In December, the Board of Supervisors voted to create an Civilian Oversight Commission for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The Board created a “Working Group” to report back on recommendations for the oversight commission’s mission, authority, size and structure. It includes representatives from all five supervisors, the Sheriff’s Department and the recently-created Office of Inspector General, which currently oversees the department.
Since then, the Working Group has been meeting regularly and began a series of public forums to get feedback from the community.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s appointee, Dean Hansell, serves as Chair of the Working Group. He recently sat down with us to talk about the Working Group, give an update on progress made so far and the road ahead in creating an effective Civilian Oversight Commission.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
Professionally, I’m an attorney and a partner at Hogan Lovells, an international law firm, where I specialize in complex litigation. I was also a Police Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles for over four years. I have served in other civic activities as an LA Fire and Police Pension Commissioner and Information Technology Commissioner for the City. Today, I serve on the boards of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Police Foundation and Los Angeles Community College Foundation.
What interested you in the Working Group tasked with defining the role of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission?
Because of my time serving as a Los Angeles Police Commissioner, I understand the value of effective civilian oversight in law enforcement. This is a unique opportunity to participate in shaping what the Civilian Oversight Commission will look like.
Who else is in the Working Group with you?
There are seven members. Each County Supervisor appointed a member, and there is also a Sheriff’s Department appointee and the Inspector General. This is diverse group of individuals, and many of us have some law enforcement background. We have really tried to function together and, so far, almost all of our decisions have been unanimous.
What insight and perspective does the Sheriff’s Department appointee bring to the table?
The Sheriff, of course, has an important perspective we want to hear from. The individual appointed by the Sheriff (Neal Tyler) has a very constructive approach. He is the Executive Officer for the Department, and is in close contact with Sheriff McDonnell, who is committed to making this work as we move along in the process.
How do legal limitations on what the Oversight Commission will be able to affect your work?
We start with two premises: the Sheriff is independently elected and the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights limits who has access to personnel files. We are designing an Oversight Commission that is robust, effective, and is structured so that it does not interfere with the Sheriffs’ Department’s investigative functions.
What role do you think the Working Group sees the Oversight Commission playing?
The Working Group identified eight responsibilities that we envision for the Oversight Commission. They include systematically reviewing all of the recommendations that have been made about the Sheriff’s Department by various panels and appointees. If they have not been implemented already, should they be? If they have been implemented, have they been effectively implemented?
The Commission could also function as a liaison between the Sheriff’s Department and members of the community by analyzing and commenting upon LASD policies and procedures, soliciting feedback from the community, and making recommendations to the LASD snd to the Board of Supervisors. Upon request, the Oversight Commission can serve as a monitor on litigation or as a mediator to help resolve on-going disputes between the LASD and the community. The Commission will also be able to analyze and provide input on systemic LASD-related issues or complaints.
Is there a consensus among the Working Group members at this point on the size of the Commission and how members would be selected?
We seem to be hovering around having nine commissioners. We favor each Supervisor selecting an appointee. For the selection of the other four commissioners, we are looking at four to five different models.
What have been the biggest challenges for the Working Group so far?
We have worked hard to unite around a common approach. That is not to say all our votes are unanimous, as we all come from different places and have different viewpoints. As we discussed, we have some legal constraints – there are legal limits on what the Board of Supervisors or the Oversight Commission can do – but we do have a Sheriff who has shown a willingness to actively participate, which is helpful.
There are also privacy issues, such as how the Commission might access data that may be obtained from personnel files, and that’s something we are working on with the Department.
Over the years, a variety of recommendations have been made concerning the LASD. Many have been implemented, many have not. How is the Working Group learning from past successes and challenges?
One of the biggest advantages that we have going for us is that the Oversight Commission will be a permanent body. Past recommendations have been made on the whole by stakeholders and organizations that were temporary or only functioned infrequently. The Commission will be an ongoing permanent group, one that hopefully will have the strong support of the Board of Supervisors, the public, and the Sheriff. The citizens of LA County have a great interest in the design, composition, and work of this Commission. At every Working Group meeting, we have had 50-100 people attend and actively participate in the conversations.
Who are some of the people coming in to the meetings to participate?
We have had feedback from many different organizations and advocates. Some of the participants are from CLUE, which is a Black/Jewish alliance that has sent rabbis, pastors and others from the faith community to present comments. Dignity and Power Now and the Youth Justice Coalition have both had considerable delegations of community members come and testify. The ACLU has had a representative at each meeting. The input of these diverse groups has been valuable, and has influenced both our deliberations and our outcomes.
Where do you see the Oversight Commission in ten years?
I hope that the Commission will be a highly effective organization working on public oversight that is trusted by both the residents and stakeholders in the County, as well as the Sheriffs’ Department. We hope it will fulfill the robust vision we have for the Commission, with a strong credible voice for the community when there are concerns and recommendations for improvement. And finally, we hope the Commission will be an effective liaison between the community and the Sheriff’s Department that will help effectively convey the concerns and issues the community has to the Department, and provide timely and suitable responses back to the community.