Re­port calls county jail data flawed

Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment meth­ods of track­ing in­mate vi­o­lence don’t work, in­spec­tor says.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Maya Lau

The Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment uses flawed meth­ods to col­lect data about vi­o­lence in county jails that re­sult in un­re­li­able and in some cases in­ac­cu­rate sta­tis­tics pub­lished in­ter­nally and in public re­ports, ac­cord­ing to the agency’s prin­ci­pal watch­dog.

In­spec­tor Gen­eral Max Hunts­man said his 17-page re­port, re­leased Tues­day, calls into ques­tion whether the depart­ment “is in con­trol of it­self ” as it con­tin­ues to im­ple­ment re­forms a few years af­ter an abuse scan­dal rocked the na­tion’s largest jail sys­tem.

“They them­selves said that they didn’t be­lieve their own data,” Hunts­man said. “If they can’t as­sess them­selves, and if they can’t tell us what’s go­ing on in their own depart­ment, then we can’t as­sess them.”

Hunts­man said his re­view was prompted by ques­tions ear­lier this year from the Los An­ge­les Times about why the depart­ment was re­port­ing in­con­sis­tent num­bers of in­mate-on-in­mate as­saults.

The depart­ment told the news­pa­per this past spring it could not stand by the in­mate as­sault sta­tis­tics it had pre­vi­ously is­sued to the pa­per and to the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice — which had al­ready pub­lished the num­bers in a few of its re­ports — and that it would re­view its data sys­tems.

Hunts­man’s of­fice found the depart­ment tracks jail in­ci­dents us­ing var­i­ous types of soft­ware that are in­com­pat­i­ble with one an­oth-

er, some­times al­low­ing for du­pli­cate en­tries and other times en­abling mul­ti­ple events to be listed as one, among other er­rors.

As a re­sult, the num­bers that the depart­ment col­lects for its in­ter­nal records ver­sus the sta­tis­tics it re­ports to out­side agen­cies can di­verge sig­nif­i­cantly.

In one ex­am­ple cited by Hunts­man, the depart­ment recorded in an in­ter­nal re­port that there were 382 in­mate-on-staff as­saults in 2015, but the depart­ment told the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice there were 464 of those as­saults that year. The in­spec­tor gen­eral de­scribed this as a 17.7% vari­ance.

In 2012, the Ci­ti­zens’ Com­mis­sion on Jail Vi­o­lence voiced sim­i­lar con­cerns, say­ing that the depart­ment re­lies on an­ti­quated, in­com­pat­i­ble sys­tems to track uses of force and that it should re­place those meth­ods with a uni­form, com­pre­hen­sive data track­ing sys­tem.

Sher­iff Jim McDonnell, then chief of the Long Beach Po­lice Depart­ment, was one of seven mem­bers of that cit­i­zen’s com­mis­sion.

As­sis­tant Sher­iff Kelly Har­ring­ton said he agreed with many of the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s find­ings and that the depart­ment would be bet­ter served by an in­te­grated jail data sys­tem with one repos­i­tory for in­for­ma­tion.

But Har­ring­ton, who over­sees the depart­ment’s jails and pre­vi­ously served as a di­rec­tor in the state cor­rec­tional sys­tem, said cre­at­ing a stream­lined jail man­age­ment sys­tem “has not been a top pri­or­ity” in the year and a half he’s been with the Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment.

He em­pha­sized, how­ever, that the trend line on se­vere or in­ap­pro­pri­ate uses of force by guards — ar­guably the most im­por­tant met­ric to ex­am­ine in the wake of the jail abuse con­tro­versy — is in­deed down.

“Those is­sues aren’t hap­pen­ing in the jails, and if they are, those in­di­vid­u­als re­spon­si­ble are be­ing held ac­count­able,” Har­ring­ton said.

Peter Elias­berg, chief coun­sel at the ACLU of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, which mon­i­tors the jails, agreed that “bru­tal, heavy-handed as­saults” by guards in which in­mates’ teeth are kicked in or jaws shat­tered ap­pear to no longer be a com­mon fea­ture in the county’s jails.

But Elias­berg said it’s still crit­i­cal for the depart­ment to col­lect pre­cise data about all types of jail in­ci­dents, in­clud­ing mi­nor uses of force by guards, in­ma­teon-in­mate as­saults and in­mate-on-staff as­saults. Even rel­a­tively small fluc­tu­a­tions in those sta­tis­tics, such as a 5% rise or drop, can sig­nal the need for of­fi­cials to ex­am­ine prob­lems more closely.

Miriam Krin­sky, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor who served as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the 2012 com­mis­sion, said the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port un­der­scores the con­tin­ued need for over­sight of the Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment.

“Any law en­force­ment agency can only im­prove what it knows and what it tracks,” she said.

Hunts­man’s re­port rec­om­mends there be a sin­gle unit in the depart­ment re­spon­si­ble for com­pil­ing and ver­i­fy­ing all jail vi­o­lence data in order to gen­er­ate more ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion.

‘If they can’t as­sess them­selves, and if they can’t tell us what’s go­ing on in their own depart­ment, then we can’t as­sess them.’ — Max Hunts­man, in­spec­tor gen­eral

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

IN­SPEC­TOR GEN­ERAL Max Hunts­man’s re­port Tues­day ques­tioned Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment data.

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