Historic Civilian Oversight Commission

Implementing historic criminal justice reform, the Board of Supervisors appointed the first-ever Civilian Oversight Commission for the Sheriff’s Department, with a mandate to promote transparency in law enforcement and restore public trust.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion that created the Commission, said, “Civilians must play a critical role in holding law enforcement to the highest standards of constitutional policing. This Commission will bring new ideas to the forefront, establish new discourse, and bring new urgency in finding solutions.”

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, flanked by Board Chair Hilda Solis, Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Inspector General Max Huntsman at press conference on Civilian Oversight Commission.

“With the Commission, the public will have a dedicated forum to promote accountability and build partnership with the Sheriff’s Department (LASD), the Office of Inspector General, and the Board of Supervisors,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “If law enforcement is to be effective in the context of 21st century policing, it must have civilian input.”

The Board seated the Commission’s executive director and nine members, including legal scholars, current and former law enforcement officials, civil rights activists, religious leaders, and an advocate for victims of violence. Executive Director Brian K. Williams said, “I’m looking forward to working with the other member agencies to make what I think will be the model law enforcement agency in the nation.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell embraced the Commission, saying, “I anticipate that our working relationship will be very much a partnership.”

”We at the LASD understand that to build community relations, we must also build community credibility,” Sheriff McDonnell added. “We will be stronger and more effective, and be viewed with greater trust, when we welcome outside eyes.”

Inspector General Max Huntsman called the Commission a “game changer” that would “allow the public to interact with the Sheriff’s Department in a very robust way – not to shout at each other, but to really come together and talk.”

“Healing must occur, but for that to happen, our citizens must have reason to trust,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This Civilian Oversight Commission will play a critical role in the rebuilding process.”

CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

  • Hernán Vera, attorney and former president and CEO of Public Counsel, appointed by Supervisor Solis
  • Xavier Thompson, President of Baptist Ministers’ Conference and Senior Pastor of the Southern Saint Paul Church, appointed by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas
  • Patti Giggans, Executive Director of Peace Over Violence, appointed by Supervisor Kuehl
  • JP Harris, former Sheriff’s lieutenant, appointed by Supervisor Knabe
  • Robert C. Bonner, attorney and former U.S. Attorney and DEA Administrator, appointed by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich
  • Sean Kennedy, executive director of Center for Juvenile Law & Policy at Loyola Law School and former federal public defender, appointed by the Board of Supervisors
  • Heather Miller, Rabbi, Beth Chayim Chadashim, appointed by the Board of Supervisors
  • Priscilla Ocen, Loyola Law School Associate Professor, appointed by the Board of Supervisors
  • Lael Rubin, former Deputy District Attorney, appointed by the Board of Supervisors

S.T.A.R. Court Honored For Helping Children Survive Abuse

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Judge Victor Greenberg, Supervising Judge of the Dependency Court, accepting the award on behalf of S.T.A.R. Court founder and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Catherine J. Pratt.

Remarks by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in Bestowing the John Anson Ford Award to the S.T.A.R. Court 

“I am pleased to present the Second District’s Human Relations Award to the S.T.A.R. Court, which stands for “Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience”.

“This is an exemplary program that has demonstrated the effective application of a restorative justice approach in the commercial sexual exploitation of children by addressing the needs of victims as survivors, not criminals.

“S.T.A.R. Court operates out of the Compton Courthouse and is led by the vision, compassion and energy of its founder, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Catherine J. Pratt, who is in the audience today.

“Judge Pratt’s S.T.A.R. Court has worked with more than 300 youth ages 12-18, providing specialized trauma-informed care and linking youth to appropriate resources, making a life-saving difference for survivors of child sex trafficking.

“In 2015, more than 60% of youth who went through S.T.A.R. Court who were high school seniors graduated – a number that is higher than the graduation rate for the general foster care population.

“Congratulations to S.T.A.R. Court on this award.”

Historic Juvenile Justice Reform

Advocates testify in support of Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl’s motion to reform the juvenile justice system. L-R: Kent Mendoza, Anti-Recidivism Coalition; Patricia Soung, Children’s Defense Fund – California; and Martha Matthews, Public Counsel

On a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the Board of Supervisors voted to reform the way Los Angeles County provides legal counsel to youth in the justice system, and to begin implementing those changes by November 1.

“Today is truly a historic moment,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Our youth have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel and we, as a County, have an obligation to ensure that this right is met. These reforms accomplish that, while also protecting our youth and promoting their rehabilitation.”

