On heels of Sheriff’s Department scandal, L.A. County voters overwhelmingly back stronger oversight
After nearly a week of scandal within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, voters showed overwhelming support Tuesday for stronger civilian oversight of one of the largest local law enforcement agencies in the nation.
Early returns showed that Measure R, which would allow the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to investigate misconduct using subpoenas, appeared headed for a big win. With more than 1 million votes tallied as of Wednesday evening, the initiative had garnered more than 71% of the vote.
“Measure R is a win for the people,” said Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and the chairwoman of the Reform L.A. Jails committee, which co-wrote the initiative. “What we’re seeing is people wanting to have some form of accountability and casting their ballot to ensure that it happens.”
The measure also requires the oversight commission to develop a plan to reduce the jail population and reinvest those cost savings into mental health treatment and other community-based services.
“People can’t get well in a cell,” said Cullors, who spearheaded the campaign and helped generate community backing and support from politicians and Hollywood celebrities, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ava DuVernay and John Legend.
The election came as the Sheriff’s Department is under fire for trying to keep a lid on allegations that deputies shared graphic images from the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others — instead of following normal investigative protocols.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva acknowledged this week that he ordered deputies to delete the photos, a move that some inside the department as well as legal experts said could amount to destruction of evidence.
“It’s like, my goodness, Sheriff Villanueva, are you trying to help us get Measure R passed? That’s what it felt like,” said Jasmyne Cannick, a political consultant and activist who said she helped gather nearly 250,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
Villanueva’s controversial decisions to reinstate fired deputies and what she called his apparent unconcern over the existence of secret societies of tattooed deputies helped garner further support, Cannick said.
The commission already has the ability to direct the Office of Inspector General to issue subpoenas. In January, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted that ordinance after reports by the inspector general that the office had been stonewalled in obtaining internal records needed to monitor the agency. It went into effect Feb. 28. Measure R strengthens the commission’s hand.
“We know what the board gives, they can take away,” Cannick said. Measure R “cannot be undone, unless you put another ballot measure on.”
Villanueva has said he would go to court to block the release of confidential personnel records, ongoing criminal and administrative investigations, and confidential victim information. In a statement Wednesday, the sheriff said the department believes in transparency.
“This is exactly why I ordered all reports, video, and other information we can legally disclose without impacting active investigations to be loaded onto our website,” he said.
But in an earlier interview with KPCC 89.3, Villanueva said he opposed Measure R, calling it a “taxpayer-funded public shaming effort.”
“They think it’s some magical ‘gotcha,’ something they’re gonna extract out of it. And then that does not serve the public well at all, and it’s gonna cost a fortune in lawyer fees,” he told the public radio station after calling in as a self-described private citizen.
The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents rank-and-file deputies, had opposed the measure. Officials declined to comment Wednesday.
The strong support for Measure R shows that the public wants meaningful civilian oversight, said Sean Kennedy, a Loyola Law School professor and member of the civilian oversight panel.
In the past, the department has failed to produce drafts of policies before they are put into effect and information about its actions to address societies of deputies.
“Now that the public has given us a mandate, I hope that the sheriff’s office will just produce the documents that we request,” Kennedy said.
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