Jim McDonnell believes an “outside set of eyes” is the best answer for the troubled Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. McDonnell, the current chief of police in Long Beach, entered the race for sheriff in January determined to bring an outsider’s perspective to the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.
However, McDonnell’s name is not exactly that of an outsider in terms of local law enforcement. The former second in command at the Los Angeles Police Department served 29 years there and hosts endorsements from some of the city’s most well-known and well-heeled persons as he forges his first election campaign. He originally didn’t want to run against former Sheriff Lee Baca, but when Baca announced his retirement earlier this year, McDonnell changed his mind.
“Sometimes you miss things when you’re on the inside,” McDonnell said regarding a fresh perspective at sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park. “The department has great people, but it has become too ‘socialized’ from the inside. You can’t be locked in by customs and traditions of the past. I think when you’re brought up in a strong culture, you tend not to see alternatives. You tend to see things being done the way you’ve always done them. We can maintain the high standards of the sheriff’s department and as well instill a new dynamic that will ultimately return the trust and admiration of the public.”
Findings of excessive force administered by deputies at the Twin Towers jail facility was one of the reasons why Los Angeles County is seeking a new sheriff. McDonnell was also part of a team that investigated the sheriff’s department as a member of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. He points to a need to balance the “art and science” of policing to be an effective way of demonstrating professionalism while simultaneously reaching a level of respect with the public. The “science” aspect, he explained, involves using all of the most modern technology available to law enforcement (DNA, computers, interface with other law enforcement agencies, etc.), while the “art” is simply conducting yourself in a professional manner or demonstrating to the public more “people skills.”
“Law enforcement is a ‘people’ business,” McDonnell explained. “An encounter with the police is always a stressful experience, but if you treat the public with a level of respect and demonstrate utmost professionalism, you’ll find you can get more cooperation that will satisfy an investigation and also assure the public that their safety is of the utmost importance.”
If elected, McDonnell said he wants to get a “baseline” on the top issues and create efficiencies that will best illustrate a positive tone for department personnel.
“We have to foster a partnership with the people we serve, and determine right off: ‘What is our mission?’ We’ve done that in Long Beach. In the past five years, we’ve had to endure staff reductions and have relied more on technology as a ‘force multiplier’ to lower crime. We have deployed our resources accordingly and, through working with the community here, we’ve seen our streets become safer. The adage of ‘if you see something, say something’ has resulted in better community relations and corresponding lower crime numbers.”
With the sheriff’s department budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year totaling in excess of $2.8 billion, McDonnell says a better financial manager is needed who can put into place clear milestones and establish goals for department personnel. “I’ll give more feedback to the deputies all in the interest of restoring public trust,” he said. “Tax payers certainly expect that their dollars be used in the most effective way possible. Again, demonstrating to the public that we’re there to serve them and to keeping the streets safe is my top priority.”
While the big names endorsing McDonnell include LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, former district attorney Steve Cooley, developer Rick Caruso, the California Police Chief’s Association, the L.A. County Police Chief’s Association (where he serves as first vice president), and former LAPD chief and current New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, he insists that he has no past alliances to lean on and is not tied to past practices. Citing that he is the only candidate to have run a police department, McDonnell said he learned that being inclusive and soliciting input from his staff has made the Long Beach Police Department run more efficiently and hopes to transfer that success to the sheriff’s department.
“I have put into place command and accountability standards, and I expect high standards from my officers,” he said. “You get promoted through merit, not via ‘connections.’ I have a proud record of working with the community and, if elected, I’ll continue the same effective practices with the sheriff’s department.”
McDonnell, who once served on the U.S. Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, has participated in two U.S. Department of Justice National Executive Sessions; the National Executive Session on Law Enforcement and Public Health: Inter-disciplinary Strategies; and the National Executive Session on Police Legitimacy and Racial Reconciliation.
McDonnell, 54, holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., and a master of science degree in public administration from USC. He is also a graduate of the FBI’s National Executive Institute and has completed education programs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.