Tuesday, April 24, 2012

(Lassen County) Grand Jury finds issues with probation department

April 24, 2012 — Public concern regarding the anticipated arrival of state prison parolees to Lassen County due to the implementation of Assembly Bill (AB) 109 prompted the Lassen County Grand Jury inquires into the conditions of the Lassen County Juvenile Detention Facility (LCJDF) and Lassen County Probation Department (LCPD). The final report was published in advance of the Grand Jury’s Annual Report in July because it was determined there were issues of great concern that needed immediate attention. In 2011, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed AB 109 — historic legislation designed to help California close the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons. AB 109 is just one part of California’s solution for reducing the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons. California law mandates the Grand Jury respond to citizen’s complaint letters regarding areas of possible concern. As a result of reviewing such letters, the Grand Jury determined that in the interest of public safety, a review of the LCPD was necessary. In addition to the expressed concern of the safety of unarmed probation officers, the Grand Jury received complaints regarding allegations of mismanagement within the probation department, which in turn provoked a tour of the facilities. According to the Grand Jury Report, “As the inquiry began information surfaced within the probation department that there are significant operational issues within the department and some staff exhibited unusual fear in talking to the Grand Jury.” The report said enough information was discovered in the initial interviews and tour to warrant an in-depth investigation. Numerous interviews were conducted which included current and former employees from all levels of the LCPD. One of the biggest areas of concern for the Grand Jury is the oversight of the chief probation officer (CPO) and how the probation department operates, as there is presently no structured supervision of the CPO or the department. According to the report, while the presiding Superior Court Judge appoints and removes the CPO, neither “the Lassen County personnel department, county counsel nor the presiding judge would take responsibility in direct oversight and/or supervision of the CPO.” The Grand Jury discovered that once appointed, the CPO is a county employee and according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the county is in fact responsible for monitoring performance and investigating allegations of misconduct. In addition, the Grand Jury discovered the CPO was officially on long-term medical leave but continued to work in the department office and from home on a county computer, and also directed staff via telephone and computer. The Grand Jury determined these actions might lead to liability issues for Lassen County and taxpayers. There also arose questions about safety equipment such as expired pepper spray, which is the probation department staff’s only form of personal protection. Staff voiced concerns about their protective vests being out of safety date compliance, non functional field radios, having to use personal cell phones in emergency situations and personal vehicles for work-related transportation while not being reimbursed as allowed within county policy. The Grand Jury investigations discovered the adult side of the probation department does not have a written set of policies and procedures. Staff said they learn their job duties by “winging it and from co-workers.” Staff in the adult side of the probation department reported not having regular staff meetings, but would like to have office meetings in which information can be shared and training given. Additionally, it was discovered some employees were using county cell phones for personal use. In particular, phone records show extensive use of a county cell phone by the CPO for several consecutive months while on medical leave. The Grand Jury made the following recommendations based on its findings: • All supervisors and the CPO receive advanced training in effective supervision and management strategies. • A review be done of all county cell phones in use and determine if an alternative plan would save taxpayer money. • Superior Court presiding judge, Lassen County Counsel and the Lassen County Personnel Department convene and determine who should have responsibility oversight of the probation department and the CPO, then implement a chain of command, publish it in the county policy and procedures manual and complete a thorough operational review. • Review the county policy on employees being allowed to perform work while medically excused and take appropriate action. • Establish and distribute a working policy/procedure manual, establish a written policy/procedure on citizen complaints and establish a use of force policy. • Conduct an in-depth review of the operational status of all safety equipment; maintain documented safety training records of trainings to be completed by all staff. • Review the probation department policy regarding arming probation officers, and investigate the possibility of entering into an agreement with other law enforcement agencies to provide training and certification. • Documented training be given to all probation staff on the county policy for the use of personal vehicles in the work place, and write a department policy for on-call employee vehicle use after normal duty hours. • Regular staff meetings scheduled to provide ongoing training and pertinent information. • Immediate inquiry into the areas of concern and actions of the CPO conducted through a cooperative effort between the presiding judge, county counsel and the county administrative officer. Responses to the Lassen County Grand Jury final report on the LCPD is required from the LCPD, LCAO, Lassen County Counsel, Lassen County Personnel Department and presiding Superior Court judge. Responses must be submitted within 60-90 days — elected officials must respond within 60 days and governing bodies, such as the Board of Supervisors, must respond within 90 days. The complete Grand Jury Report on the LCPD was published in the April 17 issue of the Lassen County Times on pages 9B and 10B. The report can also be found in the Susanville Library and the Jury Commissioner’s office at 220 S. Lassen St., Susanville. http://www.lassennews.com/home/7924-grand-jury-finds-issues-with-probation-department

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