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 that 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.”
Bobb, who was recently appointed as a monitor for the Seattle police, said he still spends about two-thirds of his time in Los Angeles. He said the new position would not affect his ability to monitor the Sheriff’s Department because he’s always done outside work, and has a staff that helps him. He said that either he or one of his employees is in contact with the Sheriff’s Department every day.
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.
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.
Huntsman said limited resources and structural problems undermined their success.
In an interview with The Times, Huntsman said he had no plans to hire Bobb or Gennaco into his budding organization.
He said the Sheriff’s Department 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, but he said that wouldn’t stop his inquiries, the same way it wouldn’t prevent a news reporter. 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.
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