This article comes to us courtesy of California Watch.
State officials working to upgrade patient abuse investigations at California's board-and-care institutions for the developmentally disabled aim to overhaul the in-house police force while also directing the most serious cases to outside agencies.
The first part - implementing new law enforcement policies and retraining the developmental center force, called the Office of Protective Services - is moving at a deliberate pace.
Joe Brann, the independent overseer of the in-house force and former Hayward police chief, said he is still considering how to address officers' and detectives' shortcomings. Retraining might not start for months.
"It isn't going to make any sense to move forward on training until those policies are truly in the form that they need to be," said Brann, who was appointed overseer by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration in March. He declined to name what policy areas are being addressed.
Meanwhile, legislation that would require the Department of Developmental Services to notify outside law enforcement of allegations of serious crimes against patients at the centers easily passed out of the state Senate's Human Services Committee last week. Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced SB 1522 in the hopes of directing cases of sexual assault, assault with a deadly weapon or force, and unexplained injuries involving patients' genitals to other police departments.
"The in-house police's attention, or lack of attention, is certainly not sufficient to address the kind of abuse we know is ongoing," Leno said.
In a series of stories in February, California Watch reported that detectives and patrol officers at the board-and-care institutions routinely fail to conduct basic police work, even when patients die under mysterious circumstances. The facilities have documented hundreds of cases of abuse and unexplained injuries, almost none of which have led to arrests.
The state operates five developmental centers that house roughly 1,800 patients with cerebral palsy and other intellectual disabilities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Sonoma and Tulare counties. California is budgeted to spend $577 million on the patients and facilities this fiscal year, or about $320,000 per patient.
The Department of Developmental Services, which operates the centers, hired an Alabama-based consulting firm, the Consortium on Innovative Practices, in July 2010 to review the force's policies and practices regarding investigations. That review continues, with a final report still pending.
Brann said his work is separate from that earlier effort.
At a legislative hearing in March, Diana Dooley, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, announced that the Office of Protective Services would receive training within 90 days. But Brann said he wouldn't push for immediate instruction for officers just to meet a deadline.
"If I feel that there are things that need to be done that are lacking, those things need to be addressed and rectified before you move ahead with the training," he said.
Past audits of the Office of Protective Services and California Watch reporting have repeatedly found in-house police struggle to protect crime scenes and gather evidence. The developmental centers' law enforcement manual is only half written. Some completed sections have shortcomings; the sexual assault investigation policy does not specify when victims must receive a rape kit examination.
These deficiencies are cause to direct a greater share of patient abuse cases to city police or county sheriff departments, Leno said.
"We want local law enforcement to take these very serious abuse cases seriously," Leno said, "as they would with any other crime performed anywhere else in the community."
Ryan Gabrielson is an investigative reporter for California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Find more California Watch stories here.