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Interim L.A. County Probation Department head gets tough questions at community forum

March 17, 2010 | 11:28 pm

Los Angeles County Interim Probation Chief Cal Remington faced tough questions from probation staff, youths and advocates at a Wednesday night forum hosted by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at his Exposition Park field office.

Remington is expected to deliver an assessment of the troubled department to supervisors before incoming Chief Donald Blevins takes over April 19.

In recent weeks, the department has drawn criticism for failing to investigate and discipline staff for misconduct, including child abuse. On Tuesday, sheriff’s investigators arrested a former teacher at a county probation camp on six counts of child endangerment for allegedly organizing fights between students during class.

Remington is expected to update supervisors Tuesday about efforts to improve the department’s internal affairs investigations. Standing in front of a sign that read, “The Los Angeles County Probation Department: How Broken Is Broken?” Remington told Wednesday's standing-room-only crowd of about 150 that he favored expanding community-based programs without increasing the departments $700-million budget.

When Ridley-Thomas and several audience members pressed Remington about what cuts he thought should remain under the budget, he suggested streamlining costs at county juvenile halls and camps, and possibly closing some camps. “There’s money being wasted,” he said.

But the former Ventura County probation chief, who has been on the job for about five weeks, offered few other specifics.

Kim McGill, of the Inglewood-based Youth Justice Coalition, said she was frustrated by probation officials' failure to partner with the community, but hopeful that Remington, Ridley-Thomas and other county leaders recognize the problem.

“We want to know who within that department has gotten what assignment to change things,” McGill said. “Put a kid, put a parent in charge and see what they do.”

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske