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L.A. County supervisors to hire monitor to oversee jail reforms

The board expresses lack of confidence in the Sheriff's Department's ability to stop deputies from using excessive force on inmates.

October 16, 2012|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • L.A. County supervisors have asked Sheriff Lee Baca to attend monthly meetings and provide progress reports on reforms sought by a blue-ribbon panel.
L.A. County supervisors have asked Sheriff Lee Baca to attend monthly meetings… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Saying they lack confidence in the Sheriff's Department's ability to clean up its jails, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to hire a special monitor to oversee reforms intended to keep deputies from controlling inmates through excessive force.

"I do not believe that [reform] will be effectively accomplished if the department alone is left to make implementation happen," said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who led the move for an independent observer.

The board also called for monthly progress reports on the reforms sought by a blue-ribbon panel that it appointed last year. The panel found a pattern of inmate abuse and blamed Sheriff Lee Baca for allowing it to happen despite warnings from civilian watchdogs and inmate advocates.

Supervisors requested that Baca attend each of the meetings to "clearly communicate the status of each and every recommendation adopted by the board," according to the motion, written by Supervisors Gloria Molina and Michael D. Antonovich.

Baca, who has been criticized for being out of touch on jail operations, was in the Middle East state of Qatar last week when supervisors embraced 63 recommendations outlined by the panel, which include a major restructuring of the department's workforce and internal investigations.

The commission also found that top-to-bottom changes were needed to fix failures of leadership by Baca.

Although Baca has said he agrees with all of the panel's recommendations, on Tuesday he said he thought better training was more important than altering his command staff.

"I don't agree that structural changes would have eliminated a bad deputy doing a bad thing in the confines of a jail," Baca said. "The bigger crux of the matter is policy, training and supervision."

Baca also said he plans to hire an assistant sheriff to oversee the jails by Jan. 1 and will also implement a two-tiered system where deputies could choose to remain working in jails or move to another assignment.

Currently, all new sheriff deputies must serve in the jails after they graduate from the academy and before going on patrol, which critics say leads to an inexperienced workforce overseeing inmates.

Baca said his department has already started implementing the majority of the panel's recommendations. But he warned that some suggestions would require the department to spend more and add training employees.

"That does take some money," he said.

Baca estimated it would take nearly $69 million to implement a dozen reforms, such as adding a risk manager to each jail and increasing the number of supervisors.

Chief Executive William T Fujioka said he planned to meet with sheriff's officials and discuss their staffing requests.

jason.song@latimes.com

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