Sheriff’s Watchdog Measure Set for March 2020 Ballot

FORCING REFORM-On Tuesday, the five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to send the Reform LA Jails initiative to California’s March 3, 2020 presidential primary ballot.

Reform LA Jails is an initiative that will mandate a study be done on alternatives to jail in an effort to reduce the jail population and give the Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power. 

The initiative is supported by a coalition of community organizations including ACLU of Southern California, Dignity and Power Now, Justice Teams Network, Californians for Safety and Justice, Real Justice, Community Coalition, White People 4 Black Lives, Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance and Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles. If approved by voters, LA County would join a handful of cities and counties that have extended subpoena power to police civilian oversight commissions to provide more transparency and accountability to the public on matters of misconduct. 

“It’s very disappointing that this Board continues to disappoint the people that voted for them,” said Reform LA Jails Coalition Chair Patrisse Cullors. “Elected officials don’t have all of the answers. They are supposed to amplify the voices of their constituents -- but this Board continues to ignore the people most impacted by the Sheriff’s Department. It’s too bad, but we will win in March 2020. We can go tit for tat on what will be effective and what won’t, but we can’t argue the fact that we are the largest jailer in the world with a Sheriff’s Department that continues to commit some of the most harmful acts against marginalized communities.” 

“While we would have been happy to see our initiative adopted by the Board of Supervisors as written today, we are confident LA County voters understand the need for alternatives to jail, reducing our jail population and giving our Civilian Oversight Commission the tools they need to investigate and expose misconduct within our Sheriff’s Department. We are sure that as they agree now with us in 2018, they’ll agree in 2020 that Reform LA Jails is smart, thoughtful criminal justice reform,” said Reform LA Jails campaign director Jasmyne Cannick. 

“The Civilian Oversight Commission needs additional authority to ensure transparency and accountability in law enforcement in LA County,” explained initiative proponent and Civilian Oversight Commission vice-chair Priscilla Ocen.​ “Subpoena power will enable us to require the Sheriff’s Department to divulge information. It will allow us to call relevant staff and personnel to provide testimony on issues of concern to the Commission and to the community. It will allow the community to ask important questions and to demand answers so that we can respond and ensure that we have an equitable system of policing in LA County.” 

The campaign will now focus its efforts on educating more voters about the ballot measure and the need to prioritize alternatives to jail to reduce the jail population and the need for subpoena power for the Civilian Oversight Commission to investigate misconduct. 

This includes the following facts: 

  • Two years after the Board of Supervisors voted to implement a Civilian Oversight Commission with the mission to improve public transparency and accountability for the Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County is still plagued with misconduct in the Sheriff’s Department including deputies trafficking drugs, deputies raping female inmates under the color of authority, deputies assigned to narcotics skimming money, the continuous widespread reports of inmates being mistreated in our jails, racial profiling and the countless “suicides” of inmates who were allegedly under the watchful eye of deputies.
  • Reform LA Jails represents a coalition of citizens, community leaders, businesses, and organizations that recognize we need a more effective strategy to reduce recidivism, prevent crime, and permanently reduce the population of people cycling in and out of jail that are experiencing mental health, drug dependency, or chronic homelessness issue. 
  • LA County has the largest population of people in jail with mental illness of any jail system in the country and urgently needs a more effective strategy to stop the cycle of crime and to save County resources. 
  • Reform LA Jails will identify needed prevention and treatment programs to stop crime cycles and will map out steps to create a new public safety approach to bring Los Angeles County into alignment with best practices to reduce crime by redirecting resources
  • Reform LA Jails is a sensible approach to develop a new public safety strategy to save County resources and to protect, restore, and strengthen our communities. 

“Voters have said that in the midst of allegation of deputies operating internally as gang members and claims of a secret gang society among the sheriff’s department’s ranks and amid ever-increasing allegations of sexual misconduct involving deputies in LA County jails–that they want answers,” added Reform LA Jails Coalition Chair Patrisse Cullors. 

“Voters told us that they want to prioritize alternatives to incarceration for the homeless, mentally ill and other vulnerable populations and they told us they want it now. The fact is that our proposal was carefully written to be a model for other cities and counties and is not intended to modify existing law or procedures regarding the confidentiality of any sheriff records. Reform LA Jails will give the Commission the authority and the direction to study ways to reduce incarceration and to recommend a feasibility plan. Any minimal costs resulting from this study will be far outweighed by the savings and public benefits received from the Commission’s report.” 

Voters are encouraged to read more about the Reform LA Jails initiative by visiting www.ReformLAJails.com

 

(Jasmyne Cannick is a nationally known writer and commentator on political, race and social issues and a contributor to CityWatch. She is a political consultant working on the LA County ballot measure to Reform LA Jails.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.