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Probation unions vote 'no confidence' in agency chief [Updated]

July 21, 2011 |  1:35 pm

Employees of the Los Angeles County Probation Department announced Thursday they had “lost confidence” in the leadership of agency chief Donald Blevins and called for him to step down.

The also demanded an all-out effort to fix problems in juvenile camps to stave off a potential takeover by the U.S. Justice Department.

A no-confidence vote was taken by executive board members of the Los Angeles County Probation Officers Union, AFSCME Local 685; the Supervising Deputy Probation Officers Union, SEIU Local 721; and the Probation Managers Assn., AFSCME Local 1967, according to union representatives.

The decision was supported by more than 95% of L.A. County Probation Department employees, officials said.

The workers include supervisors, detention services officers, deputy probation officers, supervising deputy probation officers, probation directors and support personnel.

“Blevins must go so that we can save this department,” said Ralph Miller, president of the L.A. County Deputy Probation Officers Union, AFSCME Local 685, in a statement.

[Updated at 4:30 p.m.: Blevins released a statement saying that he remains "deeply committed to eliminating problems, including those brought to our attention by the Department of Justice." He said the department is developing plans to address the issues and that progress is being made.

Blevins also noted that when he became chief probation officer in April 2010, the department was $48 million over budget. As a result of the "financially prudent decisions," Blevins said the department will close the fiscal year with a balanced budget.]

The Probation Department’s juvenile division has been found to be profoundly out of compliance with orders to improve health and safety for youth offenders.

Blevins has been given until October to resolve outstanding issues or risk being put under receivership by the Justice Department, according to union representatives.

County officials have in recent months privately acknowledged to The Times that they have little or no hope that the government’s deadline for complying with the mandates would be met.

But union officials and probation department employees were not prepared to back down and want to try to accelerate the pace of reform.

They gathered Thursday outside the L.A. County Board of Supervisors’ hearing room and called for “around-the-clock collaboration” with the Probation Department, the supervisors’ justice deputies, the chief executive, and U.S. Justice Department officials to fix the problems.

“Failure is not an option,” Miller, of the Probation Officers Union, said.

James Harris, a Probation Department support employee and SEIU Local 721 member, agreed.

“This is about saving the department, and about empowering the department and all of us who work in it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to do our job of turning lives around and protecting the public,” Harris said.

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-- Ann M. Simmons

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