The LA Supes and the Sheriff Square Off on How Jail Commission’s 63 Recommendations will be ImplementedOctober 17th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon
LA BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AND SHERIFF BACA’S TUG-OF-WAR OVER RECOMMENDATIONS FROM JAIL COMMISSION
In addition to the Obama-Romney rematch and the Tigers’ domination of the Yankees in game 3, there was another bracingly contentious event of note on Tuesday, namely LA Board of Supervisors’ grilling of Sheriff Lee Baca.
The sheriff came to this week’s meeting to present his plans for implementing the 63 recommendations of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence. Right from the beginning, however, the Supes made it clear that Baca was not going to do all this implementing however he pleased, that the board intended to aggressively watchdog the process.
Here are a few of the highlights of the exchange:
Sheriff Baca opened by explaining his philosophy of violence in the jails, and his belief in the importance of giving inmates something constructive to do with their time when they’re locked up. (A point with which WLA heartily agrees.)
I enacted a force prevention policy. You have a report before you that indicates the dramatic drop in…significant force…we are at an all-time record low in the jail operations. And this is a by-product of a number of processes, including Education-Based Incarceration…It’s my belief that the culture is one that has potential explosiveness when there are no programs for education, when there are situations where the mentality of us vs. them is overwhelming. In order to eliminate the Us vs. Them process…our goal is to create educational classes for all inmates. We have, right now, one-third of the entire [population] in classes Monday through Friday, seven to eight hours a day.
The whole point of it all is we went someone coming out of jail better prepared to exist in society without committing additional crime so, although this is not a direct singular cause of reduction of force, it is part of…changing the elements of the culture…that has reduced force.
NOTE: We thought the sheriff’s claim that one third of the jails’ approximately 20,000 inmates were taking classes was likely high. But indeed, when we checked with LASD spokesperson, Nicole Nishida, she confirmed that roughly 6,000 inmates had taken part in the department’s E.B.I. program in the month of September. In other words, the sheriff’s claim was pretty much on the money.
SUPES SAY INSPECTOR GENERAL IS THEIR CALL
However, when Baca mentioned that he was already working on hiring the new inspector general that the CCJV had recommended, Supe. Zev Yaroslavsky sharply cut Baca short, saying that that the selection of the IG was the job of the Board of Supes, not the sheriff.
Sheriff Baca: I have received [an application] already, but I’m open to a collaborative selection process if there’s a member of the board—
Supe. Yaroslavsky: Stop right there. You’re not going to select the inspector general. The inspector general…is to report to the board of supervisors, so the board of supervisors is going to select the inspector general.
TANAKA’S NOT SECOND IN COMMAND, SAYS BACA
Later, Supe Mike Antonovich asked what the revised role of the undersheriff would be, and wanted to know, if Paul Tanaka was no longer second in command at the department, who then would be in charge when Baca was travelling. Baca said that he was the only one in charge in any situation.
Supe. Antonovich: So when you’re outside the county, be it in another state or another country, who is the person, then, in charge?
Sheriff Baca: I am. One of the great things about the modern era of communication is that you don’t have to be in the county to know what’s going on…
Supe. Antonovich: So nobody is in charge while you’re away.
Sheriff Baca: I’m in charge.
Supe. Antonovich: You’re in charge no matter where you are in the world.
Sheriff Baca: That’s correct.
Supe. Antonovich: Don’t you believe you have to have an assistant…when something comes up?
Sheriff Baca: I do have assistants.
Supe. Antonovich: So who would be in charge here when you’re away?
Sheriff Baca: Well, I’m in charge of the overall problem, whatever that is.
WHERE’S THAT DARN USE OF FORCE MANUAL?
When it was Supe. Molina’s turn, she said she found the Sheriff’s written response to some of the commission’s recommendations very confusing. For instance, she said, when she asked for a physical copy of the department’s Use of Force manual, there was much dancing and dodging before the sheriff, and one of the members of his Commanders’ Task Force, who was also there at the meeting, to admit that there is no single comprehensive use of force manual—at least as of Tuesday.
Supe Molina: If today I asked you for the use of force manual, could you give it to me?
Sheriff Baca: I could give you all our policies…
Supe: Molina: So you could give me a manual that has use of force policy in it, and it’s thorough and it’s complete…
Sheriff Baca: I’ll do that…
Supe Molina: So right now there [is] a use of force policy manual for custody?
Speaker: There is, yes.
Supe. Molina: And so I could have a copy of it this afternoon?
Speaker: Yes, but consistent with what you’ve requested in the past, we are consolidating all use of force because there are certain tenets as far as…
Supe. Molina: I’m asking for one manual. If I’m an officer and I want to know what the rules of the use of force are…I could go to this book.
Supe Molina: All right. Somehow the commission lawyers weren’t able to find it in one place…
Speaker: We’re restructuring the use of force policies so that all of the levels of force that are required and all of the different categories of force and force prevention [are] all in one document in the use of force manual effective January 1st.
Supe. Molina: You don’t have it now. You will have it January 1st?
Speaker: Well, but there is a custody use of force policy that exists right now.
Supe. Molina: …Is there a single document today? Yes, or no?
(After a very long pause.)
SHERIFF’S DEPT = BOTTOMLESS LITIGATION MONEY PIT?
Molina also expressed serious concern regarding the “terrifying” legal fees and high-ticket settlements she said that the sheriff’s department generates.
We end up paying all of the liability…those are dollars that could be going into programming and parks and into law enforcement and other areas…right now we are talking about millions of dollars that are going to be spent in the next year to two years just on legal fees alone…
While Supe. Molina has repeatedly pointed to the big money payouts that inmate lawsuits have produced for the county, Supe. Ridley-Thomas dropped a small bomb-let when he noted that the majority of litigation costs the sheriff’s dept. has racked up over the last four years are not custody related—they are connected to lawsuits stemming from incidents that occurred in patrol—-a fact that has some interesting implications with regard to problems in the department that have yet to be adequately explored.
Supe. Ridley-Thomas: If we were to look over the last four years, that number is nearly $42 million…the interesting part about it is that the majority of those dollars are not related to custody. Do you know what they’re related to? Patrol…
That is a…very substantial concern…the fact of the matter is most of what we are assuming in terms of costs, not in custody issues, but, in fact, the streets of the county of Los Angeles.
NO, TANAKA IS SECOND IN COMMAND…REALLY.
In response to the sheriff’s assertion that the undersheriff is not the second in command and does not have control when Baca is away, Supe. Ridley-Thomas read the description of the undersheriff’s duties that was provided by the CEO and the department itself when the undersheriff’s promotion and raise came to the Supervisors for official approval in December of 2011.
Supe. Ridley-Thomas: Another issue that gave me concern…asserting that the undersheriff was essentially not the number two in the department…but is essentially the “budget guy.” When…the request was that was made to the board to honor the recommendation of promoting Paul Tanaka to undersheriff and augmenting his salary accordingly, we quote the following: “In his position as the undersheriff, Mr. Tanaka will be second in command of the department and assume duties of the sheriff in his absence.”
At meeting’s end, the Board sent strong signals that it intends maintain an active role in the implementation of the CCJV’s recommendations, and passed a resolution agreeing on monthly meetings with Sheriff Baca for status reports, beginning in November.