The special Jail Violence Commission ordered by the LA County Board of Supervisors has added its final two members—one of whom, in particular, is a very heartening choice.
One of the two, Robert Bonner, is a former federal judge, a former prosecutor, and even a former DEA administrator. This brings the total number of former jurists on the 7-person panel, to four. Added to that there is Cecil “Chip” Murray, the well-liked former pastor of the First AME Church, and Long Beach Chief of Police, Jim McDonnell, the former Assistant Chief of the LAPD and someone who was short-listed for the chief’s job after Bill Bratton left.
Thank heaven for McDonnell.
The former judges—Lourdes Bairde, Carlos Moreno, and Dickran Tevrizian–while impressively august and no doubt extremely bright and discerning, have exactly zero experience between the four of them in the ins and outs of dealing with custody facilities, or the running of a law enforcement agency.
McDonnell, fortunately, while he’s not worked in the LA county jails, has spent his life in law enforcement.
The other piece of good news is commission member number seven, Alex Busansky, who is right now the president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. But most significantly, in the recent past he worked for the Vera institute where he was the Executive Director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons. So he knows Jails and prisons, their functions and policies—and what they look like when they’re running well—and he knows a lot about the LA County Jail.
(And he is a former prosecutor.)
The original five commissioners chose the last two. So bravo to them for the selection of Busansky.
It’s a good omen.
But, see here’s the thing: This commission has no legal power, meaning its only power to affect change will simply be the force, accuracy and clarity of its investigation, analysis and recommendations, which can in turn affect public opinion. The pressure of public opinion, together with the the existing federal investigation—which may (or may not) result in a federal consent decree—is the one combination of elements that has the possibility of producing the desperately needed reform in the jails, and in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department as a whole.
So, will these seven have the will and insight necessary to take on such an aggressive investigation? Or will they simply tinker around the edges?—making more suggestions of the ilk of forbidding deputies to wear steel-toed boots when working custody, and asking for more timely completions of force reports in the jails—all suggestions that, while worthy, only address the symptoms.
The selection of Busansky offers at least the hope that the seven might—-just might—be planning to take a swing at making a real difference.