Students at the UCLA School of Law released a report Monday recommending that Los Angeles County officials create a civilian oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
UCLA law students drafted the report in response to continued accusations of deputy misconduct and inmate abuse. The report was commissioned by the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails.
The students studied civilian oversight panels across the United States and used the findings to make their recommendations.
In 2013, the L.A. Sheriff’s Department was the subject of several investigations by the FBI and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division about accusations of deputy misconduct and inmate abuse in county jails.
Patrisse Cullors, the executive director of the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails, a grassroots organization advocating for civilian oversight, said the department has been facing problems for years.
“In the last few decades, the department has been haunted by issues of abuse inside jails, and numerous organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have called for more transparent oversight,” Cullors said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Office of the Inspector General in 2013 in response to concerns about a lack of independent oversight over the Sheriff’s Department. But it has not installed a civilian oversight committee as proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Currently, Inspector General Max Huntsman has the power to investigate allegations of misconduct within the department and reports directly to the Board of Supervisors.
Some groups, such as the coalition, argue that the creation of a civilian oversight board would be more effective than accountability to the supervisors alone.
“The Board of Supervisors has a broad range of responsibility. A civilian commission would be able to concentrate solely on the Sheriff’s Department,” said E. Tendayi Achiume, the UCLA Law professor who supervised the report.
Serving a watchdog function, the board would be responsible for investigative review of the department’s actions in response to complaints, allowing for an external mechanism of accountability, said Amanda Werner, one of the four student-authors of the report and a third-year law student.
The board would also review policy and monitor jails, analyzing how to improve investigative and oversight procedures and prevent abuses, she added.
Similarly, the report suggested that the civilian oversight commission hold biweekly public meetings where the community could voice its concerns and create a 24-hour hotline for complaints of misconduct.
The report also recommended that the civilian oversight board be composed of nine members – five of them appointed by the Board of Supervisors, two from the local criminal justice system and two from community organizations.
“We want to get the community involved, starting with grassroots organizations, to create a dialogue on these issues,” Cullors said.
Achiume, who specializes in international law, said the collaboration between the students and the coalition came about when Cullors came to speak with the students at her international human rights clinic.
“The coalition was looking to put out a report calling for civilian oversight, which fit with the purpose of my class,” Achiume said. “The students were excited to get involved in a project investigating local human rights violations.”
Werner said she and her colleagues met with civil rights attorneys and inmates in Los Angeles, as well as studied commissions nationwide, to form their recommendations.
“It was beneficial for the students to have the opportunity to apply the curriculum, which focuses on international human rights violations, to a local problem,” Achiume said. “They were able to interact with the (coalition) on a regular basis, developing their future roles as counselors to clients with complex needs.”
Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, said the department is working with the Office of the Inspector General to assess the proposal and plans to release its own report next month for review by the Board of Supervisors.