LOS ANGELES – The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday in support of recommendations by the Inspector General aimed at weeding out sub-par sheriff’s trainees before they become long-term hires.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Michael Antonovich recommended asking Sheriff Jim McDonnell to report back to the board with a plan to improve probationary supervision.
“Deputy sheriffs play a central role in the county’s justice system,” their motion stated. “To properly prepare trainees for a law enforcement career — and to identify those unsuitable for such a career — the Sheriff’s Department must provide each deputy sheriff trainee with a meaningful probation training period and performance evaluation.” [View the motion here.]
That evaluation is particularly critical as the department pushes hard to hire more deputies to fill its ranks, Solis and Antonovich said.
The Office of Inspector General, responsible for independent oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, concluded in a May report that “the department is missing a crucial opportunity to weed out low-performing and potentially problematic deputies during the one-year probationary period.”
Of 334 trainees coming out of the academy in 2014, not one was released for performance-related reasons, according to the report.
Ninety percent of evaluations reviewed by the OIG happened after the end of the one-year probation period.
During that first year, trainees can be released at will. After probation is over, new hires are protected by civil service rules that make it harder to terminate them.
The Sheriff’s Department has already agreed to probationary review of new hires in response to reforms recommended by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence and a 2014 settlement with the ACLU.
New policies were rolled out, but aren’t being followed across all units, the OIG concluded.
“None of the written evaluations reviewed by the OIG contained the basic criteria necessary for an effective assessment of performance,” the report stated, offering examples of numerous evaluations with cut and pasted text offering little specific information about individual trainees.
The OIG made four recommendations. McDonnell agreed to the first, according to board documents, which calls for developing specific performance benchmarks and better documenting evaluations.
But McDonnell objected to the OIG’s three other proposals, citing workload and staffing issues, according to the board motion. Those recommendations include assigning a training officer to every trainee throughout the year-long probationary period, letting go any probationary trainees who “consistently do not display aptitude for the position,” and requiring a commanding officer to sign off on any decisions to grant a trainee permanent employment status.
The board motion served to highlight the board’s lack of authority over the elected sheriff.
“The board wishes to partner with the sheriff in exploring the best options,” the motion stated before adding that it “would like to open a public dialogue” … and “solicit the department’s assistance.”
The board voted unanimously to ask McDonnell to report back in 60 days with a plan for specific benchmarks and documentation as well as ideas on other ways to achieve the OIG’s objectives and improve probationary supervision.
The vote was made without comment or discussion.