Momentum is building for the creation of a citizens commission to oversee the
What's less clear is what such a panel would do, and whether it has any chance of fulfilling the expectations of some of its most ardent supporters.
Conceptually, a citizens commission to oversee law enforcement is an easy sell in Los Angeles. At the
The Sheriff's Department is different. Unlike the LAPD chief, the sheriff is an elected official and cannot be removed by any panel, nor is he bound by term limits. The result is a murky system of accountability that has frustrated efforts to improve the department for generations. The sheriff is directly accountable to the voters, but he has rarely faced a challenge, so he's pretty much been able to do as he pleases.
Advocates of the citizens commission want to change that. As one flier urging support for the commission states: "We have the right to establish and maintain an independent process to monitor, investigate, discipline and to refer as needed for prosecution the conduct of deputies."
Here's the trouble: This commission, even if approved by the board, won't have that kind of authority. It won't be able to discipline deputies, it won't be able to refer them for prosecution, and it may have trouble monitoring them. State law gives those responsibilities to the elected sheriff, and even a sheriff who uses that power poorly can't be disciplined or removed by anyone but the voters.
The question, then, is whether a citizens commission could exercise sufficient informal authority that it would be an agent of reform even without the power that the Police Commission has. Ridley-Thomas believes it can.
"In government, there is nothing more powerful than sunshine," the supervisor told me last week. "We are past due for this."
Miriam Krinsky, who served as executive director of the influential Los Angeles County Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, agrees. The jail commission's recommendations have helped propel a new urgency for reform of the department, and, as she noted to me last week, that commission had no formal legal authority — it merely highlighted problems and helped generate support for solving them. Moreover, she and other supporters of the oversight commission argue that the county's newly created inspector general should report to the commission rather than the board, a move that would give the new panel an investigative arm.
All of which brings the matter back to politics. The board is split: Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor
That leaves Supervisor