A report released Monday laid out a road map of recommendations to phase out pepper spray at Los Angeles County juvenile halls and camps by year's end after a troubling spike in its use.
The report by the so-called Probation Reform and Implementation Team was studying ways the department can make treatment of juveniles in custody more humane and safe after a big spike in pepper spray use first reported by the NBC4 I-Team in December.
The plan calls for immediate enhanced training for all staff on de-escalation techniques and nonuse of force options, limiting use of pepper spray to supervisors only as a last resort, putting pepper spray in a lock box, followed by a complete phase-out by the end of the year.
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"Having gone through the experience of being pepper sprayed as an adult, I am glad to see that L.A. County's Supervisors have decided to eliminate its use on youth under the care of the L.A. County Probation Department," said member Jose Osuna, who formerly worked with Homeboy Industries. "I believe that the PRIT's recommendations lay out the safest path that can be taken in order to accomplish that."
LA County Probation Chief Terri McDonald said she will take the recommendations under advisement.
"We appreciate the work the PRIT has undertaken to develop these recommendations and will take them under advisement as we continue to develop a comprehensive strategy to safely eliminate the use of OC spray in our residential facilities," she said. "Our goal is to continue to work with our staff and partners to reduce the circumstances that contribute to the need for physical interventions. Additional training to build upon staffs skills working with high need youth and increasing rehabilitative services are among the actions we plan to take to ensure a safe environment."
Hans Liang, the president of AFSCME Local 685, the union that represents rank-and-file probation officers is cautiously optimistic.
He's encouraged by the recommendations that call for making the lockups safe for both youth and staff and that probation officers get a seat at the table in helping guide policy.
But banning pepper spray is an open question. There'll always be emergencies such as riots or gang violence, he said.
"While there are some promising recommendations in the report, at the end of the day there's going to have to be a reliance on management to be able to come up with a plan," he said. "I don't see how it will be eliminated completely. If management is successful in implementing these recommendations in a way that's meaningful for everybody staff and youth included, then you would see the reliance on pepper spray drop."
The County board of supervisors called for a ban after an investigation by the County's Office of Inspector General found excessive and troubling uses of pepper spray. The OIG's report came after the NBC4 I-Team found a 154 percent increase over a three-year period in pepper spray use.
"As the author of a recent motion to eliminate pepper spray from LA County juvenile halls and camps, I applaud the Probation Reform Implementation Team for synthesizing the insights of our community stakeholders on how to eliminate pepper spray while preserving safety in our facilities," said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who wrote the motion to phase out pepper spray.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who wrote the motion to create the oversight panel, said reforming the department is long overdue.
"It is high time we come to grips with the problems plaguing the juvenile halls and probation camps," he said in a statement. "The PRIT has given us a road map with clear and actionable steps on how to do this, crafted with input from a range of stakeholders. There is no excuse for not moving forward now, and with expediency."