Jim McDonnell Law Enforcement

How Has Jim McDonnell Done in His First Year as LA County Sheriff?



How has Sheriff Jim McDonnell done in his first year since he was sworn into office on December 1, 2014?

WitnessLA will be looking the question in a few weeks, but the LA Times has taken their own look in an editorial on Sunday.

In their report card, the Times made two main points:

The first had to do with whether or not McDonnell has adequately “de-Tanakafied” the department. The Times felt that he’d made a great deal of progress in that endeavor, writing that the sheriff has spent a year quietly overhauling the organization chart to remove those “most closely associated” with the discredited former undersheriff.

Critics feel that McDonnell hasn’t gone nearly far enough with de-Tanakization. (But, as we have seen very recently, removing people simply because they have an association with someone you don’t like can lead to large lawsuits, so such cleaning projects can be tricky.)

Yet, the Times points to the fact that McDonnell was a member of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence and, while the CCJV was mandated only to look at problems in the jails, the problems they saw in custody pointed to more fundamental problems that affected the department as a whole, and that started at the very top. In its final report, the commission stopped just short of saying that Sheriff Lee Baca had to go. But, with the then undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, the commissioners pulled no punches at all. They wrote:

The troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored. Not only did he fail to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them. The commission learned about his ill-advised statements and decisions from a wide array of witnesses and sources. Over the course of several years, the Undersheriff encouraged deputies to push the legal boundaries of law enforcement activities and created an environment that discouraged accountability for misconduct. His repeated statements that deputies should work in an undefined “grey” area contributed to a perception by some deputies that they could use excessive force in the jails and that their aggressive behavior would not result in discipline. The Undersheriff also made numerous statements disparaging the Internal Affairs Bureau (“IAB”) and the disciplinary process — remarks that undermined the authority of IAB and the ability of Department supervisors to control or remediate inappropriate deputy behavior….

Campaign contributions accepted by Tanaka from many Department employees furthered perceptions of patronage and favoritism in promotion and assignment decisions.

And so on.

In other words, when he came into office, McDonnell was very clear about the deleterious effect that Mr. Tanaka—-who has been federally indicted and will go to trial in March—has had on the department over which he had so much control.

The Times writes:

“The organization has a different tone,” McDonnell said recently, and that new tone was exemplified last year by the resignation of Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans, following a Times report that he had purchased a stolen car that deputies had seized from a suspected gang member. Rothans had been a trusted part of McDonnell’s effort to reboot the department, but he violated policy, and he was out.

Where the editorial board is less sure is in the arena of “whether McDonnell’s reform vision is limited to a thorough de-Tanakafication of the department, or if instead it will embrace the sweeping and overdue reinvention of the criminal justice system now under discussion and underway to some degree around the nation.”

In other words, is McDonnell a true reformer?

The Times, right now, has mixed feelings on that question. They write:

There are some discouraging signals on that front. We are dismayed at McDonnell’s hostile reaction to Proposition 47, the landmark California ballot measure that decreases penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes. The sheriff acknowledges that instead of arresting suspects on misdemeanor charges, his deputies are often not arresting them at all. Yet he blames an uptick in crime not on his department’s practices, but on the ballot measure.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl did not mention McDonnell by name at a board hearing on Proposition 47 last fall, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that she was talking at least partly about him when she noted that there was no evidence to support claims that the measure is increasing crime.

“I would really encourage those spreading this disinformation to reconsider and be more responsible,” Kuehl said.

However, in noting an emerging—albeit still polite–struggle for power between the sheriff and the board of supervisors, the Times’ board is not prepared, for the moment anyway, to root against the sheriff.

They write:

The question should instead be who, or what, will bring Los Angeles County a Sheriff’s Department that protects safety on the streets and in the jails, constantly improves standards and performance and holds itself accountable for failures. It has been only a year, and McDonnell still deserves a bit of patience. For now.

18 Comments

  • Sheriff Jim McDonnell Entry I

    The LA Times has effectively shot its digital ink wad in declaring from journalism’s western Mt. Sinai that Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s “reform vision” includes a thorough de-Tanakafication of the LASD.

