The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s 2010 hiring of dozens of officers with histories of serious misconduct should be one of the first things the agency’s incoming inspector general examines, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Monday.
“I’m very, very bothered by what happened,” he said. “Sometimes people slip through the cracks, but this seems to be a disproportionately high number who slipped through the cracks.”
The Times reported over the weekend that the agency hired dozens of officers even though background investigators found they had committed serious misconduct on or off duty.
Internal sheriff’s files showed that the department accepted officers who had accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work and solicited prostitutes. Investigators discovered evidence of dishonesty for nearly 100 of the roughly 280 people given jobs during the mass hire. Twenty-nine of those given jobs had previously had been fired or pressured to resign from other law enforcement agencies over concerns about misconduct or workplace performance problems.
One was fired from another agency amid allegations of using excessive force on inmates, but Sheriff Lee Baca’s agency hired him to work the jails. Another disclosed that she used her service weapon to shoot at her husband as he ran from her. About 50 admitted to sheriff’s background investigators misdeeds such as petty theft, soliciting prostitutes and violence against spouses.
“I think the Sheriff’s Department needs to take a look at each and every one of these hires to see what remedies they have,” Yaroslavsky said, “and they need to do it immediately.”
Yaroslavsky declined to elaborate on what “remedies” were possible.
He said he would meet with Max Huntsman, who is expected to start soon as the Sheriff Department’s new inspector general, and ask him to look at the 2010 mass hire and the sheriff’s hiring in general.
“This should be one of the first things he looks at,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is a very frustrating situation. There’s a rigorous vetting process that goes with hiring any law enforcement employees, and corners should not be cut.… The sheriff needs to be sure this kind of situation does not reoccur.”
In an interview earlier Monday, Huntsman said he was particularly troubled by the finding that dozens of officers who had showed evidence of dishonesty were hired. Investigators noted that some of the new hires had made untrue statements or falsified police records.
“The hiring of people who have not been honest is a dangerous thing to do,” said Huntsman, who is expected to start work as the agency’s inspector general early next year. “Dishonesty is a particularly dangerous area. A use of force can be placed in context ... it may or may not reoccur. But dishonesty, that’s always going to be a problem.”
Huntsman said he’s still figuring out how his office will be organized and has not yet come up with specific areas he wants to examine. But he said that he found the 2010 mass hire important and that if the supervisors want him to examine it, he will.
“At a minimum we would ask questions, gather information and hopefully make suggestions on how to avoid this in the future. Even though I think some of those suggestions are pretty obvious: Don’t do this,” he said. “Hopefully, if we would have existed at the time, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Another county supervisor, Michael D. Antonovich, said in a statement that the Board of Supervisors “was assured that full background investigations would be conducted and only those qualified would be hired by the Sheriff’s Department.”
“Those who breached that process should be held accountable,” he said.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Monday that the department was continuing its review of the 2010 mass hire.
One expert said he was surprised to see the Sheriff’s Department made some of the hires.
“I’m incredulous when I see these hires,” said Roger Goldman, a law professor at Saint Louis University who specializes in state licensing of police. “Either they were willfully blind or they actually knew what was going on.”
Nearly 30,000 police officers nationwide have been decertified in the last 40 years -- many of those for dishonesty, sexual misconduct and domestic abuse, Goldman said.
California is one of half a dozen states that doesn’t have the authority at the state level to decertify an officer for bad behavior. In some states, the types of misconduct detailed in The Times’ story would have prevented those officers from being hired in the first place, Goldman said. That’s because previous law enforcement agencies would be obligated to report misconduct to the certifying state agency, which makes the ultimate decision to revoke officer licenses.