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Report finds ongoing problems, but progress at LA County Probation Department

Deputy probation officers watch the back door of a house while hunting for a fugitive.
Deputy probation officers watch the back door of a house while hunting for a fugitive.
Rina Palta (KPCC)

Los Angeles County's embattled probation department got mixed reviews in the latest report by the Office of Independent Review, the county's independent oversight body.

On one hand, the report says, the L.A. County Probation Department continues to struggle with employee misconduct. But on the other, the OIR compliments some moves made by new Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers to clean things up. 

Among the negatives: Nine probation department employees were fired last year for on-duty misconduct. In one case, an officer allegedly tricked two juveniles who were transitioning from foster care to independent living into giving him part of their government checks.

In addition, the report says "off-duty employee misconduct incidents continue to plague the department." In 2012, there were 64 employee arrests or "significant police contacts." Charges range from DUI (25 in all) to burglary to drug dealing.

In one incident, an officer who was scheduled to be working was arrested by undercover police officers for lewd conduct in a park. In another incident, a senior department official pleaded guilty to a federal charge that he'd stolen some $200,000 in a bank fraud scheme. 

But the OIR also found the Probation Department made significant strides in the past year, as senior management pushed through policies to professionalize the department. Among the changes are harsher punishments for off-duty employees arrested for DUI, significantly stricter hiring and candidate screening requirements, new policies on reporting contact with law enforcement, and increasing the breadth of the department's internal investigations unit. 

The report also noted that probation department employees are, for the most part, hardworking and law-abiding.