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Grand Jury wins statewide excellence in reporting award

The San Bernardino County Grand Jury’s 2016-17 report on the Apple Valley Unified School District Police Department has been recognized by the California Grand Jury Association as the best grand jury investigative report in the state.

The Grand Jury Reporting Award recognizes grand jury reports that bring matters of vital importance to public attention and lead to positive changes within their communities. Seven reports were nominated this year. In addition to evaluating the report’s quality – including clarity, thoroughness and substantiated facts – the Grand Jury Association considers agency responses and media coverage as measures of a report’s effectiveness.

The grand jury found that from January 2014 through December 2016, the Apple Valley Unified School District Police Department ordered more than 700 vehicles towed from public roadways. This number was proportionately higher than that in adjacent school districts during the same time period. All were towed by just one company. An examination of the issued citations revealed that most vehicles were not stopped for hazardous moving violations, but rather for equipment or registration violations that were outside of the department’s authority. During the same period, there was a decline in student-related interactions and on-campus activity by the police.

After the grand jury began its inquiry, the department changed is tow methodology to involve additional companies. The grand jury recommended that illegally obtained funds be returned, restitution be made where appropriate, owners be notified of their rights when subject to tow, the limits of the police authority be made clear and police duties and responsibilities be prioritized.

“The background was particularly thorough – written well, carefully attributed,” one reviewer stated. “The narrative was presented engagingly. Clearly the investigation’s findings resonated … because several policies and procedures were changed. The report also received extensive media coverage, further bringing to light the workings of a local government entity.”

The award was presented on Oct. 1 at the 37th California Grand Jury Association annual conference. Grand Jury Assistant Norma Grosjean, Superior Court administrator Sharon Bragg and 2016-17 grand jury member Ron Zurek accepted the award on behalf of the grand jury.

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