Swiftly following The Chronicle of Social Change‘s story this week exposing that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) had not investigated 4,000 allegations of serious child abuse in 2018-19, a top officer with the department said that it has launched a review of those practices.
“As we speak now, my staff is now doing an in-depth audit of all 4,000 cases,” said Captain Paul Espinosa, commanding officer of the LAPD’s juvenile division, at a meeting of Los Angeles County’s Commission for Children and Families on Monday. “Maybe we did miss one. I don’t know. If that’s true, then we’ll fix the problem: We’ll address it, we’ll train it, we’ll fix it, we’ll give it discipline, whatever we have to do to get that done.”
On Sunday, an investigation of data from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office by The Chronicle and the Southern California News Group found that the LAPD did not follow up on nearly 4,000 of 36,000 allegations of serious child abuse it fielded from January 2018 to July 2019. CBS Los Angeles and KNX 1070 followed the story shortly after, focusing attention on law enforcement’s role in investigating child abuse as the county contends with the July death of a 4-year-old boy Noah Cuatro, who was known to both LAPD and the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
The Chronicle also found that there was wide variation in how some LAPD stations investigate child abuse allegations. Officers from the department’s 77th Division in South L.A. investigated less than 80 percent of child abuse reports, compared with 98 percent for the Rampart Division, which covers most of central Los Angeles.
The LAPD has not released many details about its investigations into allegations of sexual abuse of Noah Cuatro, the 4-year-old Palmdale boy who was allegedly tortured and killed at the hands of his parents earlier this summer.
At a meeting of the Children’s Commission on Monday, Espinosa disputed the idea that LAPD had not scrutinized every child abuse report sent through the county’s E-SCARS system, which cross-reports allegations of child abuse and neglect to law enforcement agencies, DCFS and the district attorney’s office. According to county officials, there were about 56,000 E-SCARS reports generated last year. About half, or 27,000, occurred in the City of Los Angeles and were handled by the LAPD.
“Everything is looked at; nothing has gone untouched or unlooked,” Espinosa said.
Many of the 4,000 cases could be the result of duplicate reports of the same child abuse referral or allegations of neglect or emotional abuse, Espinosa said, where the department will not roll out to investigate the case. According to Espinosa results of the audit will come “within a week,” but he did not indicate whether the results of that audit would be made public.
Espinosa said the LAPD did investigate the April allegation that Palmdale boy Noah Cuatro was sexually abused, finding that an accusation made by a family member was not credible. A separate May referral for the sexual abuse of Noah did not yield an LAPD investigation, according to Espinosa. The Chronicle has requested law enforcement reports about child abuse investigations related to Noah, but LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department have thus far declined to release information about the extent of any investigations in his case.
According to Espinosa, LAPD is in the process of making changes to the way it investigates child abuse. Now, he said, every child abuse report will have to be investigated within 10 days instead of 30.
At the meeting, L.A. County Children’s Commissioner Wendy Garen said that she was concerned by results of The Chronicle’s investigation into how the county’s largest law enforcement agency handles child abuse investigations. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s responded with an investigation on 97 percent of all child abuse calls in 2018. During that same time, LAPD investigated on 90 percent of all child abuse referrals, though that number has dropped to 87 percent in the first half of 2019.
“What I’m most troubled by is that in some of the jurisdictions of LAPD, that the non-response rate is even higher than 10 percent,” Garen said. “Let’s not explain this away almost so cavalierly. Let’s look at those 4,000 cases and then we’ll know where we stand.”