Ralph Miller, President, LA County Deputy Probation Officers' Union Local 685, Carlos Leon, probation officer awardee for service to at-risk youth and Marc Brown, KABC News and awardee for Responsible Journalism. (Photo by Jesse Avila)
By Cookie Lommel
John Irving is a teacher with unique skills, he called upon these skills as he created a learning environment he calls "The Think Tank" for students at Challenger Memorial Youth Center. His classroom is located at a probation camp with youngsters who were unruly and unwilling to learn until he began to work his magic on them. Eugene Taylor almost inherited his job, his father was a career probation officer, who instilled pride and confidence in him that he steadfastly passes on to probationers he comes in contact with through the County system. He is a Special Enforcement Officer who has a reputation with his peers of being a team player who goes beyond the call of duty. Teresa Avendano had the surprise of her adult life as she happened to run into a probation officer she encountered at Camp Scott, when she was an "at risk teenager". That probation officer was Ralph Miller, the current president of AFSCME Local 685. She now has a successful career as a union organizer and credits Mr. Miller with helping her turn her life around. These are a few of the many positive stories told about encounters with youngsters and adults who have had encounters with the probation department.
The Los Angeles County Deputy Probation Offers' Union AFSCME Local 685 held their annual Awards and Scholarship Banquet to recognize the achievements of LA County Probation Officers. The event entitled "Celebrating Probation officers and Their History", also awarded media leaders Pete Demetriou of KNX radio and Marc Brown of KABC television news and Danny Bakewell, President of the National Newspaper Association and owner of The Los Angeles Sentinel. The many heroic acts of probation officers were highlighted and awarded. Both the City and County of Los Angeles proclaimed June 13, 2010 through June 18, 2010, as Probation Officers Week, thanking probation officers for their dedication and service to the community.
This year is an exceptional year for Los Angeles County Probation Officers'. It is the 65th Anniversary of The Los Angeles County Deputy Probation Offers' Union AFSCME Local 685; the 110th Anniversary of Probation in Los Angeles; the 100th Anniversary of Central Juvenile Hall, the first juvenile detention facility in Los Angeles and the 20th Anniversary of Challenger Memorial Youth Center, this facility was named in honor of the Challenger, Space Ship, that unfortunately exploded in January of 1986.
Probation officers are an important branch of law enforcement, however defining their duties is difficult, and frequently at the foundation of why their noteworthy tasks are often mis-understood or overlooked. Their responsibilities can be described as part police officers, counselor and social worker. The probation department works in partnership with LAPD, Sheriffs, the Fire Department, FBI and California Department of Justice and other to keep our communities safe.
Probation contributions to the community included their Camp Forestry Program, which was started in the 1930's, they fight our forest fires in partnership with the firefighters. There have been many teens who have had a brief encounter with the "system" who are now social workers, teachers, business people who tell stories of how their probation officer turned their lives around.
The Women's Clubs of Los Angeles established the Juvenile Court Commission as early as 1900. The Court Commission gave birth to the Probation Department and a century later, it is the largest probation department in the world. With over 6,000 employees, the Department serves the municipal and superior courts of the County. It is responsible for a variety of law enforcement services including enforcing court orders, operating correctional institutions, assisting victims and providing corrective assistance to individuals in conflict with the law.
The union was founded in 1945 by World War II veterans whose mission was to create a premiere Probation Department for the County of Los Angeles. In 1969, the union won an election that made Local 685 the recognized certified representative of all employees in the County Probation Department, and later, the Detention and Children and Family Services Departments.
"This year marks a period of acknowledgement and renewal," said Ralph Miller, President of AFSCME-Local 685. "Acknowledgment of the historical contributions, bravery and dedication of the men and women who perform with integrity under difficult conditions, and, renewal for the Department under the leadership of a new Chief."
According to Miller, Local 685 is working in partnership with SEIU 721, the Mexican American Correctional Officers Association, the Black Probation Officers Association, the Asian American Probation Officers Association, Women Empowered, elected officials, and newly appointed Chief Donald Blevins to devise on-going evaluations of and new recommendations for improving and revitalizing the Department.