LA Sheriff Department needs multiple layers of oversight, critics say

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The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors is evaluating calls for a civilian oversight committee and an inspector general to oversee the county's Sheriff Department, which is under investigation by the Justice Department and the FBI for inmate abuse. 

On Nov. 12, 2013, the five-member board of L.A. Supervisors privately interviewed four candidates for an inspector general position. It is still unknown when the inspector general will be elected.

The Coalition to End Sheriff's Violence says the department is in serious need of a culture change and that can only come from an independent civilian oversight committee to scrutinize how deputies treat inmates. The committee would also provide a new layer of transparency and honesty by informing the public about any issues the department deals with.

"Everybody knows that if you don’t behave in the ways that deputies want you to behave you will be beaten and that was pulled out during the commission of sheriff violence in their year long investigation," said Patrisse Cullors, the founder of the coalition.

Cullors' says her 19-year-old brother was a victim of Sheriff violence while he was incarcerated last year.

Fighting to right her brother's abuse was a frustrating and painful process, and Cullors says having a group of county residents to hold the department accountable could make a big change, since other families have had similar experiences.

"In the last year we have worked with about 10-15 families be it the person themselves or often times it is someone who is currently incarcerated and it is their loved ones who come to us for support to figure out next step would be in terms of getting some justice," said Cullors.

Last year, the L.A. Times reported that a blue-ribbon county commission concluded that Baca and his top assistants had fostered a culture in which deputies were permitted to beat and humiliate inmates, cover up misconduct and form aggressive deputy cliques.

The Justice Department is also conducting separate investigations on the treatment of mentally ill inmates and allegations of excessive force.

Bob Olmsted, who has been in the department for over 33 years and is running for Sheriff against Baca, says the need for any type of independent oversight marks a serious "loss of leadership."

"An inspector general is only brought in when you have a history of problems that have not been solved," said Olmsted. "And now it shows you have issues throughout community and you have lost trust of public, board of sups and everyone else on how to do your job."

Olmsted had served as commander over a cluster of the department’s largest and most troubled jail facilities, including Men’s Central Jail, where he repeatedly saw inmate abuse. Shocked by the violence, Olmsted initiated three reports documenting the alarming use of excessive force, which he says his higher-ups ignored.

"We need to change how we bring people into department if we expect to have change," said Olmsted. "The Justice Department has been up at north county and they issued a report back in June about a ton of violations. These are issues where you need to be enjoined with the community."

L.A. Sheriff Department Senior Media Advisor Steve Whitmore says the department is open to all forms of oversight and will comply with any decision the board makes.

L.A. Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas have recommended establishing such a group, but apparently lack the additional vote needed to make it happen.

"The dual federal investigations of the Sheriff's Department confirm that a higher level of scrutiny, inquiry and public accountability is an imperative; one that the board acting alone cannot in good faith provide," read the supervisors' motion.

The motion for a civilian oversight committee has been continuously pushed back and is on the Board agenda for November 26th.

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