After criticism, civilian oversight panel calls for improved transparency by the L.A. sheriff

After criticism, civilian oversight panel calls for improved transparency by the L.A. sheriff
Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission are sworn in earlier this year. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Renewing a call for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to be more open about use of force, deputy discipline, complaints and other information, the agency’s civilian oversight commission adopted a formal resolution Thursday to push the department to post the data — which could include video of incidents — on the department’s website and report on its progress in 60 days.

The resolution came a month after the agency's primary watchdog accused the department of dragging its feet in carrying out recommendations made more than two years ago intended to make the department more transparent. Inspector Gen. Max Huntsman told the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission last month that he felt he was "getting slow-walked" by department officials who'd failed to post data on how many deputies were being punished and how many people were logging complaints against deputies, among other types of information.


The resolution, approved by all nine members of the commission, signaled a swift reaction by the 5-month-old body, whose members are still figuring out how to operate, which issues to focus on and how often to meet. Another resolution adopted in March to support Sheriff Jim McDonnell's effort to notify prosecutors about problem deputies passed 5 to 2, with two members absent.

The new action recommends that the Sheriff's Department publish on a quarterly basis information on the number of deputies and custody assistants being disciplined, the severity of their punishment, and the type of misconduct the employees are accused of. The commission wants to see a narrative of all shootings by deputies and whether the officers were disciplined in each event.

A statement sent in an e-mail by a department spokesman said McDonnell and his organization "are completely open to the Commission's recommendations and look forward to reporting back in 60 days with the progress already made and the options available to the department to expand the public data sharing project."

The resolution also advises the department to post numbers on all serious uses of force, including head strikes with weapons, sheriff's dog bites and force resulting in broken bones. It asks for the number of civilian complaints and their results, along with data on inmate deaths, the daily inmate population and crime. In all cases — not including identifying information — the commissioners want the public to be able to know the age, race, gender and mental health status of those involved.

"One of the reasons we were established was to help increase the level of transparency and accountability which we think should be part of what the sheriff is doing," said Brian Williams, the commission's executive director. "This resolution, we believe, goes a long way or at least takes a giant leap toward that."

After Huntsman's initial report on public data sharing in late 2014, the department began posting on its website some data about shootings by deputies, but Huntsman said the agency should go further.

Also Thursday, after Michele Ynfante of the advocacy group Dignity and Power Now said in a presentation that the department did not have a prominent link on its website to post a complaint, the department appeared to add a button on its site for "Commendations/Complaints" and signaled the update in a tweet just after the meeting.

The commission, which was created by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, has no direct authority to require the Sheriff's Department to take any actions. The body makes recommendations and hosts public hearings where anyone can speak about issues related to the department. Sheriff's officials are regularly asked to make presentations at the meetings and answer questions.

Twitter: @mayalau


6:45 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

This article was originally published at 5:35 p.m.