Should the Board Establish a Citizens’ Commission to Oversee the Sheriff’s Department?

Ever since the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department came under intense public scrutiny for allegations of violence in the County jails, the role of the Board of Supervisors in overseeing the Sheriff’s Department, a department headed by another elected official, has begged the question: who is in charge?

The Supervisors’ fiduciary duties are clear – they control the Sheriff Department’s purse strings and its nearly $2.8 billion annual budget. Yet, on October 2, 2012, when Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed that the Board establish a permanent citizens’ commission to oversee the department, the question of whether the Board had the legal authority to do so went unanswered.

County Counsel John F. Krattli

At Tuesday’s meeting, County Counsel John Krattli provided the public with some answers.

The Board of Supervisors has statutory authority (through Government Code Section 25303) to supervise the conduct of all county officers — and the Sheriff is considered a county officer. Furthermore, Krattli noted, the courts have found that the “operations” of the sheriff and the “conduct” of the sheriff’s department employees are a legitimate concern of the Board of Supervisors.

So yes, the Board of Supervisors has authority to establish a citizens’ commission as an advisory body; the Sheriff, however, would not be bound by its findings or recommendations. This suggests that, the Supervisors would be required to seek state legislation and charter reform to create a commission with the power to effectively oversee the Sheriff’s Department.


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