LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The county’s Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a civilian oversight commission for the Sheriff’s Department Tuesday.
Supervisors Mark-Ridley Thomas and Hilda Solis joined forces to propose such an independent commission, the structure of which has yet to be determined. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl backed the plan, while Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe voted no in a 3-2 vote.
“It is all about accountability … and constitutional policing,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Ridley-Thomas and former supervisor Gloria Molina pushed for a civilian review board for more than a year but were unable to garner a third vote on the five-member board. The idea was last rejected in August, before Solis and Kuehl were elected.
“The public trust … has fallen to a new low” across the country,” Solis said. “We can’t afford to delay any longer.”
Advocates say a citizens’ commission is critical, given violence against jail inmates and corruption within the Sheriff’s Department.
A temporary Citizens’ Commission for Jails Violence was established in 2011 and recommended several reforms the following year. However, implementation of several reforms is still underway and the county is facing a pending federal consent decree stemming from its maltreatment of mentally ill inmates.
“A moral imperative to ensure constitutional policing in the county’s communities and jails exist,” states the motion by Ridley-Thomas and Solis.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich argued that the review board would be “a step backwards,” saying that some of the Sheriff’s Department’s “darkest days” took place under multiple layers of oversight.
Antonovich urged his colleagues to rely on the Office of Inspector General to monitor jail conditions and conduct investigations.
Other opponents, including a representative from the citizens’ Commission for Jail Violence, said a review board would have no statutory authority over the elected sheriff without changes to state law. Other critics said a civilian panel could dilute the efforts of Inspector General Max Huntsman.
Without subpoena power, a civilian board would be ineffective and “create expectations among the people that cannot be met,” said attorney Richard Drooyan, responsible for monitoring the implementation of reforms suggested by the CCJV.
Drooyan is a former assistant U.S. Attorney who has served on numerous local commissions, most significantly the Los Angeles Police Commission under former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Backers of the idea said that even an advisory-only board would offer community members a critical voice and a forum for grievances, but today many demanded that the civilian commission be given subpoena power.
While the details have yet to be worked out, KNX 1070’s Claudia Peschiutta reports that the independent group will review department operations and make recommendations to the board.
Dozens of advocates said the review board should not include any current or retired members of law enforcement.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell has expressed his support for a commission to oversee the department, but has questioned whether such a board should have subpoena power.
Ridley-Thomas and Solis have called for a group including McDonnell and Huntsman, or their representatives, and one representative appointed by each supervisor to report back in 90 days with recommendations on the commission’s mission, authority, size and structure.
Advocates say even an advisory-only board would offer community members a critical voice and a forum for grievances.
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)