LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a number of proposals related to criminal justice reforms and police protests, including support for a statewide ban on carotid artery restraints and a call for new regulations to ensure that law enforcement officers don’t jeopardize protesters’ health.
However, the board delayed a vote on a motion aimed at reforming use-of-force policies countywide.
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas filed the motion in support of “8 Can’t Wait” use-of-force policies recommended by the advocacy group Campaign Zero. The motion called on Sheriff Alex Villanueva and all of the police departments across Los Angeles County to adopt the restrictions, which include limiting the use of chokeholds and requiring a warning before shooting. [View the motion here.]
Reaction to the policies has been mixed. Supporters include influential celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Ariana Grande, but some civil rights advocates say the policies don’t work.
Dignity & Power Now — part of a coalition of civil rights groups that succeeded in convincing the board not to proceed with plans for a women’s jail in Lancaster and a massive mental health jail downtown — said the policies don’t go far enough.
“We are way past the moment where these demands are acceptable,” Dignity & Power Now said in a statement issued last week, characterizing “8 Can’t Wait” as “failed reform points” that would amount to a “betrayal” by the county.
The nonprofit group instead supports recommendations laid out by a task force the board established to identify alternatives to incarceration. Dignity & Power Now is also calling, like many advocacy groups, for elected officials to shift funding from law enforcement to community resources and programs, putting forth “The People’s Budget LA” as a template.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva, often at odds with the board, declared his support for the “8 Can’t Wait” policies in a tweet Monday, posting that “@LASDHQ has been at the forefront of Use of Force training. Campaign Zero echoes the #LASD use of force principles and we encourage all law enforcement to mirror our 21st Century use of force policies.”
Campaign Zero, which is led by Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe and policy advocate Brittany N. Packnett Cunningham, offers data showing that police killings have dropped in cities that have embraced the policies. However, some analysts question whether factors other than the policies contributed to those decreases.
Ridley-Thomas asked that the matter be postponed for two weeks, but many members of the public still turned out to offer their support.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance — who co-sponsored the federal Justice in Policing Act of 2020 seeking to combat police brutality — urged the board to move forward in reviewing use-of-force policies but didn’t specifically back “8 Can’t Wait.”
“The American people want action,” Lieu said. “L.A. County can take action right now.”
Ridley-Thomas and Hahn both made comments indicating that they may be ready to go further.
“A lot of eyes have been focused on the city of L.A. and The People’s Budget, but I know that focus is also going to fall on us here in Los Angeles County, and I can’t speak for all of my colleagues, but I’m pretty sure that we’re ready to have that conversation,” Hahn said.
“I’ve heard from some activists some concerns that this is not enough and I agree. These reforms can’t be the end, they have to be the beginning,” she said. “We do need to invest monies in our communities and our neighborhoods, but we cannot hold law enforcement officers accountable if their own department rules book lets them off the hook.”
Ridley-Thomas didn’t reference the motion directly, but his comments at the end of the meeting, during a recounting of George Floyd’s life and the nation’s response to Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, offered clues to his current thinking.
“You know the name of George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota, but before then Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio; Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California. Might I add Ryan Twyman in Willowbrook, the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. I think all of you know I could go on and on listing these names,” Ridley-Thomas said.
“Such lawless acts of state violence should never be normalized nor should discrimination or racial profiling of any kind be tolerated … people of every hue are angry and in pain,” he said. “I believe this moment has highly and rightly provoked a conversation around how we invest in community well-being and simultaneously reduce the harm caused by the agencies that are sworn to protect and serve us … how we expand alternatives to law enforcement, how we shift our approach to public safety.”
Separately, Hahn asked her colleagues to lend their support to AB 1196, sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, that is in the process of being amended to propose making it illegal for police to use chokeholds and carotid artery restraints. The board’s vote in support was unanimous.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl asked for new safety regulations for law enforcement related to the coronavirus, saying police and sheriff’s deputies have failed to consistently follow health mandates and have put protesters at risk.
Public health officials have repeatedly warned of concerns that large protests may lead to a surge in coronavirus cases. Those warnings come at a time when the rate of person-to-person transmission has increased slightly in Los Angeles County, where nearly 65,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday.
While a majority of the protesters participating in peaceful demonstrations appear to be wearing masks or face coverings, many are walking in crowds of thousands of people — an estimated 20,000 gathered in Hollywood on Sunday — at the same time that a public health order prohibits much smaller gatherings, limiting church services to 100 people, for example.
The majority of protesters arrested were cited for curfew violations, arrests that civil rights organizations say are in violation of First Amendment principles and therefore, illegal. District Attorney Jackie Lacey and City Attorney Mike Feuer have said they won’t prosecute such cases, but they have not yet agreed to dismiss them outright, as some groups demand.
Kuehl called out unsafe law enforcement tactics, including crowding protesters into small areas and failing to wear personal protective gear.
“There was no real attention paid to all of the things that we have been trying to drum into people’s heads — social distancing, masks, etcetera. Many of the police officers were not wearing masks,” Kuehl said, telling colleagues that the guidance should “remind them that … in protecting people, they also need to protect the people that they take into their custody.”
The board directed public health authorities to work with the sheriff’s department and other local law enforcement agencies, as well as health officers in Pasadena and Long Beach, to issue protocols within 48 hours of Tuesday’s meeting. The motion suggests those orders should cover the use of tear gas, which some worry will spread COVID-19 by forcing those within range to cough.
The board also voted unanimously to approve plans to continue to reduce the number of youth in juvenile halls and camps and to find ways to keep the jail population low, rather than allowing numbers to build again once stay-at-home orders are eased. More than 5,000 inmates, many awaiting trial, have been released from county jails in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID- 19.
Los Angeles County jails have long been crowded past the limit dictated by the state, but a series of sheriffs have insisted that nothing could be done to bring those numbers down, multiple board members recalled.
“This has basically proven what many people have said for a long time: there are thousands of people in jail who do not need to be there,” Hahn said. “This pandemic has been devastating in many ways, but it has also revealed that many bold ideas that we were told were impossible are actually very possible … no adult should be in jail when they can safely served in their community, and no child should be in detention who does not need to be.”
The population in juvenile halls has dropped by nearly 200 and now roughly 355 minors remain in custody, while the number in juvenile camps is down nearly a third to about 200 young people, according to Supervisor Hilda Solis.
“These reductions must prompt us to reflect and ask: Should these children have been detailed in the first place? And, how many more can we safely release?” Solis said.
A report on solutions for youth is expected back in 30 days and another on ways to maintain a lower jail population was called for within 60 days.