On Tuesday August 5, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to let citizens of Los Angeles County partner with their Sheriff’s Department through the creation of a civilian oversight commission.
As many of you know, it has long been my belief that such a panel is essential to reforming the department. Frankly, here in Los Angeles County we’re a bit behind the times; modern policing recognizes that civilian oversight is a crucial component for successful law enforcement, and such panels are now considered a best practice.
The sad truth is that the department has proved time and again that it cannot police itself. The former sheriff has said he had no knowledge of violence in the jails, of obstruction of justice by deputies with regard to an ongoing FBI investigation, and no knowledge of the hiring of dozens of deputies with troubled or criminal pasts.
There are those, however, who did know of the department’s lapses — the people.
This is why it is imperative that the county create a citizens’ oversight commission akin to the Los Angeles Police commission and other law enforcement agencies across the nation. Police commission structures exist in Oakland; Long Beach, CA; San Diego; San Francisco; New York City.
How would it work? It would work with the new inspector general, Max Huntsman and provide a platform for citizens to bring ideas, suggestions and complaints to light. It would create a new level of transparency and accountability for the department from which both employees and citizens would benefit.
We already have seen the drawbacks to not having such a panel in place, so what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for the County to pay tens of millions more in settlements? More civil rights violations of inmates? More indictments of sheriff’s deputies? A mandate from the federal government?
The primary argument I hear from those who doubt the efficacy of a citizens’ oversight commission, is that it won’t have what they call “teeth.” But no one is trying to bite the Sheriff’s department. Or rather, the goal is not to pummel and punish our deputies, the overwhelming majority of whom do an outstanding job, putting their welfare and lives on the line every day for the residents of the county.
It is to provide an arena for our citizens to interface with the department and to provide ongoing scrutiny of its efforts to reform. It is to restore public confidence and regain the public trust.
Week after week members of the community have come to the Board of Supervisors to ask for the right to partner with their Sheriff’s department, to be heard, to participate in making it a better, more fair and effective department. On Tuesday, I hope we decide to open the door and let them in.