The Untouchable Sheriff?
What happens when the Sheriff has constitutional terms that limits oversight to just the voters? It can and has gone terribly wrong here in LA County. Often I have stood up for officers that had to shoot in a split second decision. Or to leave them room to work to protect us. But that very same inclination compels me to Page these stories.
Our oversight of the law enforcement must be a bit stronger than their authority. In this instance we may have that backwards.
There came a point during the 2012 hearings of the Los Angeles County Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence when the panel’s lead counsel, Richard Drooyan, asked Sheriff Lee Baca how he was to be held to answer for mistreatment of inmates, poor supervision of his jail deputies and in fact everything that goes wrong at the Sheriff’s Department.
“Don’t elect me,” Baca answered.
It’s an odd system. The sheriff leads a paramilitary agency of uniformed law enforcement officers with the authority to arrest and use deadly force. But unlike his city counterparts — police chiefs who must report to mayors, city councils or oversight commissions, and sometimes all three — the sheriff labors under no real oversight at all. He wears a badge but is, in fact, a politician. He need never appear at a Board of Supervisors hearing or send the supervisors a report unless he deems it in his interest to do so. The board’s formal power over him covers only his budget; yet the board must govern the county and pay its bills, including millions of dollars in liabilities racked up by deputies who wrongfully injure people, whether by driving while intoxicated or beating up inmates or many misdeeds in between.
That structure of an independently elected sheriff has been at the heart of the board’s quandary in the wake of the jail violence revelations and the investigation, hearings and scathing report by the commission, as well as the civil damage awards against jail supervisors and, now, the federal indictment and arrest of 18 deputies on charges that include obstruction of justice.
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