The beleaguered Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, despite having had a lot of people scrutinizing it for a fairly long time, continues to get in trouble for jailhouse violence and questionable behavior in the field.
But the county won’t be adding a civilian oversight commission to the mix—at least for now. The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday night not to form the panel, which would lack formal supervisory authority but could help shape policy by focusing attention on the department.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky—a slightly mellowed, one-time liberal firebrand who is being termed out of office this year—joined with two conservative colleagues, Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe, to reject the proposal. He said that there were already a number of parties looking into the department and another one could be more hindrance than help.
Both of the candidates running to replace Yaroslavsky, Democrats Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver, have voiced support for the commission. So the issue could be revisited after the election in November.
Yaroslavsky was right about there being a lot of interested parties. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has already indicted 21 current and former Sheriff’s Department employees and is likely to recommend judicial oversight in the near future.
State lawmakers are considering Assembly Bill 2511, which would step into local politics by creating a “permanent citizens’ oversight committee” for the department. The bill has not received a committee hearing yet.
The Board of Supervisors created an Office of Inspector General to keep an eye on the department and appointed its first boss, Max Huntsman, last December. The office is a work in progress and Huntsman has already complained that he is being blocked by the department from monitoring it.
Sheriff Lee Baca retired under fire in January and his interim replacement, Sheriff John Scott, is skeptical about sharing confidential documents with Huntsman, according to the Los Angeles Times. He asked the board for a client-attorney relationship with the office, but, instead, the board established that confidential relationship between itself and the office.
The leading candidate to become the new sheriff, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, supports a civilian oversight board.
Among the various entities empowered to oversee the sheriff is the board itself. Its pitiful performance is often cited by critics of the department as a reason to have other external oversight. Those critics include the media, which provide a steady stream of stories about civil rights abuses, corruption and violence by deputies—and the ineffectiveness of independent oversight.