Tuesday the Los Angeles County supervisors with the strong backing of newly elected Sheriff Jim McDonnell voted to install a civilian oversight commission to oversee the embattled Sheriff’s Department.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the board voted down a proposal in August with former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky casting the swing vote against the proposal. Now, with former Yaroslavsky termed out last week and former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl taking his place, the board cast a 3-2 decision in favor of the oversight panel.
Those in favor of the commission have long contested that the department has been rife with scandals, jail inmate abuse and has a history of obstruction of justice related violations. Kuehl explained that the commission is designed to be proactive and will discuss issues publicly before they morph into crisis situations.
“The public really doesn’t feel that they knew – or knew in time – what was going on,” she said. In an interview Thursday the Times reported that Kuehl said the new civilian panel will “bring sunshine into the everyday working of the jails” so that “problems don’t fester.”
Kim McGill, organizer of the Youth Justice Coalition, expressed that “This is a historic moment… We are the people that have been in your jails and the people that buried our family members when they’ve been killed by the sheriffs.”
Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe voted against the new oversight commission saying that it was “a step backwards” and prefer that there be an office of Inspector General as a watchdog for the department.
The new configuration will still have an Inspector General position, but it will report to the civilian oversight commission.
An attorney who worked on the reforms and studied the issue of jail violence, contends that a new civilian commission would “dilute” the supervisors’ sway over the Sheriff’s Department. He agrees with Antonovich that the best way to ensure oversight of the department would be a strong inspector general reporting to the board.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that the new panel “can provide an invaluable forum for transparency and accountability, while also restoring and rebuilding the community’s trust.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who voted for the new oversight commission brought the topic of Ferguson, Mo and controversial police use-of-force cases in other places as justification for the need of the panel.