The Los Angeles Police Department has already implemented some recommendations in a critical report that found it has not taken the proper measures to prevent suicides in its jails, but will need more time to fully analyze the document, the civilian body that oversees the department was told Tuesday.
The report from the department’s inspector general found that from 2012 to 2016, a total of four suicides and 102 suicide attempts occurred within the LAPD jails or station holding tanks. The report pointed out that many of the cells lack video cameras and continue to have phones in them with chords, even though several of the suicides and a high number of the attempted suicides were the result of inmates using the chords to hang themselves.
Cmdr. Vito Palazzolo, who oversees the jails, told the Board of Police Commissioners that roughly 500,000 people were processed through the jail system over that time period, but added, “One suicide is too many suicides, and the department is committed to improving employees to intervene in these situations.”
The report found that all four of the suicides were the result of hanging, as were 40 of the 102 attempted suicides.
Two of the four suicides by hanging involved a corded telephone mounted to the wall of the cell. In a third suicide by hanging, the arrestee tied the arms of a sweater around his neck and anchored it to a wall-mounted bunk bed frame. The fourth suicide involved an arrestee detained in a holding tank who tied a sweater around her neck and used a wall mounted “o-ring” as an anchor point.
The report found that 32 percent, or 140 of 435, of all jail cells had at least one corded telephone, whereas there were no telephones inside any of the holding tanks. The report also found that 111 of the beds or bed frames in the jails and holding tanks were potential anchor points, and a total of 80 jail cell doors had metal bars that were accessible to inmates as potential anchor points.
The OIG recommended improved supervision of inmates through video cameras and implementation of inmate safety checks for station holding tanks. The report noted that there is no guarantee of privacy on intake forms, which could make some arrestees hesitant to be honest about their mental health. It also pointed out that there is no formal system to ensure that the same set of factors is being consistently used in deciding about housing an arrestee in a group cell or solitary cell, with the department instead relying on officers’ “experience and instincts.”
The report found that after 10 attempts and two suicides by hanging using corded telephones, the Metropolitan Detention Center downtown began researching cordless telephones, with installation expected to begin in the middle of this year, and the o-ring restraining devices, formerly used in the Foothill holding tanks, were removed immediately after the 2015 suicide by hanging.
Palazzolo said the department is in the process of adding cameras to each cell, which should be completed soon, and has made changes to its intake form that will gather more information on arrestees’ mental health. He also said the department had increased the number safety checks.
Palazzalo added that the department would need more time to analyze the report, as some of the recommendations would be costly or would require means beyond what is available.
The commission voted to keep the report while a subcommittee works with the department on the feasibility of implementing the recommendations. Palazzolo also said the department would have a full response to the report within 45 days.
The commissioners had asked for the report following the in-custody suicide of Wakiesha Wilson, a 36-year-old woman who was found unresponsive and lying on the floor in her cell during a routine check on March 27, 2016.
Two detention officers reported that they found her with a long-sleeve shirt wrapped around her neck and secured to the cable of a telephone in the cell. Coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter said an autopsy determined Wilson’s death was a suicide by hanging. Wilson’s family has raised questions about her death, insisting she was not despondent and would not have taken her own life.
Investigations by the District Attorney’s Office and the Board of Police Commissioners ruled Wilson’s death a suicide. Wilson’s mother filed a $35 million claim against the city last year that seeks answers about her daughter’s death.