On behalf of the members and board of directors of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, we are concerned that the column by Merrick Bobb and H. Eric Schockman (Commentary, Nov. 17) magnifies the misconceptions and simplistic analysis displayed in the Kolts report on Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department policies and procedures.
Everyone supports the idea of reducing the county's liability costs. The real issue we face is just what kind of law enforcement and liability reform will be implemented. To justify their style of reform, Bobb and Schockman cite the $18 million in awards "to victims of excessive force."
What they don't tell us is that the majority of the excessive force cases were settled outside of court, not because the officer was at fault, but because settling outside of court is ultimately less expensive for the county than proving that no excessive force occurred. Excessive force claims against the county have increased for the same reason insurance costs have skyrocketed; because personal injury lawyers are having a field day with deep pockets like Los Angeles County.
They also neglected important perspectives about the need for real opportunities for all of Los Angeles' residents. They quote the Webster report, which identifies as a key factor in causing the Los Angeles riots ". . . the relationship between police and the people of the city."
While we would be the first to agree that more work must be done to improve the relations, we find offense in the simplistic argument that such efforts would resolve the underlying and more important issues facing many communities in Southern California. Even before the riots, ALADS initiated a mentorship and job development program to provide encouragement and opportunities for at-risk youth. This program was presented to Judge Kolts and Bobb as a model of outreach to improve understanding between law enforcement and the community that would substantially reduce the county's liability. Surprisingly, no mention of it was made in either the Kolts report or the column.
Deputy sheriffs understand that the problems of our communities are not resolvable at the level of the criminal justice system. They know because they are on the street every day. To say that implementing the recommendations of the Kolts report will create a utopia of understanding is naive. Policy-makers in Los Angeles County must learn to deal with the underlying causes rather than resorting to the cop-bashing that comes so easy to Bobb and Schockman.
SHAUN J. MATHERS, President, Assn. for L.A. Deputy Sheriffs