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L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell reflects on his first year in office

L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell reflects on his first year in office
L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell speaks during an event marking his first year in the job at the Hall of Justice on Tuesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A year ago, Jim McDonnell took charge of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, promising to reform an agency that had been through a series of scandals and criminal indictments.

In a brief anniversary ceremony outside the Hall of Justice on Tuesday morning, McDonnell said the department is leaving the problems of the past behind.

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He cited federal agreements mandating changes in two major trouble spots -- mental health care in the jails and policing in the Antelope Valley.

"We're going to put that in the rearview mirror and work hard so those issues don't arise again," said McDonnell, who was a high-ranking official with the Los Angeles Police Department and then police chief of Long Beach before being elected sheriff.

Still, with federal prosecutions proceeding against former sheriff's employees, including the department's former second in command, McDonnell cannot completely escape the shadow of the previous administration.

The previous day, two former sheriff's deputies were sentenced to six- and seven-year prison terms for beating a jail visitor and attempting to cover up the crime. Their supervisor had already been sentenced to eight years.

McDonnell began his remarks on Tuesday by focusing on the everyday -- the work that the department's 18,000 employees do patrolling, investigating crimes and running the nation's largest county jail system.

"These are things that too often go unrecognized but that are part of what this organization exemplifies," he said, singling out two deputies who last week rescued an abandoned baby buried alive near a Compton riverbed.

Among the year's accomplishments were a new multi-agency human trafficking task force, a partnership with federal officials to combat crime in Compton and the certification of the department's crime lab, he said.

In the last year, the department has hired 639 new deputies, McDonnell said, in an effort to address a severe shortage of sworn personnel caused in part by the federal mandate to improve conditions in the jails.

Statistics on the shootings of civilians by deputies are now on the department's website, with information on use of force, public complaints and employee discipline to follow. The department has also appointed a chief data officer, McDonnell noted.

County officials have yet to appoint a civilian oversight board or to define how much access the department's inspector general will have to personnel records. But McDonnell said he looks forward to working with the new watchdogs.

"We truly do want to be as open as we legally can be," McDonnell said.

For more news on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, follow @cindychangLA. She can also be reached at cindy.chang@latimes.com.

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