Los Angeles County probation officials say they have made substantial strides in reducing criminal misconduct committed by department employees.
They said the improvement -- from 74 cases in 2011 to 32 last year -- was the result of an expanded internal investigations team and the imposition of more stringent professional standards for the department's roughly 5,000 employees.
Officers supervise criminals upon their release from jail or prison, or those who are sentenced to probation. And they run the county’s juvenile camps and halls for underage offenders.
“Where we have found misconduct, we have taken immediate action,” Chief Jerry Powers said in a statement. “Investigations into on and off duty misconduct are a top priority."
In 2011, 74 probation officers and other department staff were arrested on charges including driving under the influence, theft and assault.
The following year, the figure dropped to 44, but included some high-profile cases. Probation officer Rochelle Williams was arrested in September 2012 on charges of filing multiple fraudulent workers compensation claims. She was convicted on one count of making a false statement in support of a claim.
Two weeks later, Carl Edward Washington, a division chief of intergovernmental relations in the department and a former state legislator, was arrested on federal charges -- to which he later pleaded guilty -- of defrauding a bank and two credit unions by falsely claiming to be a victim of identity theft.
As in previous years, the greatest number of those arrested in 2013 -- 15 of those cases -- were for driving under the influence. One employee was arrested on theft charges, six on assault charges, three on drug charges and seven on other charges that the department did not specify.
The department has also seen a drop-off in workers compensation claims, from 915 filed in 2010 to 712 filed last year.
In recent months, the department has been praised by county supervisors for implementing stricter hiring standards, including a polygraph test and a more extensive background investigation process.
Powers said at a meeting last year that the department had relaxed its standards during a pre-recession hiring boom from 2005 to 2008, and that people hired during that period accounted for about half of those arrested over the last two years.
But the probation officers' union has complained that the standards are unrealistic and that the slow pace of hiring is jeopardizing public safety. More than 1,000 of the department's 6,600 budgeted positions remain vacant, including more than 100 positions designated to oversee former state prisoners.
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