The candidates for Los Angeles County sheriff promised to continue reforms at the troubled agency and revamp civilian monitoring Thursday night at their third debate.
Most of the candidates who participated in the forum said they were in favor of doing away with the agency’s two longstanding civilian monitors, backing a proposal to have one cohesive inspector general’s office.
“If the public has lost confidence…they need to go,” said Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers.
“We need a fresh start,” said retired Commander Bob Olmsted, who oversaw the sheriff’s troubled jails and has based his campaign on the role he played in publicizing problems with inmate abuse.
Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold was the only candidate to not fully back the plan, saying the new sheriff would have to be “methodical” and weigh the proposal before committing.
The debate was hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other advocacy groups. The candidates at times seemed to be tailoring their responses for a liberal-leaning audience.
As he has frequently done, Hellmold highlighted the fact that he’s a Democrat on Thursday, saying he was frustrated with conservative policies that aggravate jail overcrowding. Hellmold, however, has been criticized by his opponents for having been a registered Republican many years ago.
At another point, the candidates were asked if they would hire people who had previously been incarcerated, under the rationale that they would better be able to empathize with the inmates under the department’s watch.
Rogers, who has been leading the department’s efforts to stop hiring problem candidates, took a softer tone.
“I do believe in second chances,” Rogers said. He acknowledged that some criminal convictions are supposed to automatically disqualify applicants, but said that not all arrests or incarcerations should be career-ending.
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said “we need to select the very best candidates we can,” but suggested that people who had been previously incarcerated could potentially play other roles, such as being counselors for inmates.
Olmsted said the Sheriff's Department could not continue compromising its hiring standards. He pointed to two hired applicants highlighted in a Times investigation: one who admitted a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old when he was 28, and another who admitted shooting at her husband as he ran away.
Much of the forum centered on the candidates' opinions about building new jail facilities. Los Angeles Police Det. Lou Vince again drew cheers by advocating for releasing low-risk inmates who are taking up beds before their trials because they can’t afford bail.
Two of the candidates in the race, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and retired lieutenant Pat Gomez, did not participate.
This year marks the first sheriff's election in recent memory without an incumbent on the ballot. Earlier this year, Baca, who had been sheriff for four terms and was preparing to run for a fifth, abruptly stepped down amid a string of scandals and was replaced by an interim sheriff.
In June, voters will go to the polls to decide on Baca’s permanent replacement. A runoff election is possible if no candidate gets a majority of the votes.