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County watchdog recommends dissolution of sheriff’s Risk Management Bureau

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is facing scrutiny from oversight officials who are urging the disbandment of the sheriff’s Risk Management Bureau. The bureau, comprised of 83 personnel, has come under fire for allegedly silencing whistleblowers, protecting favored employees, and downplaying misconduct within the upper ranks of the department. The County Office of Inspector General released a scathing report on February 20, describing the bureau as “flawed” and “inappropriately aggressive” under both the prior and current sheriff’s administrations.

One alarming instance highlighted in the report involved the bureau’s retaliation against a deputy who blew the whistle on misconduct within the department. The bureau falsely reported the deputy to state oversight authorities for dishonesty, a charge that could have permanently tarnished his law enforcement career. Additionally, the report found that the bureau failed to report allegations of deputy gang membership to state authorities, even after a deputy named individuals involved in court.

Former Sheriff Alex Villanueva and several top aides were also scrutinized in the report for misleading the public about a photo-sharing scandal. Despite Villanueva and his aides being caught on tape lying to a reporter, the department failed to launch an investigation into the matter. The report condemned the bureau’s actions, stating that it corrupts the county’s efforts to improve government conduct and misuses government resources for the protection of the Sheriff’s Department.

In response to the report, Sheriff Robert Luna criticized the recommendation to disband the bureau, calling the report “speculative, unfair and irresponsible.” Luna defended the department’s efforts to mitigate risk and reduce liability, pointing out that under his administration, the department reported over 3,600 instances of serious misconduct to state authorities overseeing law enforcement certification.

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Despite the calls for disbandment, the Sheriff’s Department announced that it would not be following the recommendation. The bureau’s captain has been temporarily reassigned, not due to work performance, according to officials within the department.

The report also shed light on concerns regarding the bureau’s handling of cases referred to state authorities for decertification under a new law, SB 2, which took effect in 2023. The report detailed instances where the bureau aggressively pursued cases against whistleblowers while neglecting to report serious allegations against high-ranking officials and other department members. Delays in reporting incidents and inaccuracies in statements submitted to state authorities were also outlined in the report.

One notable case mentioned in the report was that of a public radio reporter, Josie Huang, who was violently arrested while covering a protest in 2020. The Sheriff’s Department initially accused Huang of failing to identify herself as a reporter and lacking press credentials at the time of her arrest. Subsequent investigations revealed that Huang was wearing media identification and was wrongly charged with obstruction, resulting in a $700,000 legal settlement.

Overall, the report paints a troubling picture of the Risk Management Bureau and raises concerns about its practices and decision-making processes. The sheriff’s response to the report indicates a shift in relations between the department and oversight officials, highlighting the need for greater accountability and transparency within the Sheriff’s Department.

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Immigration in Maine Addressing Labor Shortage Could Set Trend for U.S.

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A significant labor gap in Maine’s lobster industry is being filled by immigrants, shedding light on the critical role that foreign-born workers are likely to play in the U.S. economy as the native-born population ages. Maine, known for its abundant lobster population, is grappling with an aging workforce that is increasingly unable to sustain the demands of the thriving lobster industry, valued at $1 billion.

Ben Conniff, a founder of Luke’s Lobster, underscores the importance of immigrants in sustaining the natural resources economy of the state, as many native-born workers are not inclined towards manufacturing work in food processing. Since its establishment in 2013, Luke’s Lobster has heavily relied on immigrants to staff its lobster processing plant, highlighting the vital role played by foreign-born workers in filling labor gaps.

With Maine boasting the oldest population in the U.S., with a median age of 45.1, the state offers a glimpse into the economic future of America, where immigrants are poised to be a crucial source of new workers and economic vitality in the coming years.

As immigration continues to be a hotly debated topic in the country, the influx of immigrants has been instrumental in boosting the American economy’s potential. The Congressional Budget Office has revised upwards its population and economic growth projections for the next decade, attributing the growth to the wave of newcomers entering the workforce.

Maine’s initiatives to attract and integrate immigrants into the workforce, such as the creation of an Office of New Americans, reflect the state’s proactive approach towards addressing labor shortages. Private companies like Luke’s Lobster have also taken steps to diversify and supplement the aging lobster fishing industry by training immigrants and minorities in lobster fishing and licensing processes.

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Chadai Gatembo, an 18-year-old immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, exemplifies the success story of immigrants finding opportunities in Maine. Despite facing challenges on his journey to the U.S., Gatembo is now on the path to becoming a full-fledged lobsterman, showcasing the potential for immigrants to thrive in new industries.

The influx of immigrants is not without its challenges, with issues of work authorization and economic stability confronting many newcomers. Adriana Hernandez, a mother of four from Venezuela, highlights the economic hardship faced by immigrants awaiting work permits, underscoring the barriers faced by unauthorized workers in integrating into the labor market.

Despite these challenges, the overall impact of immigration on the U.S. economy is significant. Immigrants have helped to bolster job growth, insulate the economy against downturns, and contribute to a more diverse and innovative workforce. Economists predict that immigration will play a crucial role in addressing labor shortages and demographic shifts as the native-born population ages.

The entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants like Chenda Chamreoun, who has risen from lobster cleaning to a quality assurance supervisor and now aims to start her own catering business, showcases the economic potential of foreign-born workers. Immigrants tend to be more entrepreneurial, adding to the innovation and productivity of the American economy.

J. Edward Moreno contributed reporting from New York, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington.

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