By ELIZABETH MARCELLINO
A lawyer monitoring efforts to reduce violence in Los Angeles County jails said today that “things are moving in the right direction,” but more money is needed.
Richard Drooyan, an attorney for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, addressed the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Lee Baca in a special meeting. Drooyan is tracking efforts to change a culture of deputy-on-inmate abuse in the jails.
In September, the commission issued a scathing rebuke of Baca and his leadership team, saying they ignored or even promoted “a persistent pattern of unreasonable force” until “the glare of adverse publicity” and a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union drew attention to the problem.
The commission made 63 recommendations for change, including clearer rules about the use of force and harsher discipline for deputies. The panel also recommended dual-track career paths for patrol and corrections deputies, as well as separate training.
One major change was hiring of an assistant sheriff responsible for the custody division.
Terri McDonald, formerly the undersecretary of operations for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is set to start work on March 18, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. McDonald will report directly to Baca.
“What we saw was a real gap in accountability between the jail facility and the sheriff. Now they’ve taken the first step,” Drooyan said. “I think things are moving in the right direction.”
Several of the people running the jails during the time frame reviewed by the commission are no longer with the department, including Daniel Cruz, formerly a captain at Men’s Central Jail, and former Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh, once responsible for overseeing the jail system.
Both Cruz and Cavanaugh retired Jan. 1.
Drooyan said the sheriff and his department have been responsive to his requests, and that all of the recommendations that do not require significant funding should be implemented in 30-60 days.
But “in many ways, the toughest ones to implement” are still under way, Drooyan told the board. They include hiring additional supervisors, finalizing enhanced penalties for excessive force and revising the investigative process.
In addition to figuring out how to pay for new personnel and systems, some of the details — like the number of jailers to be hired — are awaiting input from McDonald.
Others recommendations, such as adjusting the ratio of jailers to patrol deputies, require negotiations with the union representing deputies.
Sheriff’s deputies also are working to institute recommendations made by special monitor Merrick Bobb years ago.
One of those ideas was installing video cameras in jails.
More than 1,500 video cameras are now in place at Men’s Central Jail and the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, Baca told the board today.
“Cameras count,” Baca said.
Reported “use of force” incidents are down 57 percent in 2012 as compared to 2007 and incidents involving “significant force” are down 62 percent, Baca reported.
In 2012, there were 192 “use of force” reports. Sixty-two were reviewed, five were referred back to unit supervisors for investigation and one was referred to the Internal Affairs Bureau, according to Baca.
But that bureau is working on a significant backload, according to Drooyan, who said that documents in unresolved cases were found “filed away in desk drawers and cabinets.”
Reorganizing the IAB is one of the commission’s recommendations still in progress.
The Sheriff’s Department asked for $61 million in additional funding.
County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka is reviewing that request.
He said he did not yet have an exact number for the board, but his staff was working on making cuts to other parts of the $2.7 billion Sheriff’s Department budget to help pay for changes in the jail system.