The current state of the LA Sheriffs Department is one that is described by the Department of Justice as a "culture of abuse and defiance". It is this sort of culture that needs reform swiftly.
One option discussed is a board of review or citizens commission. There are barriers to the effectiveness of this sort of reform. As the Sheriff is elected and not appointed, there is no way to either punish or reward the Sheriff or department for any kind of reform. Therefore, there is little that any kind of board can really do but oversee, and report to the County Board of Supervisors.
This sort of "reform" is no reform at all.
Suggesting ballot measures is suggesting time. Too much time for the change that we need to stop the abuse of power.
There are changes happening now in the political climate of our county. We will soon have two supervisors terming out and and two more too follow in 2016. That means that the time to act for total reform is now. A rebuilding of the chain of accountability along with oversight and real consequences for this culture of abuse and defiance has to happen and will if we act together.
The county has a rare window of opportunity to make smart and lasting changes in how the sheriff does his work.
By The Times editorial board
February 25, 2014
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors can create a citizens commission to oversee the sheriff, in an effort to prevent the kinds of abuses that have been the subject of news reports, lawsuits and indictments over the last several years. But let's be clear at the outset: Neither the board nor any citizens commission it creates will have the power to reward or punish the sheriff or to give him orders.
So is there any value to adding a new layer of review? There can be, if oversight is designed with care and with a deep understanding of the particular challenges presented by the office of sheriff.
Those challenges begin with the fact that under the state Constitution, the sheriff is independently elected, shielding him from the kind of direct accountability that, for example, the Los Angeles police chief owes to the city's Police Commission under the city charter and various ordinances.
In the long run, perfect oversight — at least, as perfect as these things can ever be — may mean ballot measures that modify the sheriff's independence, such as limiting his terms or making his office an appointed one. But there remains some utility in more immediate measures, such as creating a commission that meets regularly and in public, works with the inspector general to track the department with regular reports, requests that the sheriff appear and respond to questions, sets goals and timetables for improvements and generally provides a forum, dedicated to just the Sheriff's Department, for the public to monitor the progress and share concerns.
Such public oversight would be too limited if the commission were appointed by, and answerable only to, the Board of Supervisors. To design an effective commission, care would have to be taken in designating the number of members, their tenure, whether they could be removed, how often they would be required to meet and a host of other factors that seem minuscule but in the aggregate are crucial.
That kind of design can be painstaking, but it is imperative. With no incumbent running in the June 3 election, with seven candidates ready to debate the sheriff's powers, with two supervisors termed out and two more to follow in 2016, with Department of Justice officials weighing what to do about the culture of abuse and defiance in the department, Los Angeles has a rare window of opportunity to make smart and lasting changes in how the sheriff does his work. County leaders should think, debate and design before they act — but they should act, soon, while they have the chance.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times