L.A.’s Inspector General to Investigate Use of Pepper Spray at Juvenile Halls

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has directed the Inspector General to investigate the growing use of pepper spray and other questionable practices at juvenile halls and camps by the nation’s largest probation department.

The motion was authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas following news reports about the spike in chemical use against those in youth custody. An NBC4 investigation found pepper spray use tripled from 2015 to 2017.

“No department can police itself – outside eyes are essential – and the Inspector General has a strong track record in conducting credible, external investigations into matters concerning public safety,” Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “Ongoing safety concerns in Probation underscore the need for further oversight, reform and institutional accountability.”

Critics of pepper spray use say the agents can have lasting emotional as well as physical consequences. The use of pepper spray undermines trust between youth and the authorities, Ridley-Thomas said. Pepper spray can be especially harmful to pregnant women and those with preexisting lung conditions such as asthma.

Sheila Mitchell, the probation department's chief deputy of juvenile services, says the department has already been working to train officers who use pepper spray excessively. This year, she added, use is down 20%.

The Board’s Dec. 18 vote was unanimous. L.A. County’s Inspector General will report back to supervisors within 45 days.