Months After Promising an Audit, L.A. Police Fail to Explain Why 4,000 Child Abuse Reports Weren’t Investigated

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Nearly three months after the Los Angeles Police Department vowed to find out why the department had not investigated 4,000 reported cases of child abuse, an in-depth audit of the cases is still not ready to deliver to county child welfare officials.

The department has canceled a scheduled presentation of the audit’s findings Monday, Jan. 13, before the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families citing the need to first share it with the Police Commission, according to Tamara Hunter, the commission’s executive director. The department has not yet rescheduled, Hunter said.

Additionally, the LAPD captain who was overseeing the audit has been transferred out of his post.

The LAPD said that the audit was completed in December but has not yet been presented to the Police Commission. At the January 14 meeting of the commission LAPD Chief Michael Moore indicated this report would be delivered to the commission at the Jan. 21 meeting.

The Chronicle of Social Change, in partnership with the Southern California News Group, reported in October on data from the District Attorney’s Office revealing that the LAPD had failed to investigate nearly 4,000 cases of serious child abuse and neglect from January 2018 through June 2019. The reports included allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, exploitation and severe neglect.

“We, like others, assumed that child abuse reported to the LAPD would be investigated as a matter of course,” Commissioner Wendy Smith told The Chronicle. “Therefore, we were surprised and dismayed to learn, not only that some of these reports would go uninvestigated, but that such an incredibly high number of them would.”

LAPD Captain Paul Espinosa. Photo: Twitter

One day after the story was published, LAPD Capt. Paul Espinosa — then the commanding officer of the Juvenile Division — appeared before the Commission for Children and Families, where he promised to conduct “an in-depth audit of all 4,000 cases,” which he said would be completed in “a week or less.” During the Oct. 21 meeting, Espinosa agreed to present the findings at the Jan. 13 commission meeting.

Despite Espinosa’s promised expediency, LAPD officials told The Chronicle in November that the audit was incomplete and refused to offer a timeline for its release.

Espinosa has since been reassigned out of the Juvenile Division and now oversees the West Valley Division, but the change in department was unrelated to the audit, according to Joshua Rubenstein, LAPD’s public information director.

The reports of child abuse were sent to the LAPD from January 2018 through July 2019 through E-SCARS, an electronic system that cross-reports allegations of abuse to the county’s 47 law enforcement agencies, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the District Attorney’s Office.

At the Oct. 21 children’s commission meeting, Espinosa suggested that many of the cases under audit — which amount to about 11 percent of all the reports made in that time period — could be duplicate reports, or involved allegations of emotional abuse or neglect, which the LAPD does not handle.

During that meeting, children’s Commissioner Wendy Garen expressed concern that some LAPD jurisdictions were investigating far fewer than 90 percent of cases and urged the LAPD to not “explain this away so cavalierly.”

Each of the 4,000 cases in the audit was to be reviewed by a child abuse expert, according to Rubenstein. Rubenstein said in a Nov. 2 email that the audit’s findings would first be presented to the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, the oversight body for the department, before it is shared with other agencies.

Rubenstein would not share a date when the audit would be transferred to the police commission; the Police Commission expects that to happen within two to three weeks, according to Juan Garcia, the commission’s public information director.

“We remain very interested in learning about the nature of the problem of lack of investigation, what drives it, and how it can be constructively addressed,” said Smith of the county children’s commission.

Daniel Heimpel contributed to this story. 

This article has been updated for clarity and to include new information received from the Police Commission and LAPD. 

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Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change 121 Articles
General assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach her at stiano@chronicleofsocialchange.org.