Sheriff Jim McDonnell issued the following statement Tuesday:
I understand that next week the Board of Supervisors will consider whether to approve, in concept, the creation of an independent advisory civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). In that I will be out to town at the time of the Board’s meeting attending the California State Sheriffs’ Association conference, I am writing to express my support for this motion.
As I have stated previously, I believe that there is great value in creating an independent advisory civilian oversight body that would enable the voice of the community to be an engaged partner in the LASD’s efforts to address existing challenges and implement ongoing areas of needed reform. An advisory citizens’ commission can provide an invaluable forum for transparency and accountability, while also restoring and rebuilding the community’s trust in the LASD.
The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence (CCJV), on which I served, underscored the need for comprehensive and independent monitoring of the LASD and its jails, and recommended the creation of an Office of Inspector General (OIG) -an entity that is in the formative stages. While CCJV opted not to express any view regarding a civilian commission, I believe that the time has come for the creation of an independent citizens’ advisory commission to oversee and guide the work of the OIG and help move the Department beyond past challenges.
While an independent advisory citizens’ oversight commission may be a new concept for LASD, it is not new to me, or to law enforcement in general. I spent many of my years at other law enforcement agencies working with civilian commissions and have seen first-hand the value of empowering the community’s voice. I would welcome the opportunity to work with others to define the key elements and all-important details in regard to the creation of such a group here in Los Angeles County.
An advisory citizens’ commission would ensure that all segments of our community feel a greater investment in our Sheriff’s Department and that they are able to work with us in ensuring that the LASD’s policing is effective, fair and constitutional. Citizens’ advisory commissions can also serve as all-important ambassadors to the community and strengthen a relationship of trust that is a vital part of law enforcement’s ability to promote community safety.
While I encourage the Board of Supervisors, for all of these reasons, to move forward next week with the approval of this concept, I also believe that it is important to take the necessary time to ensure that a newly created citizens’ commission has the structure and independence to function effectively. I applaud the pending motion’s recognition of the need for this thoughtful process and for proposing the creation of a working group for this purpose. I would be happy to designate a representative to participate in this process.
I would, however, like to offer some preliminary thoughts in regard to the issues that any working group would be asked to consider:
• Commission membership and size: I believe it is vitally important that members of an independent advisory commission be highly regarded and esteemed members of the community, committed to public service on this body in an unpaid and part-time capacity (similar to how CCJV functioned). The structure should also include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also others selected by other appointing authorities (that might include justice system partners and community stakeholders). A size of 7 to 9 members would enable these other representatives to be included, while not creating an unworkably large body.
• Independence: To ensure their full independence and autonomy, serious consideration should be given to having commission members serve a set term of years (removable only for cause) and be empowered to select their own staff and leadership – CCJV had, and welcomed, that independence.
Oversight of the work of the IG: It is my view that the commission should oversee and guide the work of the OIG. The IG and his office should be the “engine” that fuels the work of the Commission and the IG should report to that body.
Bridge to the community: The Commission should be a vehicle for the community to transparently hear about and offer input into the department’s strategies and challenges and also a place for the vetting of new ideas. This body can also be a place to discuss markers of progress in regard to moving LASD beyond past challenges and a place where we can endeavor to work together to address existing barriers.
I have long believed that partnerships with our community should be embraced, not feared. Indeed, that philosophy has guided my approach to community policing throughout my career. The more public discourse and engagement we can promote – and the better understanding those in our community have of the challenges law enforcement faces -the better able we will be to work together to improve the LASD and enhance its ability to serve our community as well as the committed men and women who work in the Department.
JIM McDONNELL SHERIFF