The new year is off and running, and our newly elected Sheriff is wasting no time in bringing forth issues, both old and new, that he has begun implementing or plans to carry out soon. I attended the first County of Los Angeles Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) meeting of 2019 last month, where Sheriff Villanueva publicly discussed several of these issues with the COC members. In November 2016, the Board of Supervisors appointed nine commissioners to serve on the COC, including community and faith leaders, a retired Sheriff’s lieutenant, and attorneys ranging from former prosecutors and public defenders to professors and executives from legal nonprofit organizations. The COC begins its third year with its stated vision to facilitate public transparency and accountability with respect to the Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Villanueva was joined at the COC dais by his Executive Officer Ray Leyva and spent over an hour and a half not only dialoguing with the commissioners, but also listening to comments by members of the public. Here are some of the issues discussed at the COC that will be addressed further in 2019.
IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT (ICE) OUT OF THE JAIL
The Sheriff told the COC that he intended to implement a policy in February that would result in the removal of ICE personnel from inside the jail. Many activists have called for the Sheriff to stop working with ICE altogether and end all cooperation with ICE. Under Senate Bill (SB) 54, also known as the “sanctuary state” law that took effect a year ago, California sheriffs are prohibited from handing over to ICE jail inmates who’ve been convicted of hundreds of less serious misdemeanors and may exercise their discretion on releasing or turning over jail inmates convicted of “wobblers” that can be treated as a felony or misdemeanor. The Sheriff will continue to work with ICE in the cases that involve dangerous undocumented criminals; however, the transfer will no longer occur inside the jail but rather in a secure area outside the jail. The COC may consider a motion next month calling on the Sheriff not to turn any jail inmate over to ICE without a warrant.
MIRA LOMA WOMEN’S DETENTION CENTER PROJECT (MLWDC)
Before the COC could delve into the recent dramatic decision by the Board of Supervisors last month to reconsider the project, the Sheriff told the COC that the proposed 1,600-bed facility in Lancaster to house medium- to low-security female inmates was “dead.” It appears that the $8 million spent on the proposed $215 million MLWDC renovation will be lost, but there is also the possible loss of $100 million in AB 900 grant funds to develop the vacated (2012) detention facility. Later in the meeting, the COC voted unanimously to urge the Board of Supervisors to reject the proposed MLWDC and issued a media release that said in part: “While acknowledging the potential loss of $100 million in state grant funding, Commission members saw the sacrifice of the funds as warranted given the County’s current commitment to diversion, education, mental health and rehabilitative programming.”
SECRET DEPUTY SOCIETIES AND CLIQUES
The COC chair addressed this issue, and the Sheriff spoke of previously known employee “hazing” that has been a systemic issue for years. The Sheriff told the chair that any “hazing” will no longer be tolerated, as evidenced by the recent transfer of a station captain.
BODY-WORN CAMERAS (BWCS)
The Sheriff briefly spoke about his plan to improve Department transparency and improve trust in the communities served by the Department by initiating and implementing the use of BWCs at five patrol stations that are already prewired for this. This will take place before the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2019), and PPOA has already been asked to meet and confer with the Department regarding the issue of BWCs. More detailed information about this proposed issue will be forthcoming.
TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION (TRC)
The main new issue discussed between the commissioners and the Sheriff was his newly proposed TRC, which will review past employee termination cases that may have been the result of unfair treatment by the Department. The Sheriff does have the authority by County charter to reverse past disciplinary decisions within the Sheriff’s Department, and it was very encouraging to learn that the Sheriff will not be appealing Civil Service Commission hearing decisions that reinstate terminated Department employees. Additionally, the Sheriff told the COC that his Department is thoroughly reviewing all employees who have been relieved of duty and is returning employees who never should have been placed on leave back to work. Some of the commissioners specifically questioned the Sheriff regarding a media report of the reinstatement of a deputy who was previously discharged for allegations of domestic abuse and stalking, while other commissioners requested that the Sheriff consult the COC so they can review the protocols of the TRC before another Department employee is reinstated. The Sheriff committed to hiring two attorneys for the TRC and will advise the COC on the progress of the TRC. It appears the TRC will primarily examine termination cases first, and there will be a time period established for how far back the termination reviews will go. PPOA will continue to monitor the development of the proposed TRC.
There will be many more issues that pop up as the new Sheriff begins his vision and plans for the Department, but don’t forget that PPOA’s 2019 state agenda in Sacramento will be equally as interesting, with the new governor and Democratic lawmakers holding a super-majority in the State Assembly and Senate. Team PPOA will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of our membership to positively and productively address local, state and national issues that promote our professional interests as well as the law enforcement community.