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas makes his case for reforming the juvenile justice system at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 11, 2016

“Juvenile defense attorneys play a critically important role,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “They determine whether juveniles will be prosecuted as adults, and they not only defend their young clients, they advocate for mental health, substance abuse and other services that may benefit these young people.”

Under the status quo, when children and teenagers cannot afford an attorney, the County provides a public defender. If there is a conflict – such as when the public defender or alternate public defender is already representing another party in the case – the County instead hires a private “panel attorney,” who gets paid a flat fee of $340-$360 regardless of the complexity and severity of the case, and who must use their own resources to hire investigators.

The result, according to separate studies by Loyola Law School and the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley School of Law, was that youth represented by panel attorneys were more likely to end up in juvenile halls and camps, or to be tried as adults.

Probation Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro said failing to implement reforms “has moral and human costs.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion called for implementing reforms recommended by expert consultants Rebecca Silbert and Sue Burrell. Under the plan, the Alternate Public Defender’s Office would be given the role of taking on more cases arising from conflict.

The reforms also include having the Los Angeles County Bar Association oversee panel attorneys, who would be paid hourly, given equal access to resources, and undergo regular evaluations. Finally, a new, uniform case management system would be implemented to assist with data tracking and accountability.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said problems in the juvenile justice system have persisted for decades, and this year were highlighted in a documentary, They Call Us Monsters.

The historic action by the Board followed a groundbreaking report by Cyn Yamashiro, a professor and probation commissioner, who authored the Loyola Law School study. Yamashiro said that failing to implement reforms “has moral and human costs.”

Martha Matthews, director of the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel, said, “(Youth) cannot have a system of unequal justice, based simply on whether they happened to be assigned to someone who may be an incredibly diligent attorney — but is being paid (only) $300 per case.”

Kent Mendoza, a member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, held himself up as an example of what could happen when a young person has quality legal representation. He said his public defender connected him to resources that helped him turn his life around, and remains his mentor to this day.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas Remarks On the Death of Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen

“I offer my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen, who bravely served and protected the people of Los Angeles County for almost 30 years, receiving a Medal of Valor in 2014.”

“His tragic death in the line of duty underscores the dangers that our law enforcement officers face every day. My thoughts and prayers are with the men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department during this difficult time.”

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Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen. Photo Credit: LASD

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Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen. Photo Credit: LASD

 

Improving Police-Community Relations through Training

In wake of several high profile officer involved shootings alleging police misconduct locally and nationwide, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to take a look at whether Los Angeles County’s law enforcement agencies can do more to mitigate implicit racial bias. The motion, authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, was passed just a week after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department admitted that an innocent black man was killed by a deputy in Compton following a pursuit and search for suspects. The motion aims to identify training that will successfully boost cultural competency and grow a cadet’s awareness of implicit bias.

“We are facing a crisis of confidence with our law enforcement agencies, particularly in communities of color,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This is an unprecedented moment in the history of our nation,” the Supervisor said.

Over a dozen individuals testified in support of the motion at the board meeting and called for improved officer training. Among those in attendance was Gilbert Johnson, an organizer with Community Coalition and a life-long resident of South Los Angeles.

“The culture of the Sheriff’s Department must dramatically change to repair the damage to the Sheriff’s reputation in the community,” said Johnson.

The motion indicates that implicit racial bias can cause institutions or individuals to act on racial prejudices unknowingly, even in spite of good intentions and nondiscriminatory policies or standards.

“Bias in policing whether implicit or explicit is tremendously damaging to our society,” said Catherine Wagner, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California during her testimony before the board.

“We must challenge the insidious perception that criminal and dangerous are synonymous with black people and people of color,” said advocate Alex Johnson, the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California.

The motion passed by the board recommends mandated law enforcement protocols and training to examine an individual’s limitations with cultural competency. For years, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has been providing forums to foster interaction between law enforcement officers and community members, such as a series of locally organized “National Night Out” events in early August 2016. Improved training has the potential to further support these interactions.

“Any training that gives law enforcement the ability to connect with the community is very worthwhile,” said Don Pedersen, Assistant Inspector General for Los Angeles County.

The motion seeks to look more broadly at public safety and seeks to identify any gaps that may exist in officer training that can serve as a model to improve public safety and minimize tragic encounters. The supervisors directed the Sheriff’s Department, representatives with the offices of Probation, Public Defender, District Attorney, Fire Department, Superior Court and the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and all public safety departments to report back in 45 days on training related to implicit bias. A second report on national best practices is expected within three months.

“Together, we will work to build a transparent system of law enforcement and become a national model for constitutional policing in the 21st century,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.