LANCASTER – Members of a police-monitoring team were introduced to the community Wednesday night as part of a court-enforceable agreement for wide-ranging reforms in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Lancaster and Palmdale stations.
Speaking at a town hall meeting at the Center for Spiritual Living in Lancaster, the monitoring team said it will work with both the Sheriff’s department and the community to assure compliance with the Justice Department’s mandate for fair policing throughout the Antelope Valley.
“We come from many professional backgrounds, and we see this as an opportunity to bring research, data, evaluation, policy work, technical assistance – things we do in our other projects and communities across the country to improve outcomes and to make an impact that makes a difference,” Alexander Busansky, lead monitor for the team, told a packed church of more than 200 people.
Busansky is president at Impact Justice, a national innovation and research center based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His monitoring team is comprised of about seven individuals – none of whom reside in the Antelope Valley.
Charles Hart, an attorney with the Special Litigation Section in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, said the monitoring team is a “group of outstanding individuals who were chosen by the Sheriff’s department and the Department of Justice to ensure that during the next few years, the Sheriff’s department actually implements the reforms of this agreement in a way that furthers the community’s trust in transparency that we all seek.”
According to the agreement, the LASD agrees to deliver police services that are “equitable, respectful, and bias-free, in a manner that promotes broad community engagement and confidence in the department.” [View the LASD-Antelope Valley settlement agreement here.]
Hart emphasized the role of significant community engagement, saying that both the Sheriff’s department and the Department of Justice recognize community trust and transparency as essential to policing the communities of the Antelope Valley.
“That is the underlined goal of all of the reforms in the agreement,” Hart said. “The agreement requires related training and forward-thinking approaches to policing, such as procedural justice and police legitimacy, training on implicit bias so that deputies can better understand the impact of bias on their decision making, and training that motivates officers to participate in positive non-enforcement interactions with community members to reduce the impact of implicit bias.”
Implicit bias is a key finding in the Justice Department’s findings after an investigation was launched in August 2011, just two months after the local NAACP and other civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit claiming black and Latino families using Section 8 were victims of constant, unbearable harassment at the hands of housing authority investigators, sheriff’s deputies and local politicians. [View the complaint here.]
The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division on June 28, 2013, announced the conclusion of a two-year investigation that found deputies from the Lancaster and Palmdale Sheriff’s Stations routinely targeted African-Americans and Latinos for stops, seizures and excessive force. In addition, local deputies and housing investigators purportedly intimidated and harassed African-American housing choice voucher holders, according to the DOJ findings.
Both local sheriff’s stations created their own Community Advisory Committees to strengthen a partnership between the community and law enforcement since the DOJ’s investigation began.
And following the agreement with the Justice Department, Sheriff’s officials have been making policy changes to re-establish community trust and constitutional policing, according to LASD Commander Jacques “Anthony” LaBerge, Chief of the North Patrol Division.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing the best job we can in a lawful way… We’re making those policy changes,” LaBerge told the community at Wednesday’s town hall meeting.
LaBerge said the department has already changed about a third of the requested reforms mandated in the agreement, and those policies are already being implemented.
“Several (policies) involving Section 8 enforcement practices performed prior to 2011 are no longer in place,” he said. “If we do get involved in a request by the Housing Authority to perform a Section 8 compliance check, there is a whole list of protocols that must now be met.”
In addition to reducing bias in its practices, the court-enforceable settlement agreement between the DOJ and the Sheriff’s department also requires reforms pertaining to LASD’s data collection, as well as training and accountability systems to improve the quality and effectiveness of LASD’s interactions with Antelope Valley residents.
The settlement agreement also provides for a monetary fund of $700,000 to compensate persons harmed by LASD’s alleged violation of the Fair Housing Act, and a civil penalty of $25,000 to the United States.
One of the questions asked of Sheriff’s officials and members of the monitoring team at the meeting was: What happens if local law enforcement does not comply with the agreement?
“We expect this to be a very collaborative process, and it has been so far,” Hart answered. “But if there is any dispute as to whether or not those (required) practices actually are in compliance with the agreement, then the court would be the ultimate authority.”
Busansky agreed with other speakers at Wednesday’s meeting that transparent and effective policing as outlined in the agreement ultimately rests upon active participating from the community.
“I think the words we heard tonight about community, collaboration and engagement are values that we share,” Busansky said. “Many of you have been part of this for a number of years. But for us it is the beginning, and we look forward to getting to work with you, to talk with you – whether you’re in the Sheriff’s department or in the community – to be able to learn what we can to be able to do our important work.”
To contact the monitoring team, email Aaron Juchau at email@example.com.
To contact the DOJ’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section for Section 8 and Fair Housing issues, call 1-800-896-7743 (mailbox 98) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. To reach the Special Litigation Section regarding policing issues, call 1-877-218-5228 or email them at email@example.com. Additionally, the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station can be reached at 661-948-8466, and the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station number is 661-272-2400.