The Los Angeles County Probation Department released figures Tuesday showing a significant decline in the number of employees arrested for criminal behavior both while on the job and off-duty.
In 2013, 32 members of the department were arrested by the department's Internal Affairs unit: 15 accused of DUI, 1 for theft, 6 for assault, 3 for drugs, and 7 for unspecified criminal allegations. In 2011, there were 74 arrests.
That was the year Probation Chief Jerry Powers took over the department and was tasked by the Board of Supervisors with cleaning up its apparent professionalism problem.
"DUI's were a significant problem and we've cut that in half," Powers said Tuesday. "All areas of criminal misconduct have decreased."
The chief attributed the decline in employee arrests to a beefed up internal affairs department and crackdown on employee misconduct.
"The amount of discipline has almost tripled, so we're holding employees accountable," Powers said. "I think that sends a message to all employees in the department that you're going to behave, on duty and off duty, and if you fail to meet our standards, we're prepared to see that you correct your behavior or you find another employer."
The union that represents many probation officers, the AFSCME Local 685, disputed Powers' characterization of the decline in employee arrests.
"Taking credit for those numbers going down is like taking credit for the sun rising and setting," said union President Ralph Miller. "It's like crime statistics, they go up and down all the time."
Workers compensation claims are also down – another area Powers said he's tried to crack down on. In 2010, probation employees had 915 industrial accident claims open. In 2013, that number dropped to 759.
Powers said the department is also managing injuries better.
"We're reducing areas where injuries can occur and we're doing a much better job of investigating injuries," Powers said.
Miller countered that part of the drop in both employee arrests and in workers compensation claims may be attributable to the high number of vacancies in the probation department. The union has argued that the stringent hiring standards for officers has resulted in too few new employees and therefore too high caseloads.
"It's easier to get a job with the CIA or FBI," Miller said.
Powers, however, said the standards are in place for a reason – namely, the department's historical issues with employee misconduct – and he has no intention of changing them.