The LA Times is out with another story this weekend about the discovery of yet another tattoo within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department–this time on Deputy Oleg Polissky. As anyone who has worked with Oleg knows, he’s a great cop and human being: good person, strictly business, great tactics, and a great mentor. Here he is above handing stickers out to kids (wearing, by the way, his own personally-funded body cam due to Sheriff McDonnell’s four years of feet-dragging on providing them). With the
sheriff Police Chief of LA County saying he needs 239 more new administrative jobs to manage a body cam program, it’s no wonder nothing’s gotten done.
Related: Here’s a story about the issue of personally-owned body cams from a year ago. Note the absurd lie that “Deputies in L.A. have never captured any use-of-force incidents…on personally owned body cameras, McDonnell said.” That’s nonsense, which McDonnell would know if he knew what was going on within his department–but he doesn’t. (Seeing a trend here?)
Anyhow, Oleg’s a great cop. And he’s got a tattoo, which he said in a recent deposition acquired by the Times was bestowed to him by his partners at Palmdale Station because he’s a great cop. We believe it.
While McDonnell took re-election for granted during the primary (having won 75% of the vote four years ago), he couldn’t even muster 49% this time ’round–with communities of color coming out strongly against him. Now desperate for re-election, he’s promising to investigate LASD’s tattoos, as if he’s shocked–shocked!–to learn there is gambling going on in this establishment!
For our money, we think ALADS President Ron Hernandez has it right when he told the Times, “I think the department should focus more on the value of a deputy’s work product.”
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What’s really going on here?
Sheriff McDonnell has been claiming credit for turning LASD around for four years but, really, he hasn’t done much (other than destroying morale). And his confused response over this tattoo thing shows it: he says he’s single-handedly (like Moses!) engineered a sea change in the department, yet many deputies complain he’s never spent a single day working a custody block, or working a Sheriff’s Department patrol car, or understanding the culture and how it is different from the LAPD. He could have–four years ago–but he’s arrogant and thought he knew what he needed to know, so he didn’t. And now he’s left standing here like a dummy trying to
explain paper over the difference between what he and his cheerleaders have been claiming and what the facts show to be true.
As for the tattoos themselves: look, LASD.News knows many deputies with tattoos. Most are great, some are zeroes who never should have been hired in the first place. Some are Department executives who are great, some are Department executives who never should have been hired (or promoted) in the first place. Focusing on the tattoos themselves isn’t helpful, but it can be a window into what is right or wrong with the culture and how the department is managed.
The reasons the tattoos are awarded are, as Polissky says, to be glue at the station-level for the standards the deputies there hold dear–beyond the lowest-common denominator behavior the Department as a massive bureaucracy must–or chooses–to tolerate. The tattoos are a way of the most respected deputies at a station inspiring people to do better than the department itself expects: “this is who we are and what we expect”. Can they be abused–or be a reward for misconduct? Absolutely, and they have been. But that is the exception, not the rule.
This is where knowing the organization and leadership come in. McDonnell doesn’t know and isn’t leading the Sheriff’s Department. He only knows what the ambitious or frightened “executives” around him tell him, and what he knows from LAPD. It’s the blind leading the ambitious or cowardly. LAPD may be a great organization in its own right, but it isn’t better than or all that comparable to the LASD. It’s not Coke and Pepsi (and, in fact, they too are very different kinds of organizations).
Rather than earning the organization’s trust four years ago or since then, McDonnell has promoted dozens of Yes Men and Women who will enforce what he tells them to do. From his perspective, that makes sense after the chain of command was so broken under Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka. But what he doesn’t see is he’s just replaced their Kitchen Cabinet with his own and, if he he has no credibility with the deputies, and the Yes Men promoting through the organization don’t either (because they spent a minute or less in patrol, or because people know they disagree with the sheriff but aren’t allowed to say so by policy), then he isn’t leading anybody.
What McDonnell needed to do four years ago was work in custody, work in the field, get to know the people and the culture and the issues, and to lead from a position of credibility (not resume). And this would have allowed him to speak externally about what was going on, as well as to say internally, “Hey, I know you’re doing this, and I understand it, but I am asking you to stop, or to stay within these guardrails, because it’s unhelpful to us in this way…” or whatever. McDonnell could have led. He refused. And here we are: four years down the pike, nothing to show for it.