Crime & Justice

Los Angeles sheriff's deputies involved in more alcohol-related incidents

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An annual report by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review found a dramatic increase in the number of alcohol-related incidents that involves deputies.

The report found alcohol-related incidents involving sheriff’s deputies jumped 38 percent during the first five months of this year.

One case involved an off-duty woman deputy driving her son around, Michael Gennaco said. He heads the Office of Independent Review.

“The minor son actually flags down another police officer and asks that his mother be arrested because she’s drunk," he said.

Investigators found that another deputy was drunk as he evacuated people from hillside homes during the Station Fire.

Gennaco said some deputies believe they deserve what’s long been known as professional courtesy – or a pass from other cops.

“In the egregious alcohol incidents that I’m talking about, you would find three or four instances where deputies that are stopped are very, very belligerent, very intolerant of them being treated this way.”

A spokesman for L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca conceded the department's struggling to address the increase in alcohol-related incidents.

“It certainly is frustrating for everyone in the Sheriff’s Department – especially the sheriff," Steve Whitmore said.

Whitmore and Gennaco said the Sheriff’s Department is now imposing stiffer penalties for deputies involved in alcohol-related incidents.

The report by the Office of Independent Review also found a jump in jail suicides – from two in 2008 to eight last year.

“We don’t know why there was an increase," Gennaco said. He said it’s hard to draw conclusions. At any given time, L.A. County holds 18- to 20,000 inmates. So the numbers remain relatively low.

There were also eight suicides in 2006.

In some cases last year, structural issues played a role.

“Give you an example – there were two suicides in the same location in which a shower rod was used by the inmate to kill themselves," Gennaco said. The sheriff’s considering other ways to hang those curtains.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have long criticized the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jails, for failing to properly segregate mentally ill inmates or for releasing them into the general population.

Gennaco said that’s a problem. "That's a risky decision – sometimes a necessary decision because of the limited bed space.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Whitmore said the sheer volume of inmates also makes proper classification difficult.

“Its a tremendous, tremendous challenge," he said.

The good news: Gennaco said just one person has committed suicide inside L.A. County jail so far this year.