L.A County Inspector General raises alarm over pepper spray use on juveniles

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Officers engaged in inappropriate and avoidable uses of pepper spray to subdue detainees in Los Angeles County juvenile detention facilities in recent years, sometimes violating their own rules mandating its use as a last resort, according to a report by the Los Angeles County Office of Inspector General.

The review found that the Probation Department has inadequate training, supervision and accountability systems that contribute to an over-reliance on the spray, which is designed to cause severe irritation in the eyes and skin to control unruly subjects. The report doesn’t reveal many new details about specific cases or data from 2018.

It does recommend 18 changes to the department’s policies related to its officers’ reliance on pepper spray, in addition to raising the question of whether its use should be discontinued, as some juvenile justice reform advocates have argued.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas sought the review in December amid reports that the use of the spray had tripled in recent years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The report is expected to be discussed Tuesday by the supervisors. It comes amid an ongoing discussion about reforming the nation’s largest juvenile probation operation, which includes more than 7,700 youths under community supervision and about 900 on average detained in halls or camps.

While praising the cooperation of probation staff during the review, the report raised concerns about a punitive culture inside detention facilities in which youths were regularly subjected to oleoresin capsicum spray, as it is formally known. The department allows it as a “last resort” to control violent youths.

The review shows that pepper spray use across all department facilities increased from 294 incidents in 2015 to 747 in 2017 — a jump of 154 percent, The Times reported ahead of today’s supervisors meeting. The information was initially reported on Dec. 17 by NBC4, which added that about 400 incidents were reported through July 2018, suggesting they were on pace to match 2017.

The report shows an even more dramatic increase in the number of incidents at juvenile halls, where offenders go before their cases are adjudicated, as opposed to juvenile camps, which serve as longer-term rehabilitation facilities.

In a letter sent Friday, the L.A. Youth Uprising Coalition, which includes the ACLU of Southern California, the Children’s Defense Fund of California and others, urged a ban on the use of chemical spray in the county. The group cited the limited use of sprays in juvenile facilities by other states.

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