At hearings across the county on how to oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, residents repeatedly called on the Board of Supervisors to create a civilian commission filled with with people representing communities victimized by sheriff's violence, with authority to compel the release of files and the ability to examine use of force cases and present their findings in public. But despite several supervisors' expressions of solidarity, the board will likely move forward on Tuesday with a plan that puts itself at the center of sheriff oversight. That's because it's been fairly clear from the beginning that the supervisors saw oversight of the sheriff as their prerogative, and the proposed commission as merely a tool to exercise it.
The debate that took place at the hearings, in the news and online rarely focused on the proper issues or even the appropriate parties. Too much emphasis was placed on peripheral questions, such as whether retired law enforcement officers should be eligible to serve on the panel, or whether formerly incarcerated people should be guaranteed slots, or if there should be formal subpoena power (although this page backs such power).
It hardly matters who serves on the commission if each member can be ousted at will by county supervisors, as is contemplated in the motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis. It makes little difference whether the commission has subpoena power if each member gets his or her marching orders from the board, and if the inspector general serves only at the board's pleasure and lacks the power to initiate his own investigations.
Rather than considering a third way — not an unaccountable tribunal, but rather a commission with a measure of independence from both sheriff meddling and board politics — the supervisors are trying to curb the sheriff's power by asserting their own.
It's not a worthless endeavor, but neither is it a clear step toward sheriff accountability that is any more meaningful than the previous oversight mechanisms the board has tried and dismantled. The county is missing a rare opportunity to create oversight relatively free of either sheriff meddling or board politics. It's an opportunity we won't likely see again any time soon.