We are proud to write today that the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch has won the George Polk Award for our series exposing flaws in the way a special state police force handles crimes against the developmentally disabled.

It is the second consecutive year that California Watch has won the prestigious George Polk Award. This year, we are being honored in the category of state reporting for Ryan Gabrielson’s extraordinary series “Broken Shield.”

The series has prompted far-reaching change, including a criminal investigation, staff retraining and new laws – all intended to bring greater safeguards and accountability.

Gabrielson was one of 14 Polk award winners announced today by Long Island University, which administers the prizes. University officials said more than 700 stories were submitted to the judges. Other winners include The New York Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bloomberg News, CBS News, The Washington Post and Mother Jones.

The Polk award is named after a CBS newsman murdered while covering the Greek Civil War in 1948.

Gabrielson’s 18-month investigation about the Office of Protective Services snowballed over the course of 2012 – resulting in five major installments from February to November. The police force was set up specifically to protect the developmentally disabled living in the state’s five remaining board-and-care centers. But Gabrielson found that the department’s officers and detectives often failed to secure crime scenes and routinely delayed interviews with key witnesses and suspects – leading to an alarming inability to solve crimes.

Gabrielson detailed that dozens of women were sexually assaulted inside state centers, but police investigators didn’t order “rape kits” to collect evidence, a standard law enforcement tool. Police waited so long to investigate one sexual assault that the staff janitor accused of rape fled the country. The police force’s inaction also allowed abusive caregivers to continue molesting patients – even after the department had evidence that could have stopped future assaults.

In one egregious physical abuse case, a caregiver was suspected of using a Taser to inflict burns on a dozen patients. Yet the internal police force waited at least nine days to interview the caregiver, who was never arrested or charged with abuse. The vast majority of the Taser victims are so disabled they cannot utter a word.

Gabrielson gave them a resounding voice.

“This is the type of reporting that ends up actually saving lives,” wrote Patricia L. McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, in thanking Gabrielson and California Watch.

The winners of the Polk award will be honored at a luncheon in New York in April.

Gabrielson was the reporter for the series. Several staffers in the newsroom contributed to the project – most notably Agustin Armendariz, who provided data analysis; Carrie Ching, who produced two videos for the series; Monica Lam who produced a broadcast video distributed to TV partners; and Robert Salladay, who edited the project.

Last year, California Watch won a George Polk Award for uncovering a pattern inside a fast-growing hospital chain that had repeatedly billed Medicare for rare ailments that generate lucrative bonus payments to the chain.

Mark Katches is a past editorial director for The Center for Investigative Reporting. He is currently editor of the Oregonian and vice president of content for the Oregonian Media Group. Previously, he built and ran investigative teams at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Orange County Register. Mark was the primary editor of Pulitzer Prize-winning projects in both 2008 and 2010 and edited or managed five other stories that were Pulitzer finalists. Projects he edited or directed also have won the George Polk Award, the IRE award and the Scripps-Howard National Journalism Award as well as the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize, the Sigma Delta Chi Award and the National Headliner Award. Multiplatform projects produced by CIR staff under Mark's guidance won a national News & Documentary Emmy, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award. He has overseen projects or websites that have won four Online Journalism Awards in the last decade, in addition to logging more than a dozen OJA finalists. In 2001, he was part of a reporting team that won the Gerald Loeb and IRE awards for a series of stories detailing the rising profits from the human tissue trade. He completed a Punch Sulzberger Fellowship at Columbia University in 2013 and has taught reporting classes as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford University. Mark served on the board of directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors for four years and oversaw the IRE mentorship program for six years.