After years of investigating its own deputies and often, it would appear, sweeping accusations of widespread jailhouse beatings under the rug, Sheriff Lee Baca's department will likely have the pleasure of being combed through by civilians.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors today voted to set up a citizens commission that would "review of the nature, depth and cause of the problem of inappropriate deputy use of force in the jails, and recommend corrective action as necessary.''
Easy Street dead-ended earlier this month for the incumbent sheriff (he even admitted he should have "known" about the problems in his jails), but now he's got to open his files to Joe Voter. But wait, there's more:
Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed implementing year-plus-old recommendations by the county's Special Council and Office of Independent Review.
The board voted yea. Those recs include, according to City News Service:
-Installing surveillance cameras in the jails within 30 days.
-Eliminating the use of heavy flashlights as batons to subdue inmates, substituting batons, if necessary.
-Eliminating the use of steel-toed shoes.
-Forbidding all head strikes, unless the standard for lethal force has been met.
-Rotating deputies between floors at least every six months.
-Enforcing an existing anti-retaliation policy against inmates who speak to lawyers or activists about jail conditions ...
Many of these reforms were first proposed by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb and the Office of Independent Review over a year ago--yet they still haven't been implemented. So I think it's fair to say accountability at the Sheriff's Department is long overdue. The very credibility of the Sheriff's Department is at stake. Its integrity can be restored only if Sheriff Baca and his team wholeheartedly accept reform. It speaks volumes when we hear stories of top scoring Sheriff's Deputy recruits opting out of a law enforcement career--and in this economy, no less--because of first-hand experience with excessive use of force. These are precisely the kinds of Sheriff's Deputies we need to keep. It is up to Sheriff Baca to turn this situation around. He must do it.
The five-member commission would be appointed by the supes. They could be rubbing shoulders with the FBI, which is also investigating the jail-beating allegations, which have been around since at least 1999 (how did Baca not know?).
Molina said she hoped to save some of the cash county taxpayers have had to fork over to deal with legal claims and judgments related to the beating allegations in the last three years: $12.4 million.
Hoping it never happens again? Priceless.