City News Service

County Approves New Watchdog to Oversee Troubled Probation Department

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a new civilian oversight panel to oversee the beleaguered Los Angeles County Probation Department.

The panel will have the ability to conduct random inspections, report on the budget and operations of the department and conduct investigations through the county Office of Inspector General's Office, according to the plan announced at a Tuesday meeting.

"Reforming the Probation Department has never been more urgent, with both youth and staff in our juvenile facilities reporting feeling unsafe," said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who first championed the probation watchdog to replace the long-standing Probation Commission. "Robust oversight of the largest and most complex department of its kind is long overdue and critical to the success of any reform."

The commission will oversee a department facing scrutiny for the way it treats its youth in county lockups and after serious safety concerns have been raised by officers who oversee teens in custody.

Supervisor Hilda Solis co-authored the motion to set up the watchdog agency. County counsel still needs to draft an ordinance to establish the group and its powers.

The board asked for a draft back in 45 days.

"The new Probation Oversight Commission will help guide the Probation Department toward positive culture change, reduced juvenile facilities, expanded and improved community services, and strengthened accountability and performance management," Solis said.

Department officials said in a statement they support robust oversight to improve.

"The oversight structure adopted by the Board of Supervisors today is the correct one to assist L.A. County Probation in evaluating the status of these and other reforms while providing a balanced view of the strengths of Probation and areas for improvement," the statement said. "The Department looks forward to a collaborative relationship with the Office of Inspector General and the Probation Oversight Commission."

An NBC4 I-Team investigation in December found a dramatic spike of 154% in pepper spray use among probation officers on teens in juvenile facilities over a three-year period.

An OIG General investigation found abuses which led to calls for a ban of pepper spray in the halls and camps, which is expected by next year.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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