Crime & Justice

Deal set to bring more oversight of LA County Sheriff’s Department

New oversight is expected at the L.A. County Sheriff's Department under a new deal.
New oversight is expected at the L.A. County Sheriff's Department under a new deal.
Photo by greg lilly via Flickr Creative Commons

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After years of scandal at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve an agreement Tuesday that would allow more outside oversight of the agency. The deal follows “widespread excessive use of force in the jails” and numerous federal indictments of corrupt and brutal sheriff’s deputies, according to the motion before the board.

The agreement between Sheriff Jim McDonnell and county Inspector General Max Huntsman allows Huntsman access to a wide range of confidential documents that will help him identify patterns of corruption and excessive use of force, he said.   

“This agreement gives us a window to pretty much everything,” Huntsman said. The inspector general “shall be provided” the following information “without reasonable delay,” according to the agreement:

Huntsman will report any patterns of abuse or problems he finds to a new nine-member Civilian Oversight Commission created by the board, though he won't investigate individual incidents. The now defunct Office of Independent Review reported to the Sheriff.

But the new panel won’t have the same access to confidential files as Huntsman.

“That’s a problem,” said activist Mark-Anthony Johnson of activist group Dignity And Power Now. He noted the panel may not have the expertise of Huntsman, but that they will hopefully be more rooted in the concerns of African-Americans and Latinos, who deputies interact with on a more frequent basis in and out of the jails.

“Its likely that there could be moments where the [Office of the Inspector General] and the commission have different priorities around what they want to investigate, what they are interested in looking at,” Johnson said. “So the commission should also have access.”

A year after voting to create it, the Board of Supervisors has yet to appoint members of the new panel, nor delineate its powers. A working group has recommended giving it subpoena power — something McDonnell and the union that represents deputies staunchly opposes.

A spokesman for the sheriff has said he is concerned about who might be appointed to the panel. The supervisors select members of the commission.

Unlike the chief of the L.A. Police Department, who is appointed by the mayor, the sheriff is an independently elected official. Under the California state constitution, he has authority independent of the Board of Supervisors.

Nonetheless, the board’s Tuesday motion creating the new agreement with the sheriff promises vigorous oversight. The deal gives the Office of the Inspector General “unprecedented access” and enables it to “aggressively monitor LASD operations.”

Read the full motion below:

LA Sheriff's oversight motion