Jimmy McDonnell Investigates!

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, prodded by a surprisingly tough reelection fight, is eying an opportunity to hop off the turnip truck and learn something about the agency he was elected four years ago to lead. 

Flashback to two weeks ago when the LA  Times reported that deputies at the Compton Sheriff Station (like sheriff stations countywide–shout out to Altadena!) sport matching tattoos. This headline being activist and media catnip after a history within the LASD of deputy cliques and tattoos being awarded after getting involved in shootings, McDonnell promptly and appropriately came under scrutiny for claiming to have rapidly turned the organization around, despite the fact that the rank and file despise him and he has no internal credibility.

Anyhow, fast-forward to last week when McDonnell announced at a meeting of the Department’s Civilian Oversight Commission that he was investigating the presence of tattoos within the LASD–and was inviting others to investigate along with him! “Let’s all learn about this alien institution together!”

So, two things:

  1. McDonnell (like Alex Villanueva) has been involved in law enforcement for nearly 40 years arrived and has been at LASD for a nearly four year winter. If he doesn’t know about the existence of tattoos within law enforcement or within the LASD, he’s an idiot.
  2. But of course, he does know. Because he essentially admitted in last week’s debate that members of his own command staff have tattoos–possibly racial in nature (Buffalo Soldiers, were you at?!)
  3. “I think the public has a right to know if high-level police managers are members of a gang,” one LASD commissioner told the Times. (McDonnell’s publicists refused to comment in substance.)

So, what’s this really about?

Survival. Politics. Just a cynical attempt to get past the story.

Will it work?

Probably. Because it makes him look like he’s doing something about it–nevermind that his response was about as forced and postured as his firings of “executives” Tom Angel (initial response / ultimate response) and Mike Rothans (initial response / ultimate response), after first trying to dismiss their transgressions and save them. What a hack.

LASD’s media critics mostly tune in and out; a flash of concerned coverage here, offset by a 15 minute Sunday morning interview with the sheriff there. Credit where it’s due: McDonnell’s publicists have earned their keep trading access in exchange for killing negative stories.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs wasn’t convinced, however. It announced in a statement Tuesday:

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) is questioning the motives behind Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s “comprehensive inquiry” into subcultures and tattoos within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. ALADS believes that the current inquiry by the Sheriff was planned and announced without any communication to employees or stakeholders and did not provide a framework or set goals. The Sheriff’s decision to move forward in this manner suggests this was a visceral reaction to political campaign pressures.


ALADS has been fully compliant and cooperative with the department in vetting past practices to ensure deputy compliance with departmental guidelines on tattoos and grooming. To be clear, ALADS opposes any behavior involving street justice, vigilantism, or gang culture within the department. ALADS will continue to communicate this position to its members.


The Sheriff did not inform internal or external stakeholders of what exactly the “inquiry” might include, what the goals might be, what timelines exist or the methodology. Instead, the department allowed employees and deputies to learn of the inquiry through the media report. ALADS believes that the manner in which the Sheriff disclosed his inquiry, at the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Committee, was designed for political impact rather than policy improvement.


“The Sheriff has not been clear about his goals, the methodology or anything about this ‘inquiry.’ Communicating to rank-and-file members via the media is disrespectful to the deputies and the working relationship we have sought with Sheriff McDonnell. ALADS and its members deserve a clear message and chance for input. Honest and timely communications are a prerequisite for ALADS to have a productive working relationship with anyone,” stated Ron Hernandez, ALADS President.


What’s the real story here?

The real story is that LASD stations have tattoos and there isn’t much McDonnell or anyone else can do about it. The reason people get tattoos is for camaraderie and to uphold shared values. McDonnell knows this perfectly well (which is why he doesn’t for the moment care that he has promoted many inked people, including into his command staff (except that they’re now an inconvenience to him)), but he is going to pretend to be concerned here for the sake of appearances (while he simultaneously campaigns on the premise of having engineered a ‘sea change’ within an LASD he now selectively claims to barely understand).

The bottom line is deputies were getting inked well into McDonnell’s term: the deputies knew, the station captains knew, the brass knew. They still are; they always will, because brotherhood and the First Amendment are a bitch like that. If it was a problem, they should have tried to do something about it when they first knew. And if McDonnell were better respected within the organization, maybe people would be inclined to follow him.

It’s all a charade.


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