In response to a report by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence issued a week ago, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a motion by Mark Ridley-Thomas directing county c counsel and the chief executive officer (CEO) to assess the viability of establishing an office of inspector general for the sheriff’s department.
Additionally, the board voted to have the county legal department look into the legal ramifications of all the recommendations made by the commission.
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas stressed the need to move on the motion, because he said residents need to see them taking immediate and thoughtful action toward beginning to address the structural reforms the county jail system needs.
The commission released its report a little less than a year after the panel was created by the supervisors. The body consisted of Judge Lourdes G. Baird (ret.), chair; the Rev. Cecil L. Murray, vice chair; Judge Robert Bonner (ret.); Alexander Busansky, president, National Council on Crime and Delinquency; Chief Jim McDonnell, Long Beach Police Department; Judge Carlos R. Moreno (ret.); Judge Dickran Tevrizian Jr. (ret.)–all appointed by the supervisors.
One of the key commission findings was that the leadership in the sheriff’s department did not address the problems properly, and during a hearing preceding the vote a number of community activists called for Sheriff Lee Baca to step down.
Baca responded at a news conference Wednesday, saying he accepts many of the recommendations made by the commission, but he was not prepared to fire any senior managers in response to the findings. Nor was he planning to step aside himself.
“You know, I’m not a person that thinks about quitting on anything,” Baca said during the news conference at the Men’s Central Jail. “The voters had the grace to give me the job and the voters will have the grace to take it away.”
Baca took the brunt of criticism in the commission’s report It also stressed that Baca–who has held the county sheriff’s job for 14 years–needs to be personally engaged in oversight of the jails.
“When I read the recommendations–I couldn’t have written them better myself,” Baca told reporters.
The sheriff took issue with some of the characterizations in the report of deputies running rampant in the jails, saying the situation did not exist “to the degree the words describe.”
“But I do have some deputies that have done some terrible things,” he conceded.
Baca insisted that he demands his deputies to follow the sheriff’s department’s core values of respect for everyone, saying dozens of deputies have been fired for failing to meet that standard.
But he said he was not prepared to take immediate action against his second-in-command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was accused by the Citizens’ Commission of discouraging investigations into deputy-misconduct allegations and encouraging deputies to be aggressive against inmates.
Baca said he needs to see proof of such activity before taking action.
“I am not a person that acts impulsively or in my own self-interest when it comes to someone else’s career,” Baca said. “We’ll either have the facts, or we won’t have the facts. But that’s what I have to do because it is not fair, and we do believe evidence and facts drives disciplinary decisions, not allegations.”
The commission begins its report in the following way: “There has been a persistent pattern of unreasonable force in the Los Angeles County jails that dates back many years.
“Notwithstanding a litany of reports and recommendations to address the problem of violence in the county jails issued by multiple bodies over more than two decades, it was only recently that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department began to implement changes that significantly reduced the level of force used by deputy sheriffs in the jails. Both the responsibility for, and the solutions to, the problem of excessive force in the county jails lies with the department’s leadership. Significantly, the department failed to identify, monitor and address force problems until the sheriff began to take action last year in the wake of a series of scathing reports, the glare of adverse publicity, actions by the County Board of Supervisors, including creating the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, and a series of public hearings by both the commission and the board.
“As a result of the recent attention of the sheriff and the reforms he instituted, the number of force incidents, and in particular significant force incidents, in the jails has dropped dramatically. Yet even with these recent reductions, troubling indicia of a force problem remain.
“Whether recent force reductions will be sustained over time when public attention recedes, and whether the entire department is truly committed to the sheriff’s stated vision for the jails and the implementation of these reforms, remains to be seen.”
“Ultimately, true reform of the jails will depend upon the committed leadership and engagement of the sheriff and the department’s senior leaders, as well as institutionalized structural reforms within the department and strong independent oversight.
“In order to have lasting reform in the jails, the department needs to be re-structured to ensure accountability for the operation of the jails. There should be a new assistant sheriff for the Custody Division who is a professional and experienced corrections leader, reports directly to the sheriff, and is directly accountable for jail operations.”
In addition to those above, the commission made more than 60 recommendations in its report, and at its Tuesday meeting the Board of Supervisors asked the CEO to look at the financial implications of each.
City News Service contributed to this story.