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Supervisors face Catch-22 over Sheriff's Department inspector general

Posted: October 23, 2012 6:28 p.m.
Updated: October 23, 2012 6:28 p.m.

County supervisors grappled Tuesday with the prospect of creating a civilian overseer’s position to monitor the Sheriff’s Department, but they came up against the issue of confidentiality.

In a report to the Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County Counsel John Krattli said access to records that an inspector general might need to see is restricted under certain provisions of the California Penal Code.

By and large, peace officer personnel records are considered confidential, as are investigative reports in some instances and inmates’ psychiatric or medical records, Krattli said.

An attorney who had a client relationship with the sheriff may have more complete access, Krattli said, but he would then owe confidentiality to the sheriff, his client.

But the idea of an inspector general was to shine the light of transparency on the activities of both the department and the sheriff, supervisors noted.

“We do support the creation of an inspector general in concept, but we really need that assessment so we can make an informed decision and a decision we can move forward on,” said Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. “We want opinions that are going to be based on law, not on assumption.”

The assessment Antonovich called for will outline confidentiality challenges of an inspector general or oversight commission for the Sheriff’s Department.

Krattli said that report should be ready within the next two weeks.

While the Los Angeles Police Department and many other policing agencies have civilian commission overseers, their “top cop” positions are appointed, not elected, as is the Los Angeles County sheriff’s position.

An elective position is generally accountable to the voters only.

Widespread allegations of abuse and excessive use of force by sheriff’s deputies in the jail system prompted the creation of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence in October 2011.

The commission presented its final report to the board on Oct. 9 and recommended a variety of organizational changes within the Sheriff’s Department, many of which aimed to increase the department’s accountability, transparency and oversight.

The supervisors had previously raised questions about what authority they, or an individual they appointed, would have over a publicly elected sheriff. Krattli said any oversight body, including an inspector general, would be largely an advisory position and the final decision on whether to accept or implement recommendations rests with the sheriff.

But, Krattli said, the real power of an inspector general would come from that position’s ability to increase public awareness of any issues and departmental transparency on those issues.




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