Subpoena power of oversight commission sparks discussion


By Jacqueline Fernandez

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — The issue of whether the Civilian Oversight Commission should have subpoena power in its role as watchdog of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was argued Sept. 26 during a hearing conducted by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

Chief Warren Asmus of the Sherriff’s Department, voiced his support of Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s opposition to giving subpoena power to the commission at a public hearing designed for law enforcement leaders, policing experts and community.

Michele Infante, campaign leader of Dignity and Power Now Coalition to End Sheriff Violence, brought up the importance of the Civilian Oversight Commission.

“The community feels they can’t trust the [sheriff’s] department (LASD). They want accountability and transparency,” Infante said.

Asmus defended his department and his boss.

“He’s not resisting it,” Asmus said. “We just don’t see that it’s needed.”

As heads in the audience began to shake many vocalized their disdain for Asmus’ reply.

“Why not do it if it would help community trust?” Human relations Commissioner Isabelle Gunning asked Asmus.

Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called for further study of a proposed ballot measure that would give subpoena power to the Civilian Oversight Commission, which the board established in 2016.

On Sept. 7, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office officially qualified the Reform L.A. ballot measure as having received enough voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

The Reform L.A. Coalition submitted more than 246,000 signatures to the Registrar-Recorder’s Office. It also turned in 9,248 new voter registrations. The threshold for a county initiative is 146,333 valid signatures.

The Civilian Oversight Commission oversees the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, much like the Los Angeles Police Commission watches over the Los Angeles Police Department.

Most recently, the commission voted to approve the recommendations of the Family Assistance and Communication Ad Hoc Committee. They reviewed communication between the Sheriff’s Department and family members following the death of an individual as a result of a fatal use of force while in the department’s custody.

A few of those recommendations are to hold continuous trauma-informed training for all department personnel and to establish an entity that is capable of providing ongoing support, resources and communication to families of the deceased.

“Every time I go to the facilities, I hear something bad about the sheriffs and [inmates] don’t know where to go,” Infante said.

Senate Bill 1421 was also brought up during the community oversight conversation. It allows the public to view investigations of officer shootings and records related to law enforcement use of force, on-the-job sexual assault and other misconduct.

“What I’m trying to say is we do want to be as transparent as possible, especially with this new law,” Asmus said.

A few days later on Sept. 30, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill, bringing in a new era of transparency in the state’s law enforcement.

Other issues covered were police use of force, family assistance and communication, community policing, perception of homelessness, ending anti-trans violence and immigration enforcement.

Sheriff McDonnell and LAPD Chief Michael Moore left the hearing early, citing they had to go back to work on other important matters, which didn’t help the mood of those attending the hearing.

During the discussion of ending anti-trans violence, Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the Translatin@ Coalition, started off her statement visibly upset.

“I want to express my disappointment they left,” she said. “I believe if the commissioners are making time, [McDonnell and Moore] can make time, too.”

However, when the officers were there they did make a few remarks concerning the current state of local law enforcement.

“Policing has never been more complex than it is today,” McDonnell said. “We’re very lean compared to the rest of the nation. … We don’t have the personnel.”

Moore agreed that it’s been one of the worst times in what people have done to one another, but he is optimistic about the future.

“I’m proud of this moment here and matters of policing in L.A. have evolved,” he said. “We need to police with compassion.”

Around 50 people showed up to listen and voice their concerns during the public comment portion of the three and a half hour session. The hearing went longer than expected and only 10 minutes were left for comment.

During that short time, the majority of the public revealed their personal interactions with law enforcement.

A few teens expressed their discomfort with law enforcement saying they “don’t trust them.”

The results of these hearings will be published through a policy report and a publicly accessible database, which can be used by community partners to strengthen local public safety systems.

 

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