Many Small L.A. County Police Departments Struggle to Investigate Child Abuse Referrals

The Long Beach Police Department failed to investigate serious allegations of child abuse less than one percent of the time. Photo: LBPD.

Last week, an investigation by The Chronicle of Social Change revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) had not investigated 4,000 serious cases of child abuse during 2018 and the first half of 2019.

But a review of documents requested from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office revealed that the LAPD is not the only law enforcement agency in the county that has struggled to investigate child abuse through the county’s E-SCARS system.

According to the 201819 data, law enforcement agencies representing other cities in the county – including La Verne, Bell Gardens, Palos Verdes Estates, Pomona, Hermosa Beach and West Covina ­– are failing to investigate allegations at a rate far greater than the LAPD.

The results of last week’s investigation revealed that LAPD failed to investigate 10 percent of all child abuse investigations that come in through the E-SCARS system, a countywide electronic system that cross-reports allegations of sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe neglect, emotional abuse and exploitation with both law enforcement agencies and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). At a meeting on Monday, the LAPD promised to complete an audit within a week’s time of the 4,000 cases in which it did not investigate a claim of child abuse.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which provides patrol services to 42 contract cities and 141 unincorporated communities in the county, failed to investigate only 3 percent of the E-SCARS reports sent its way during the same time period, 2018-19.

Collectively, the county’s other 44 police departments have failed to investigate about 9 percent of E-SCARS reports. But several of those departments ignored referrals from the system at an alarming rate.

In La Verne, a small city located at the far-eastern edge of L.A. County, police failed to investigate 32 percent of child abuse referrals issued in 2018-19. And in the Southeast L.A. bedroom community of Bell Gardens and the wealthy enclave of Palos Verdes Estates, the rate of uninvestigated referrals was 30 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

In 2018, there were 55,935 reports of child abuse registered through the E-SCARS system, the majority generated by calls to a hotline operated by DCFS. About 43 percent, or 24,173 E-SCARS reports, were sent to the LAPD, the most of any L.A. County law enforcement agency. Thirty-one percent of the remaining child abuse allegations were fielded by the Sheriff’s Department, and the last 26 percent was divided among 44 other local police departments across the county.

The law enforcement agency with the best record of sending out officers to investigate reports of child abuse in 2018-19 was the Long Beach Police Department, an agency that once struggled to roll out on many referrals. Now, Long Beach investigated all but 18 of the 4,148 child abuse allegations it received, missing just .43 percent of all E-SCARS referrals in 2018-19. Police departments from the communities of Burbank, Glendale, Monterrey Park and South Gate all had a failure-to-investigate rate of 1 percent or less.

Many of the police departments that frequently did not investigate E-SCARS reports are located in L.A. County’s toniest communities. Palos Verdes Estates, which boasts a median annual household income of $180,815, has the third highest rate of child abuse allegations that did not result in an investigation. Nearly one in five child abuse allegations did not result in an investigation in the affluent coastal community of Hermosa Beach. Santa Monica and Beverly Hills’ police departments did not roll out to investigate child abuse in more than 10 percent of all E-SCARS reports in 2018-2019.

Many of the police departments with the highest percentage of cases where they failed to investigate child abuse are clustered in the eastern end of the county. Six of the bottom eight lowest performing police departments in terms of failing to investigate child abuse are all located at the eastern edge of the county, including the cities of La Verne, Bell Gardens, Pomona, West Covina, Covina and Bell.

You can find out how every law enforcement agency in L.A. County responds to allegations of serious child abuse by looking at the 2018 data and 2019 data.

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Jeremy Loudenback
About Jeremy Loudenback 319 Articles
Jeremy is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.