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L.A. County sheriff's monitor defends value, wants contract renewed

Law EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeLaws and LegislationLos Angeles County Sheriff's Department

One of the longtime civilian monitors for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department defended his work Wednesday and said he should have his contract with the county renewed.

Merrick Bobb's statements come a day after the new inspector general for the Sheriff's Department recommended the Board of Supervisors cut Bobb's contract, concluding that he and the agency's other monitor had limited success in helping the troubled department.

In his letter to the board, Inspector General Max Huntsman said that over the years, Bobb had provided an "invaluable" outside perspective but in recent years his "influence has waned" and he had "little direct relationship with the department."

On Wednesday, Bobb said he wanted to continue to monitor the Sheriff's Department for the county, saying he would even be open to working under Huntsman.

He said he respects Huntsman, but disagrees that his own impact has waned. He pointed out that a number of the reforms implemented after the department's inmate abuse scandal were ones he had recommended over the years.

Bobb said the fact that many of those reforms were initially ignored was not a sign of diminishing clout.

"That doesn't mean my influence has waned. That means my influence was very substantial," he said. "Those are recommendations I made. It got done and it got done in substantial part because of me and my relationship with the department."

He cited a number of past achievements, including highlighting problems with racially biased policing in the Antelope Valley before federal authorities did, and pushing the department to create a mentorship program for deputies showing signs of problem behavior.

Bobb has been with the county for more than two decades and said his last contract, which ends in June, paid roughly $167,000 for six months.

If the Board of Supervisors accepts Huntsman's recommendations, it would mark the end of relationships with Bobb and Michael Gennaco, the head of the Office of Independent Review. Gennaco declined to say whether he wants to continue working with the county.

Huntsman said limited resources and structural problems undermined their success.

He said he had no plans to hire Bobb or Gennaco into his budding organization. The Sheriff's Department, he said, would benefit from having one cohesive monitoring operation — in which staffers with various specialties share information and work together.

The creation of an inspector general's office was recommended by a blue-ribbon commission created by the county after the sheriff's jail abuse scandal.

Amid that scandal and others, Bobb and Gennaco came under scrutiny. The question was how such serious problems could have festered under their watch.

The commission's investigators found that neither of the two monitors regularly analyzed data that tracked violent encounters between deputies and inmates, or examined how the department handled inmate complaints. And when the watchdogs did uncover major problems in the jails, the investigators found, the Sheriff's Department failed to carry out some of the recommended reforms.

Huntsman's organization will be made up of more than 20 staffers and is still in the hiring phase.

The county is also still determining what kind of authority Huntsman will have. State law grants county sheriffs significant autonomy, so much of Huntsman's success will likely hinge on how much access the sheriff is willing to give him.

Huntsman will report to the Board of Supervisors, who can get rid of him at any time with a majority vote. He said most of his work will consist of audits and reports, but that under some circumstances he might launch investigations into misconduct. He would then present his findings, and the sheriff would have a final say on what kind of discipline, if any, is meted out. Huntsman said he does not expect to do any criminal probes.

Huntsman acknowledged that theoretically the sheriff could limit his access. Under the current political climate, however, in which reform is being demanded, he said he expects to get nearly unfettered access to personnel records and other sensitive documents.

Because of state police secrecy laws, however, he said much of the details from those kinds of records would be kept out of public reports.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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