In Monday, special counsel to the LA County Board of Supervisors, Merrick Bobb, issued his semi-annual report in which he found that complaints in the department were being handled appallingly slowly, and that reform in the jails, while showing some heartening progress, still had a long way to go.
Yet Bobb’s strongest theme was his clear expression that reform in the department depends greatly on Sheriff Baca’s leadership, and the sheriff’s willingness to stop ceding crucial control to others.
For instance, Bobb writes:
“To some extent, any LASD Sheriff is the public face of the Department and has to concentrate efforts on its external relations. The Sheriff perforce must delegate to trusted lieutenants. But it should be a delegation of authority, not an abdication of it. And the Sheriff must be certain that those who act in his name do so in a manner consistent with the Sheriff’s own core values… “
Here are a few more highlights from the 70-page report:
RUINING THE JAILS
“Two things seem clear: the Sheriff was not well served by major executives and managers who both actively and passively permitted the jails to operate at variance with the Sheriff’s core values, seemingly believing that the abusive culture there was intractable, at best, or not really a problem, at worst. Senior executives did not keep Sheriff Baca well-informed or else sheltered him from persons in his management seeking to alert him to the serious problems in the jails.
The Sheriff has taken some steps to chastise some of the individuals who let him down. There are signs that there has been a change of attitude on the part of some, which is welcome and bodes well for the Department. Nonetheless, it will take a sustained period of genuine progress to convince knowledgeable observers that those same major executives who presided over the apparent collapse of accountability in the jails are capable of presiding over jail reform.
THE DEPARTMENT’S INVESTIGATIVE BUREAUS MUST REPORT DIRECTLY TO THE SHERIFF
There has been concern expressed about a possible lack of support and respect for the Internal Affairs at the senior executive level. [This is, we presume, from WLA's reporting here.] The importance of the Leadership and Training Division has eclipsed in recent years and needs now once again to be front and center. The Chief of that division, which contains IAB, reports directly to the Sheriff, a recent change that we endorse. ICIB—the criminal investigations arm of the LASD—currently is a direct report to the Sheriff, according to the Undersheriff. The secrecy of ICIB investigations apparently has been compromised in the past, so there is a value in keeping layers of reporting to a minimum. In our review, as a matter of policy and best practice, both IAB and ICIB should report directly to the Sheriff. The power to initiate and terminate investigations and hence to make or break careers is one that requires oversight at the highest level. Direct reporting allows the chief executive to personally keep his finger on the pulse of the organization.
LASD’S NEW USE OF FORCE POLICY IN JAILS WOULD DISCOURAGE THE SLAMMING OF INMATE’S HEADS INTO HARD OBJECTS
There’s a lot more, like the rundown on the progress being made—and not made—in installing the video cameras in the jails, along with charts that show the degree to which use-of-force numbers have dropped since all the scrutiny of the jails began last year.
There is a short section on the importance of the recommendations about pre-trial release made in the Vera and the James Austin reports, if jail population is to be kept at a manageable level.
Plus there are things like this on a newly proposed use of force policy:
Among other things, the current reformulation attempts to subject a wider variety of head injuries to an immediate rollout by Internal Affairs. It should serve to discourage deputies from causing an inmate to strike his head against any hard object, be it the concrete floor or the bars in the jail. Should a deputy deliberately do any of those things, it may be a crime and should be dealt with as such. We believe it also should include instances where it might not have been done deliberately but was done recklessly, as when the deputy knows the high probability of what he is doing will cause a head strike, yet goes ahead anyway. Reckless conduct may also be criminal….
Okay, well, that’s encouraging, I guess. One would have assumed that such matters would have already been clear. But better late than never, one supposes.
JAILS TASK FORCE DOING WELL SO FAR
Bobb makes a point of praising the Commander Management Task Force or CMTF, whose job it is to “….assess and transform the culture of the custody facilities in order to provide a safe, secure learning environment for our Department personnel and the inmates placed in the Department’s care…”
Admittedly, WitnessLA was among those who were very concerned at the make-up of the CMTF because all but one of its five commanders were Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s hand picked people.
While acknowledging the concern, Bobb says “the group is doing a good job so far,” and gives various examples of their competence, adding, “It is a positive step that they are reporting directly to the Sheriff.”
Merrick Bobb sums his assessment of the CMTF in this way, which also capsulizes much of what the report says when taken altogether:
At this stage, it is important that any doubts be resolved in the commanders’ favor [meaning the CMTF commanders]. To do otherwise is to concede that the LASD is incapable of reforming itself, a proposition which at this juncture we do not embrace. Nonetheless it is true that no matter how many blue ribbon commissions, members of the Board of Supervisors, Special Counsel, or OIR attorneys there are, none of the foregoing can issue direct orders to the Sheriff. The Jail Commission will undoubtedly struggle with these issues. The Jail Commission might want to consider recommending that the Sheriff appoint an already budgeted third assistant sheriff position, reporting directly to the Sheriff, with a civilian widely experienced in running complex but constitutional jails or prisons.
And, again, it is a reiteration of the report’s theme that, as long as Lee Baca is in office, it all comes down to the Sheriff and his leadership.
NOTE: More than half of the report is devoted to the complaint process out at the various stations.
Christina Villacorte at the Daily News has a good report on that part of Merrick Bobb’s findings. Here’s a clip:
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department frequently took more than three months – and in one case almost two years – to investigate complaints made by the public against its deputies, according to an independent monitor.
In a report issued Monday, Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the county Board of Supervisors, said the department’s policy is to complete such investigations and submit the findings to a unit that tracks personnel complaints in 60 days.
That standard was met only about a third of the time in 2010.
Bobb looked at more than 2,000 complaints in 2010, which ranged from rudeness to excessive force and criminal conduct. He found it took an average of 101 days to finish investigations and submit the findings.
“This is an unacceptable result,” Bobb said. “A lack of promptness can communicate to the public that the department is not concerned with responding to or vigorously investigating their complaints of deputy misconduct and that there is a lack of accountability for such lapses.”