioned program, overseen by the police department, when in fact we don't even know the program exists," said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith.
The LAPD has its own boot camp-style program that officials say has stringent controls, and that's not going to change.
Many parents support the tactics employed by boot camps as a way to discipline their wayward children.
Last year, Keith "Sarge" Gibbs, a former colleague of McFarland, invited journalists to observe his boot camp, which he says is run properly. He says he welcomes regulation, but worries that lawmakers might not be getting the whole picture.
"It's one thing to look at a video, and say, Oh my gosh, something needs to be done," Gibbs said. "But until you really get involved in an organization, you really don't know exactly what's happening.”
There have been no criminal charges related to the widely-distributed boot camp videos and with or without regulation, the question will remain about what crosses the line from discipline to abuse.