Supervisors reject civilian oversight of sheriff

File photo of Sheriff John Scott with the Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 today to defeat a push by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create a civilian oversight board that would help guide the troubled Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The civilian commission was supported by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina, and the concept also has the endorsement of leading sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell and was supported by the Los Angeles Times editorial board. Both of the candidates running to succeed Zev Yaroslavsky also have said they support civilian oversight, but it was Yaroslavaky who cast the deciding no vote, joining supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe.

Ridley-Thomas argued that the Board of Supervisors is too busy with other issues to properly oversee the sheriff's department. "We can't pay enough attention to the Sheriff's Department, the inspector general or the sheriff himself," Ridley-Thomas said. "That's why we need help.... It's very practical. It's not ideological."

Yaroslavsky pointed out that he helped create the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence and supports its many recommendations — which do not include a civilian oversight panel. Instead, the commission's report calls for a strong, independent inspector general and other steps. Yaroslavsky read a long statement to explain his vote killing civilian oversight for now. Sample:

Today’s upheaval in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is only the latest in a series of crises that have engulfed our local law enforcement agencies over the years. When jail violence and other misconduct issues shook the Sheriff’s Department, this board, on a motion I authored with Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, established the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence to recommend steps to reverse the department’s slide into scandal. The commission produced a hard-hitting report on what its esteemed members concluded was necessary to hold the Sheriff’s Department accountable for how it polices our jails and, by extension, our communities. Our board unanimously approved each and every one of those reforms, most of which have been implemented, some of which remain works in progress....

Those recommendations did not include the creation of a sheriff’s oversight commission, like the one now being proposed. In fact, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence concluded in its final report: “While the Commission considered a civilian commission comprised of community leaders as an additional oversight body, such a commission is not necessary if the Board of Supervisors continues to put a spotlight on conditions in the jails and establishes a well-structured and adequately staffed Office of Inspector General.”
But the ink was barely dry on this historic report before this Board was asked to consider the creation of a sheriff’s oversight commission. A year later, before the Board had even appointed an Inspector General, a second motion was proposed, calling again for the creation of a sheriff’s oversight commission. And now, just as the Board is preparing to formally establish the Office of Inspector General, we once again are being told that only a sheriff’s oversight commission can really do the job.

I understand the deep and long-held frustrations that have led to this proposal. I share them....Some of you might ask: What’s the harm? Isn’t too much oversight better than too little? But that’s been precisely the problem—not too much oversight, but too much inadequate, ineffective and duplicative oversight....

Simply put, when everyone is in charge, no one is in charge.

Yaroslavsky also forecast that the U.S. Justice Department will soon "compel the department and this County to be accountable for constitutional policing through a consent decree or a Memorandum of Agreement, all under the supervision of a federal judge." He urged to let that process play out. McDonnell's position as the likely next sheriff, by the way, is that a civilian oversight commission could help LASD avoid federal court oversight.

Current sheriff John Scott put out a statement saying he supports today's board vote.

I concur with the Board’s decision regarding civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department. As stated in my June 30, 2014 letter, the best way to respond to concerns of the Board and the public regarding the Department’s operation is to complete the plan and development of the Office of Inspector General before considering the creation and implementation of a potential Citizens’ Oversight Commission.

Max Huntsman, the inspector general who is still trying to acquire powers to look into the sheriff's department, asked supervisors to wait on making a decision about a civilian oversight panel until his office has a chance to work. "It's not the savior on a white horse that people want it to be," Huntsman said of the civilian commission idea.

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