Crime & Justice

Sheriff's candidates, current brass disagree over civilian oversight

Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell greets supporters at his election gathering at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.
Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell greets supporters at his election gathering at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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With the L.A. Board of Supervisors poised to debate creating a civilian oversight commission later this month, sheriff's candidate Jim McDonnell weighed into the debate.

"You look at what a panel could potentially bring, you look at LAPD and departments around the country," McDonnell, the current Long Beach Police Chief said Friday. "It does truly hold the department and department leadership more accountable for what's done, not only in the big sense of long term but also on a day-to-day basis."

McDonnell's endorsement of civilian oversight contrasts with the views of Inspector General Max Huntsman and Interim Sheriff John Scott. Both men have said the board should wait on forming a new oversight body until after the Office of the Inspector General--which isn't even fully staffed yet--takes shape. 

Sheriff's candidate and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who faces McDonnell in the November runoff election, agreed with Huntsman and Scott.

"I'm not opposed to a civilian oversight commission," Tanaka said in an email. "However, the County recently appointed an Inspector General who will serve in the oversight role, and appointing another oversight body at this time could result in duplicative efforts, counter-productive competition and confusion."

But McDonnell said forming the two different bodies "in silos," at completely different times, wouldn't allow the two to mesh and work together as they should.

Activist Patrisse Cullors, who's provided the primary push for a civilian oversight body, said McDonnell's stance will sit well with L.A. residents with an interest in reforming the sheriff's department.

"I think it was a courageous move," by McDonnell, Cullors said. "Chief McDonnell saying the community voice is a critical voice in this process, I think it shows his dedication to wanting to change this department."

What sway McDonnell's voice will have on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, who are scheduled to discuss a proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for an oversight commission July 22, is unclear.

While Ridley-Thomas and Molina have previously expressed their support, the other three supervisors--who all have endorsed McDonnell for sheriff--have previously opposed a civilian oversight board.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the likely swing vote on the issue, has repeatedly said a civilian oversight board makes little sense, considering it would lack formal authority over an elected sheriff. LAPD's Police Commission, by contrast, legally has access to internal documents and disciplinary reports that the sheriff's department generally keeps private. 

McDonnell said he hasn't spoken with members of the board directly on the topic, though his views are known. 

He was also not ready to commit to releasing internal documents to the Inspector General or a potential civilian oversight board. 

"There's a lot of details to be worked out, I think we start from the idea of transparency, and then we get a legal analysis of legally what can we share," McDonnell said.