On Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, more than 300 Los Angeles County Deputy Probation and Detention Services Officers, Supervisors, and Managers rallied before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors Hearing Room to demand that the County Supervisors support Probation by implementing policies and procedures to protect the officers who are suffering unprecedented injuries when breaking up escalating youth-on-youth fights in the juvenile halls and camps.
An average of 25 L.A. County Probation Officers each month are being assaulted by justice-involved youth in L.A. County Probation facilities, a shocking 98% more assaults than in the Orange County Probation Department. And L.A. Probation Officers are 15 times more likely to be assaulted than Custody Assistants and Deputy Sheriffs working in L.A. Sheriff’s Department facilities. While youth on staff assaults in the Probation Halls and Camps are escalating, the Probation profession is under attack by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, whose members have failed to provide the policies, training, and tools to keep officers safe.
“Most of these assaults happen when officers are breaking up fights between youth to stop them from hurting or even killing each other,” said Deputy Probation Officer II Hans Liang, President of the Deputy Probation Officers Union, AFSCME Local 685. “In June 2022 alone, there were 150 reports of youth-on-youth assaults. Imagine how many more there would be, or how serious these fights would be, if we were not intervening immediately when a fight breaks out? These fights would turn into gang-on-gang riots!”
On April 30, 2021, L.A. County Detention Services (DSO) Officer Michael Wall, a 14-year veteran of the L.A. County Probation Department, was on duty at Central Juvenile Hall. Shortly after physically restraining a youth who led a group attack on another minor, DSO Wall went in pursuit of two youth involved in the assault. The youth ran out the classroom and into the open field in front of the school. While in pursuit, DSO Wall began to experience medical distress.
After eight cycles of CPR in attempt to preserve and revive him, DSO Wall was transported to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery and subsequently passed away.
“On many occasions, Michael confided in me that he experienced anxiety and felt unsafe working at Central Juvenile Hall,” said Jewel Smith, sister of Detention Services Officer Michael Wall who died in the line of duty in 2021. “He constantly said he and his co-workers were not given the proper tools they needed to protect themselves or the youth in the institution. I am personally asking the Board of Supervisors to make officer safety a top priority. I also ask that Supervisors listen to the officers about what they need so that the Probation Department can implement policies and procedures that are designed to ensure their safety. I truly hope Michael's death is the last fatality resulting from a lack of policies and practices that disregard officer safety.”
The lack of support has been demoralizing to professional Probation staff for the last several year; now the Board of Supervisors have exacerbated the situation. On Aug. 3, the County of Los Angeles posted three positions in the newly-created Department of Youth Development (DYD) to do exactly what Probation staff are already doing; however, the new positions require no degree, no criminal background check, and applicants need just one year of experience (two years for the supervisor position). Meanwhile, the pay range for these new DYD positions is $104,772-141,544 per year of taxpayer dollars, 19-46% more than the pay for professional, trained, and degreed Probation Department employees.
“The population in the juvenile halls and camps has been reduced significantly in recent years. Those who remain are very troubled youth – murder, kidnapping, carjacking, armed robbery, and even terrorism charges – who require significantly more intervention and rehabilitative services than kids in community group homes or on home detention,” said Probation Manager Deborah Lares who serves as the elected president of the Professional Managers Association, AFSCME Local 1967. “This translates into needing more officers on staff – and more highly trained and educated professionals – than ever before.”
“Enough is enough,” declared Supervising Deputy Probation Officer Jim Schoengarth, President of theSupervising Deputy Probation Officers Union, SEIU Local 721. “This is a declaration of war against every single one of us – the very men and women who have dedicated our lives to rehabilitating youth to keep them out of prison, to protecting victims’ rights, and to making our streets safe.”