Thursday, July 11, 2013

Police Work at Developmental Centers Lacking (SF Chronicle)

Sacramento --
The in-house police force at California's developmental centers has frequently neglected to interview victims of abuse, photograph crime scenes or collect statements from suspects and witnesses, according to a state audit released Tuesday.
The state auditor's report detailed numerous shortcomings in how the force, called the Office of Protective Services, protects roughly 1,500 patients with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities at five board-and-care institutions in Sonoma, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and Tulare counties.
"Investigative deficiencies, such as those we observed, may allow for continued abuse at the developmental centers," the report said. Auditors said they had reviewed 48 investigations by the department and found 54 deficiencies in its police methods.
State lawmakers ordered the audit last year in response to stories by the Center for Investigative Reporting detailing how the force routinely failed to do basic police work when patients were abused, including suspicious death and sexual assault cases.
The Office of Protective Services was set up specifically to protect the developmentally disabled living in the state's remaining board-and-care centers, but few violent crime cases at the institutions have resulted in criminal charges.
Dozens of women were sexually assaulted inside state centers, but police investigators didn't order "rape kits" to collect evidence, a standard law enforcement tool, the Center for Investigative Reporting found. Police waited so long to investigate one sexual assault that the staff janitor accused of rape fled the country.
The police force's inaction also allowed abusive caregivers to continue molesting patients.
The Office of Protective Services' records indicate the force sent 82 patient abuse cases to district attorneys for possible prosecution. However, auditors determined much of the data on the entire caseload were "not sufficiently reliable" to verify that number.
The auditor faulted management of the facilities for failing to provide specialized training for officers in interviewing the developmentally disabled patients, many of whom cannot speak or communicate clearly.
The Department of Developmental Services, which operates the centers and police force, agreed with the findings and said many of the prescribed fixes are already under way. The department declined to comment and referred to its formal response in the audit.
While hailing the auditors' work, Greg deGiere, public policy director for the Arc of California, which advocates for the developmentally disabled, said the police force should be independent of the Department of Developmental Services.
"The whole thing is clearly still under the department's thumb," he said. "There is a code of silence (at the centers), from both the top and the bottom."

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