    “It is not yet clear whether McDonnell’s reform vision is limited to a thorough de-Tanakaification of the department, or if instead it will embrace the sweeping and overdue revinvention of the criminal justice system now under discussion and underway to some degree around the nation” (LA Times, January 10, 2016).

    First, it is not at all clear, certainly not to the public and not to insiders, that Mr. McDonnell has made such a commitment to de-Tanakafication. There has been no concerted, properly lawful de-Tanakafication in the manner others and I have previously suggested. Second, and in the long run even more important, the LA Times has set out for the LASD and Sheriff McDonnell an undefined or ill defined cosmopolitan “reinvention” agenda that surely must include that bit of intellectually scandalous work by Mr. Obama’s east-coast heavy “Task Force on 21st Century Policing” (http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/Interim_TF_Report.pdf), a commission which Sheriff McDonnell testified subtly yet persuasively in retaining the localism designed by the framers of the US Constitution (the Tenth Amendment and all of that) (see http://www.c-span.org/video/?324520-1/presidents-task-force-hearing-community-policing). If the conversation leans in this direction, an attack on that commission’s work will be forthcoming.

    The real structural civil war within American LE is the debate between local LE agencies and the role of the federal government. This debate, also occurring across many institutions (e.g., finance, education, medicine) has to do with who or where the theory and practice of policing and custodial incarceration policy will be set. In the field of economics this is called the theory of social choice: how to make decisions collectively, what rules to use, where those rules originate, et cetera (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/social-choice/). The federal government demands an increasingly top-down uniformity and local agencies wish to retain policy options accounting for local culture, institutions, and constituencies. Since the presidency of George H. W. Bush (in 1990 or 1991), there has been a consistent drumbeat to gain direct or indirect federal control over local LE agencies. This is done through money (money=rules), oversight (DOJ, FBI), command leader training (FBI Academy), and surveillance. This is aggregation through integration, or the de-localization of agencies.

    The preference for central planners/planning is not unique to the editorial board of the LA Times. The trend among researchers of policing and in police science (e.g., Neyroud, P. and D. Weisburd. (2014). “Transforming the Police Through Science: The Challenge of Ownership.” Policing. Vol. 8, No. 4, 287-293) is to agree with the spirit of collectivism, in part because, as in so many cases with academics, it empowers the status of the researchers over the practitioners, over the local beat cop and deputy, over the commander of a unit. So this civil war, like the one in healthcare and medicine, will be a multi-decade pitched battle to preserve local police agencies and their information preferences within the best and broad traditions of policing going back to Sir Robert Peel. On this question, it is clear that Sheriff Jim McDonnell is on the side of preserving meaningful localism while adding some local civilian participation. This position over time will become more difficult (costly) to hold under the auspices of social choice collectivists and central planners.

    FTF on the performance question of Jim McDonnell.

  • Seeing that anything he said or did was in a “damned if you do or don’t” position, he should have brought in his own cadre of qualified professionals to do it his way.

  • McDonnell has been blowing smoke rings up the ass of The Times Editorial Board. All he has done is retain and promote validated Tanaka drones. The recent lawsuit was a give me to the Plaintiffs. When they came out of the closet for Tanaka, chrome dome retaliated and rolled them up to the cornfields. As the did for Tanaka on many occasions. It’s different regarding McDonnell in that Chiefs and above are “At-will” employees. The documentation was there, he could have picked his own executive management team. He chose the path of least resistance and thusly, there is no reform. Rothans carried Tanaka’s water with promotions, job assignments and roll-ups on behalf of Too Tall Paul.

    McDonnell has evolved into a pathetic joke, nothing has changed. Times, you have been snookered and now you have been embarrassed.

  • #5, said it the best so I will let it rest. Jim McD you know you haven’t done a damn thing but spit shine a turd.

    I reached out to the editorial board with an org chart to no avail. Baca 2.0 has just entered the worse chapters. When will we learn?

  • The LA Times editorial board is deliberately setting the bar really low for McDonnel come endorsement time. This is the same august body that endorsed Baca for reelection three times, in spite of mountains of evidence that he was incompetent and corrupt. The rationale they used last was that he was “quirky,” therefor worthy of another term. Scary stuff, but it is consistent with this same board’s claim that the department is “deTanakaifed” as a result of McDonnell’s efforts.

