The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to look into whether the county’s own lawyers and inspector general could manage the release of records on deputy misconduct, shootings and use of excessive force — rather than continuing to rely on the Sheriff’s Department.
Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Hilda Solis recommended that attorneys draft a set of best practices for full compliance with Public Records Act requests and Senate Bill 1421, which calls for the release of law enforcement records once held confidential.
The co-authors recommended that an ordinance be drafted requiring the publication of such records online in a searchable format within 30 days and would also mandate publishing the names of deputies involved in shootings within 48 hours of the incident.
“There have been significant issues with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s compliance,” their motion stated. “According to a report by the Office of Inspector General, as of January 2020, over 70% of the PRA requests under SB 1421 were still pending over 180 days after they were received. As of July 2020, the OIG reports that LASD had over 2,700 overdue requests.” [Read the motion here.]
The board unanimously approved the motion without discussion by the supervisors.
For its part, the LASD says it asked the board for funding to deal with the requests, to no avail, and has responded to 75% of 2,848 requests received since November 2019, citing numbers as of June 2020. Detractors say that response rate includes any written correspondence, including confirmation of receipt, rather than a complete response. Multiple lawsuits have been filed alleging noncompliance, which could cost the county.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he agreed with the plan and would be happy to have some help — except that he doesn’t think the inspector general should be involved.
“We agree entirely, and actually we appreciate the fact that you’re volunteering to assist us with compliance with the new version of SB 1421,” the sheriff said. “Our only reservation is the fact that the inspector general cannot be part of the process, because once he is part of the process, well, then he can no longer be a monitor or … evaluate what he is doing because … you can’t evaluate yourself.”
Some advocates seized on that quote to underscore longstanding arguments that the Sheriff’s Department cannot effectively investigate itself. Others accused the department of deliberately withholding information required to be made public and making excuses that don’t hold up.
“The LASD does have a lot of records to disclose. But they have a lot of records because they kill a lot of people,” said Melanie Ochoa, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, also a member of the Check the Sheriff coalition.
“Their deputies inflict a lot of serious bodily injury,” she said. “There are a lot of cases of LASD deputies caught lying or committing sexual assault. The fact that there are a lot of records is an argument for more transparency, not less.”