APP 2013 Honors: Restoring Public Confidence: Recommendations for Improving Oversight of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
By: David Cho, Brandon Dowling, Erica Quintana
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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, one of the largest policing agencies in the nation, has been the subject of media and public criticism for decades. Despite numerous attempts at reform over the past twenty years, the Department continues to exhibit numerous problems, ranging from excessive use of force to personnel corruption. In 2011, the Board of Supervisors formed the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence in hopes of creating a better Sheriff’s Department. In its report, the Commission called for the creation of an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) – an agency that would attempt to remedy the deficiencies present in the Sheriff’s three current oversight entities.
Special Counsel, the Office of Ombudsman, and the Office of Independent Review handle current Sheriff’s Department audits, complaints, and investigations, respectively. They operate largely independent of one another and lack the coordination necessary for effective oversight. Thus, our analysis offered a design for a consolidated Office of the Inspector General.
We relied on expert interviews, comparisons of other oversight bodies, internal LA County documents, financial review of County and external budget documents, and previous findings and literature for the majority of our data and information.
We used these data to identify a combination of common elements and functions shared by oversight bodies: agency independence, investigative authority allowing for initiation of case investigations and policy audits, jail monitoring, reviewing of complaints, quality assurance/risk management, and communication & public engagement.
Identifying these key elements allowed us to analyze the design of an OIG by considering the presence or absence of these elements. This discussion led us to consider three policy options for potential OIG models:
An Expert-Informed model that was constructed by the common views and opinions of industry experts on what elements and functions constitute an “ideal” OIG.
A Client-Preference model that captures the County’s current preferences and its preliminary ideas of the structure and function of the OIG.
And a Hybrid model, which we propose that seeks to moderate the extremes of the previous two models.
In evaluating these options, we considered the degree of oversight provided, political feasibility, and ease of implementation. Based on our analysis, we provided two recommendations for the design of an LA County Office of the Inspector General:
Short-term Recommendation: Due to the difficulties associated with pursuing statutory authority1 at the current time and because of the deficiencies in oversight present in the client’s current preferences, we recommend that LA County pursue the Hybrid model. This model provides a fairly high level of oversight (even with the lack of statutory authority) and faces no significant barriers to implementation.
Long-term Recommendation: The County should adopt the Expert-Informed model by pursuing an amendment to the California Constitution in order to establish an OIG that has statutory authority and can compel the Sheriff to action.
In addition, we evaluated the funding and staffing needs for the Hybrid model based on the assumption that the County must at least maintain the current staffing levels for the current three oversight bodies. At a minimum, the OIG will need to be staffed by twenty-five individuals led by an Inspector General. Their combined salaries, pension, and benefits, would cost the County approximately $3.5 million per year. Approximately another $1.1 million would be needed for annual operation costs for a total OIG budget of approximately $4.8 million per year.
Los Angeles County has a unique opportunity to improve oversight of the Sheriff’s Department. Various County stakeholders need to ensure that the Office of the Inspector General takes a leading role in this task. By identifying, correcting, and preventing issues, the OIG will begin to restore public trust in the Sheriff’s Department.