    For the record, in case McDonnell bothers to read this, the policies, procedures, practices, and values used by the Tanaka crowd are still in use today when it comes to all employment decisions, including promotions and transfers. Absolutely nothing has changed, including the players, save for one or two high profile “departures.” Political patronage rules every decision, and promotional examinations are just fig leafs to give the false impression that decisions are competitive and based on merit.

    A process whose end result is that all candidates are technically equal, and therefor whoever gets the nod was the most qualified is a running joke. Case in point is McDonnell’s first batch of captain promotions. Of the august body of 14, maybe four or five at best could have qualified to apply on the open market, interview, and be successful as a chief of police. Major discipline, Brady issues, GED level education, a lack of successful experience in command positions, are all disqualifiers in the real world. In the parallel world of McDonnell’s LASD, nothing matters but how deftly sown are the promotee’s lips to the ass of the decision maker wearing stars.

    Maybe McDonnell can explain to the LA Times what subordinates will now endeavor to do, since the pathway towards success under McDonnell is clear: kiss the ring of Tanaka’s minions, and get in the batting order somehow. Jim, can you explain to the public how that is going to improve the leadership of the organization? Inquiring minds need a good laugh…

  • Celeste: I have a question. At a national level, our government agencies are being pushed to more and more transparency – and rightfully so – after all the government is here to serve the people and not the other way around. LASD has always published it’s Organizational Chart on the LASD.org website. Several months after Sheriff McDonnell took command of the Department, he removed all names from the Department Org Chart. The only names that remain visible, are his and his undersheriff. In essence, he is regressing from what should be greater progress with regards to transparency. As a gov entity that serves the local community directly, why hide the names of those positioned to serve the people? What is he trying to hide? In this regard at least, the previous administration was far more open and transparent. I tend to get skeptical when gov agencies begin to conceal the most basic information.

  • The Sheriff’s first year in office can be summed up in three words “not so much” We really thought he was going to come in and clean this house, “not so much”. We thought we would get fresh eyes to look at promotions, “not so much”. We thought we would get LASD back on top, “Not so Much”. All I can say is how much time do I have to deal with this craziness, you guessed it, “Not so Much”.

  • LATBG, here we go again. Are you really surprised by the “low bar” that the LA media is setting for McD?
    McD has the D next to his name. Now being perhaps the most powerful D in LA County, of course they’re going to back him, regardless of whether he does his job in a competent fashion. He’s going to get the support of the LA Times for a long, long time. You guys can bitch till you’re blue in the face. You can scream from the hilltops. It won’t do any good.
    McD will be sheriff until HE decides to step down. That’s which way the wind blows. Love it, hate it or be ambivalent about it, that’s your choice. But you DON’T have a choice which way it blows. That’s just how it is.

  • I think the sheriff likes it anyway he gets it. If you know what I mean. He say misdemeanor arrests are down because prop 47. How about morale of the department as a whole. Nobody wants to follow you, except those at your front door step. Nice jacket sheriff you look good. You look like a cop. Lol

  • Yes, the almighty “D” aka the engine that runs the greater metropolitan Los Angeles. “Oh Well” you got it. I love L.A.!

  • I agree with #11 Oh Well as far as McDonnell being Sheriff for more than a minute. No choice but to bear it. It’s just the way it is.

  • This is a serious question.

    Does McDonnell really know how disappointed people are with his retention and promotion of the Tanaka clan? Does he know how disgusted folks are that the house was never cleaned, as he promised, but rather a new carpet placed on top of the old dirt, same Tanaka brass in the same positions, Tanaka insiders promoted, nothing has changed? Does he really know how his troops, who are now beyond the point of disappointment and disbelief after Rothans, how they really feel, the disappointment?

    Do those within his inner circle, Tyler, Angel and others, do they insulate him, do they tell him the truth? Does he even care what folks say? All serious questions and please only answer if you really have some true insight to all of this. Otherwise, we all have our opinions and they get posted daily.

  • @ Argus, He has been totally insulated. He only knew one person who he promoted to Captain. That one person is still in place because they really are not sure where to put him. It is very discusting. But it is what it is.

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