The Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch today scored two top national awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors for a series that exposed shoddy practices by an internal police force patrolling California’s developmental centers for the disabled.

The series, Broken Shield, won the IRE Award for best multiplatform investigative reporting in the medium-size category. The series also won the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism – the only IRE award that comes with a significant cash prize. The Gannett Award is open to news organizations of any size.

It was the second consecutive year that California Watch has won the Gannett Award, making it the first news organization to have won the award twice.

The series is noteworthy because CIR and California Watch produced it for newspapers, broadcast TV stations, public radio stations and an online audience. California Watch also held public forums and distributed postcards summarizing the story to residents near some of the state’s developmental centers.

“This day is doubly sweet for us,” said CIR Editorial Director Mark Katches. “Winning these two awards from IRE means a lot to our newsroom because we are being honored by our peers for work in text, video, multimedia and radio, in addition to being honored for our innovative approach to storytelling.”

Broken Shield already has won a George Polk Award for state reporting and an Online Journalism Award from the Online News Association for investigative journalism. Reporter Ryan Gabrielson, who wrote the series, also won the Al Nakkula Award, which recognizes the top police reporting in the country.

It will be a whirlwind week for Gabrielson, who will be in New York to accept the Polk Award on Thursday. He will then fly to Colorado to pick up the Nakkula Award on Friday. And later this week, he will be a featured speaker at the 7th annual Reva & David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium at UC Berkeley. The IRE awards will be presented at a banquet in San Antonio in June, coinciding with the organization’s annual training conference.

Broken Shield was an 18-month investigation that uncovered systemic failures at the Office of Protective Services and prompted a criminal investigation, two new laws, staff retraining, policy changes and a management shake-up.

A third bill was introduced when the state Legislature returned to work earlier this year.

“The series has had a tremendous impact, in no small part because we distributed the stories on all platforms, helping us to reach a larger audience,” said CIR Executive Director Robert J. Rosenthal.

Broken Shield detailed widespread abuses inside the state’s five developmental centers. Gabrielson found that the police force charged with protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable wards almost never gets to the bottom of the abuses. Officers and investigators routinely wait too long to start investigations and fail to collect evidence.

Gabrielson found that 36 documented rapes had occurred at these state facilities in recent years, but the Office of Protective Services didn’t order a single “rape kit” examination – a standard law enforcement investigatory tool.

Last year, California Watch also won two IRE awards, including an IRE Medal and the Gannett Award, for its On Shaky Ground series.

Besides the Gannett Award, no IRE award category comes with more than a $500 cash prize. Most of the award categories have no cash prizes.

The Center for Investigative Reporting plans to use the $5,000 cash prize for the Gannett Award to help send staffers to the annual IRE conference for training.

In addition to Gabrielson, contributors to the Broken Shield series who are named on the award are: Agustin Armendariz, Monica Lam, Michael Montgomery, Carrie Ching, Joanna Lin, Emily Hartley, Marie McIntosh, Nikki Frick, Christine Lee, Meghann Farnsworth, Cole Goins, Mia Zuckerkandel, La Toya Tooles, Robert Salladay, Mark Katches, Lauren Rabaino, Marina Luz and Brian Cragin.

In addition to the two awards for Broken Shield, CIR’s The Bay Citizen was named a finalist in the multiplatform category for small news organizations for detailing the plight of veterans who face long waits for disability benefits. The series was written and reported by Aaron Glantz. It was edited by Amy Pyle and Peter Lewis. Other staffers and contributors named on the award are Shane Shifflett, David Suriano, Brian Cragin and Lonny Shavelson.

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