A fresh start
Jim McDonnell can best repair our broken Sheriff’s Department
By Kevin Uhrich 05/28/2014
For those who have been out of town, out of touch, or living under a rock for the past three years, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is in deep trouble, so much so that many expect that a first-ever civilian oversight committee to watch over the department might finally be formed.
However, contrary to what many would like to see happen, and may even expect to occur following Tuesday’s election of a new sheriff, that is not a certainty.
Only two Los Angeles County supervisors have openly embraced that idea, with the other three apparently content to wait for power to shift on the board after the election and a new sheriff to take his seat. And while all seven candidates for the sheriff’s job appear well-intended and at least seem to have open minds toward reform, five are either retired from or still working as top-level sheriff’s officials. Yes, reform sounds like a good idea now, but after the election, whoever wins will likely be in power until they decide to retire and at some point may not want a civilian board snooping in his business after all.
It’s been a rough time for the department’s prestige. Dealing with an ongoing federal investigation into deputy-instigated violence occurring in county jails, former Sheriff Lee Baca stepped down earlier this year after serving four four-year terms. Baca’s early retirement after nearly 50 years with the department apparently came not a moment too soon, with a federal grand jury around that time indicting a total of 20 sheriff’s personnel — mostly deputies but a few higher ups — in connection with the US Department of Justice’s investigation of Baca’s allegedly corrupt and out of control jail system. A system where jailors apparently felt so comfortable beating up unarmed inmates that two deputies alleged beat and punched one man who was not moving right in front of a representative of the ACLU — the historically unassailable Sheriff’s Department’s court-appointed monitor for more than 30 years.
Those observations and other incriminating testimony were compiled by the ACLU into a damning report of the jail situation, which resulted in a lawsuit being filed by the ACLU against the department. In the meantime, the county Board of Supervisors appointed a separate board to study the situation, forming the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, comprised mostly of a number of retired federal judges, some of whom live in Pasadena.
Ironically, the last panel to call the Sheriff’s Department to account was headed by an Altadena resident, now-deceased Superior Court Judge James G. Kolts. In 1992, Kolts raked the department over the coals, essentially saying that under then-Sheriff Sherman Block excessive violence committed by deputies under the color of authority was intolerably pervasive and deeply troubling. This recent board was no less critical of the current situation, ultimately finding the department lacked leadership under Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca’s second-in-command.
Although it was recently revealed that Tanaka, who headed the jails and also retired shortly after the citizens’ panel issued its report, was considered a subject in the federal probe of the jails, he remains one of seven candidates lining up to replace Baca, among the five Sheriff’s Department veterans in the running in Tuesday’s election. One can only wonder: Where were any of these guys — some of whom, including Tanaka, are calling themselves “whistleblowers” — when the Kolts Commission was criticizing Block’s lack of control of violence-prone deputies 22 years ago?
With that in mind, there appears to be only one logical choice for the job — Jim McDonnell.
Chief of the Long Beach Police Department and a 30-year veteran of the LAPD, McDonnell served as assistant chief to former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton prior to his position in Long Beach. Plus, McDonnell served as a member of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, learning firsthand about the corruption in our jails and the need for strong, reform-oriented leadership.
“I sat on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence and got an education on what was wrong and what needed to be done in the jails and throughout the LASD,” McDonnell once told the Los Angeles Daily News.
“I’d bring in a fresh perspective as an outsider. I have no relationships within the organization that could cloud that [and] I’ve been involved in the transformation of two police departments that had issues,” he told the newspaper. McDonnell, who we believe is more likely than the others to welcome a citizen oversight panel, also serves as president of the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs Association.
Apparently McDonnell’s message is music the ears of a host of high-level supporters, among them state Attorney General Kamala Harris, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Supervisors Don Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky.
On Tuesday, let local leaders know you’ve had enough of the good-old-boy mentality that still dominates a Sheriff’s Department that for years has been in desperate need of reform by making Jim McDonnell sheriff of Los Angeles County.