By City News Service
County supervisors Tuesday postponed a vote on the creation of a permanent civilian oversight commission for the Sheriff's Department, after several members of the board spoke in opposition.
Supervisors Don Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky urged their colleagues to wait until the Office of Inspector General is in place to monitor the department before layering on additional oversight. The board approved the OIG and is reviewing candidates for the role of inspector general.
"Let that play out ... instead of piling everything on," Knabe said. "I think it's a bit premature."
Supervisor Michael Antonovich offered no comment during the discussion. But an aide said he opposes the proposal by board colleagues Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina to establish a Los Angeles County Citizens Law Enforcement Commission in light of a new federal civil rights investigation of the jail system that they say dramatizes the need for heightened scrutiny.
The Justice Department's civil investigation will focus specifically on the treatment of mentally ill inmates. A criminal investigation into allegations of excessive force and other wrongdoing began in 2011.
"The seriousness of this new investigation and the allegations of abuse that prompted it cannot be ignored," Ridley-Thomas said. "The sheriff's department has long required a level of scrutiny that has been missing, and although the board only controls its budget, the department is there to serve the citizens of L.A. County, and that's who should have greater oversight."
Molina said she had been frustrated with the Board of Supervisors' inability to implement significant reform despite years of effort and multiple independent advisers, including the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, which issued its report last September.
Part of that frustration has to do with big payouts the county makes to settle claims of excessive force by sheriff's deputies. Molina said the county settles about 90 percent of such claims and that $25 million had been spent between July and December 2012.
"When you hear some of the things that some of these deputies have done ... it is shameful," Molina said.
But Yaroslavsky said a citizens' commission would have little real power.
"At the end of the day, it's the Board of Supervisors that's responsible for governing this county," Yaroslavsky said, adding the commission would have "no substantive legal authority to do anything but be a soapbox."
The board's authority over the sheriff, who is an elected official, largely is limited to budgetary matters, but the supervisors have the authority to establish an independent advisory citizens' oversight commission, Ridley- Thomas said.
He pointed to the Board of Police Commissioners as effective in cleaning up the LAPD and said the county should follow suit.
"The board alone cannot provide oversight sufficiently," Ridley-Thomas said. "The Sheriff's Department is too important to leave unattended."
Yaroslavsky said the fact that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is not an elected official makes a critical difference.
The motion originally called for each supervisor to appoint a commissioner to the panel by Oct. 15, but a vote on the issue was postponed until Oct. 8.