Special Service Unit: Dedicated to Investigating and Apprehending Violent Offenders.

Author:Parry, Brian

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) established the Special Service Unit, an essential part of the department's violence control program, in 1964. Commonly referred to as SSU, it has been described as a police unit within a correctional agency.

During a 1963 governor's conference on violence, a subcommittee comprising law enforcement officials representing the attorney general, police chiefs, the state sheriff's association and the courts, recommended the formulation of a unit within CDC to enhance liaison activities between the corrections and law enforcement communities.

It also has been said that a Los Angeles Police Department officer's murder at the hands of two parolees -- later made famous by Joseph Wambaugh's book, The Onion Field -- contributed to the unit's formation. During the police officer's homicide investigation, it was alleged that detectives had a difficult time obtaining information about the parolee suspects.

In late 1963, the state Legislature authorized the California Special Service Unit. Meanwhile, Charles Casey, an assistant director with CDC, learned of a similar unit within the New York Department of Corrections Parole Bureau and eventually traveled to New York to get a firsthand look.

In New York, Casey met with Russell H. Oswald, chairman of the New York State Parole Board, who recognized the need for cooperation among parole authorities and law enforcement agencies. In 1957, Oswald formed the Bureau of Special Services within the New York parole system -- likely the beginning of what now is identified as police/corrections partnerships.

While in New York, Casey also spent time with the New York Police Department, which had officers working closely with the Bureau of Special Services. Upon his return, SSU was established as an investigative force attached to the administration of CDC. The unit was originally known as the Law Enforcement Liaison and Intelligence Unit. Shortly thereafter, the name was changed to the Special Service Unit. As time passed, the unit's name changed several more times and now is officially the Law Enforcement and Investigations Unit but commonly referred to as SSU.

The original unit included six parole agents, whose title later was changed to special agent. Today, there are more than 100 parole agents and special agents. The unit's initial responsibilities included collecting intelligence about suspected gang leaders and radicals within the prison system, and assisting police in apprehending parolees or escapees suspected of violent crimes. It also provided training and surveillance needs, as well as a liasion to the prison system and to allied law enforcement agencies. The unit quickly became a valuable investigative resource for law enforcement.

As time progressed, the unit's duties and responsibilities were honed to reflect its mission to:

* Provide state-level investigative liaison services to local police agencies by solving major crimes when inmates or state parolees are...

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