by DPO Stay Ford, Camps Vice President
Our Department is changing in so many ways. Every time we get a new Chief, we go in a new direction. This is not always a bad thing, but it is something to think about. I have been in the Department for over 16 years now and I have seen a lot. I consider myself a veteran. As a Department, we are about to embark on new beginnings and travel down unfamiliar territory. We are about to enter the twilight zone.
Over the years, some of the Community Based Organizations, the Probation Oversight Commission, BSCC, and even the Board of Supervisors have sat at the dinner table without Probation employees – you know those of us who do Probation work – and discussed the future of Probation. They have decided what resources and what tools we would not have, and what policies and procedures we will follow. They have set us up to enter the twilight zone.
Picture this: Five Probation Officers are invited as keynote speakers to attend a nursing conference to tell nurses how to do their jobs better. Keep in mind that we are Probation Officers telling nurses how to do their jobs at a nursing conference. This would not make any sense at all. What do Probation Officers know about nursing?
My point: Many of the people at the dinner table discussing what should or should not happen in Probation have no idea what they are talking about. They don’t work in our Camps and Halls. They don’t work in our field area offices. So why are they deciding how we get things done?
Well, that’s what is happening, and therefore our Camps and Halls are in distress. These people are setting us up to fail. Think about this for a moment: The Department moved six youth from BJNJH to Kilpatrick, the new SYTF. During their orientation for the program, these youth were told the rules and regulations for the program. They were told that if certain rules were violated, they would be returned to BJNJH. One of the youths was caught having contraband – he had vape pens. The CVK officers insisted that management send that youth back to BJNJH to send a message to the other youth that this behavior would not be tolerated.
Guess what? That didn’t happen. Instead, the youth was given a second chance because he confessed. WOW! So now the word is that the youth can get away with violating rules and regulation because nothing is going to happen. Again, this decision was not made by Probation employees who do this job every day.
In July 2023, our Department will receive young adults, up to the age of 25, from what was formerly known as the California Youth Authority (CYA), now the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Now mind you, at the state level the officers had tools, equipment, resources, and everything they needed to do their jobs that kept everyone safe. They carried pepper spray, diversion/distraction devices, impact, bright lights, etc. They also had face shields, helmets, gloves, and stab proof clothing (just to name a few). We have what? We have a badge on our shirt and verbal commands. “Hey, stop fighting.” “Please don’t stab me.” “Please sit down.”
These young adults, up to the age of 25!, that are about to come into our facilities are coming with a high level of sophistication. They are coming with all the tricks of the trade. They are coming with force. They know the games to play to get officers caught up and under investigation. They know how to play the victim to get the drugs and weapons into the facilities. They are ready, but we have not received the advanced training and preparation for this type of sophistication.
I can see it now… One of these youth/young adults is caught with a weapon. He is searched and weapons are found on him. That same youth complains to Probation Commissioners that we searched him and guess what? That Commissioner complains to the Chief and the Board of Supervisors. Guess what happens next? That officer is investigated by Internal Affairs because the youth complained that his feelings were hurt during the search. This sends the wrong message. Two things happen here:
The youth is now empowered to do the wrong thing because he knows he can get away with it; and
The officer will now second guess how he handles this situation the next time or decide not to enforce policy.
There was an opportunity for boundaries to be set and the Department, specifically CVK, missed it. And because of this, the tone is now set.
Officers have no problem entering the twilight zone. After all, we are Probation Officers. What we have a problem with is entering the twilight zone without being prepared. We need to keep everyone safe…without the basic survival tools. Currently, we have no training in self-defense, there are no tools to use, there is no equipment, and there is no tactical training in place in case there is a riot. By the way, should there be any riots, I guess we will do what we do now – run around like chickens with no necks yelling, “Stop fighting, stop fighting, please stop fighting.” The only thing is these juveniles have a level of sophistication and someone could be KILLED.
May I suggest the following to the powers that be:
Prepare us as we enter the twilight zone. Train us with realistic training that we can use to be safe. Give us the equipment we need to save lives.
Let me close with this: If the Department would listen to the Union like they listen to other folks, we would be a better Department. We would be the Department that Departments in California and across America look to as a role model.
The twilight zone does not have to be the unknown. With tools, resources, training, and equipment, we can enter and be prepared for whatever we are faced with.