Police officers and deputy sheriffs across the country leave home and hit the streets knowing that each day could be their last. With over six million felons and 300 million guns in America, being a police officer is a very dangerous job.
But on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, deputies fear getting shot by a hardened criminal far less than they fear having their life destroyed by their own management. So is it any surprise that deputies are doing as little as possible to risk crossing their bosses and getting fired, and that crime is going through the roof?
A reported 20% of LASD personnel are under internal affairs investigations or relieved of duty; hundreds may be sitting at home waiting to be fired for minor infractions or internal politics. Employees who are at-will, or probationary and attract a supervisor’s ire within their first year, are fired on a whim, without any due process and with enormous consequences on their lives. NBC 4 reported last year that terminations of deputy sheriffs are up 80% under Sheriff McDonnell from the 14 years prior. Besides the fact that this is a dishonorable way to treat people to have stepped up to protect the public, let’s talk about why it’s happening and why it matters.
Sheriff McDonnell ran for office on the promise of rebuilding LASD’s chain of command after the cronyism of the Tanaka era. But he hasn’t done that. In fact, the chain of command has simply been cuckolded to a different agenda. One of leading through “gotcha” management, of firing first and asking questions later, of betraying the sacrifices deputies make in service of our community.
Where the rubber meets the road here is in the Sheriff’s empowering civilian lawyers (given the Orwellian euphemism of “Constitutional Policing Advisers”) to significantly interfere with the setting of LASD policy and personnel matters.
These “advisers” are merely the sheriff’s personal lawyers and, being lawyers, their job is to ensure that his risk as low as it can be. This means as little transparency as possible (because facts revealed can be used against him) and the swift elimination of any employee who ends up on the radar. Because once you set lofty concepts like “doing the right thing”, “leadership” and “serving the public” aside, what you’re left with is self interest disguised as community interest.
Though McDonnell recently told ALADS that this abuse wasn’t happening, it simply is. Which is why you see one such adviser, Diana Teran (paid over $270K in 2016 alone), pictured above recently sitting in on a deputy’s Civil Service Commission hearing. If her role is advisory in nature and she is not in the chain of command, why does Teran take such a keen interest in how individual cases of deputy discipline are handled within the existing, established processes? If her role was merely “advisory”, why did a deputy even know who she was? Why did she/he think to document Teran’s presence with a photo?
In law enforcement, we call these things “clues”.
Here is our understanding of the how the “advisers” dictate the LASD disciplinary “process”: The real chain of command, made up of actual police officers, reviews whatever occurred and makes recommendations as to what should happen. McDonnell’s
lawyers advisers review those recommendations and often disagree. They then direct that the outcome be changed. If refused, the adviser says they will call McDonnell or one of his helpers to make them change it. (If the adviser is engaged in a rumored romantic relationship with said helper, perhaps that might also exert undue influence on the supervisor.) The supervisor then has to decide whether to pick that particular, internal political battle for a deputy they may care little about, or take the path of least resistance. The rare strong supervisor steps up (and is usually overruled, likely to the detriment of their career). But most just weakly accept what the adviser wants to do (usually termination), counting down the hours until they can retire and get their dignity back.
Such is the state of the New LASD.
How did we get so far off track?
There now exists in America a cottage industry of civilian police advisers, and the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review was perhaps the mother of them all. The OIR was a group of outside attorneys who basically second-guessed the Sheriff’s Department and issued occasional reports about concerns it had. The lawyers got a decent government paycheck and to pretend they were involved in law enforcement, the Board of Supervisors got to point to civilian oversight, the media was occasionally treated to reports of shenanigans occurring within the LASD, some actual reforms were achieved, and deputies were mostly free to actually protect the community. Though it was mostly a big charade and waste of money, everybody kinda got something.
Teran joined this outfit in 2010. After the office was shut down in 2014 for being ineffective, Interim Sheriff John Scott made her an actual employee of the LASD (the original sin).
On her own LinkedIn profile, Teran herself exposes the charade that her role is in any way related to the Constitution, describing her duties as: “Advise the Sheriff on issues related to accountability, adherence to best practices, policies, procedures, and operations; provide real-time monitoring, analysis and advice to LASD investigators and executives on pending personnel investigations and disciplinary matters; review investigations for objectivity and thoroughness; and respond to, review, evaluate and provide input on critical incidents including in-custody deaths, deputy-involved shootings and significant force incidents.”
That all sounds very self-important–but aren’t those things competent members of the chain of command should be doing–not civilian attorneys masquerading as defenders of the Constitution?
“I’m not sworn. I haven’t worn a badge. But what I can do is help with effective oversight… That’s the way for me, with my legal degree, to provide a public service,” Smith told the LA Times. “It’s really that constant eyes and ears from an outside perspective that over time is what helps an agency.”
Actually, no. It’s effective leadership and management by the people in positions they are qualified to hold–not the eager but ignorant observer–that help an agency. The fact that you enjoy what you do does not, de facto, make it helpful.
Still, in an interview on LASD’s mysteriously terminated podcast, Teran and Smith spoke approvingly about how receptive Sheriff McDonnell and other department leaders have been in the near universal acceptance of their “recommendations”. They were joined by Assistant Sheriff Eddie Rivero–whose role in the conversation was unclear, except to praise his boss:
“[The sheriff was the] perfect man at the right time. Jim MacDonald was perfect,” Rivero said–somehow managing to simultaneously be a doe-eyed suck up and mispronounce his boss’ name.
So, why was Teran the sole observer in that recent Civil Service Commission hearing, perched in the back of the room, highlighter in hand? Why does she reportedly attend many Civil Service Commission hearings? Why does she reportedly make it known to LASD command staff that if they don’t do what she says, she’ll undermine them with their bosses? Because she isn’t an advisor: Teran is calling the shots.
It takes a special, noble kind of person to put their life on the line for others. To patrol the streets looking for those out to victimize or kill; to chase the wolf away from the flock. And then there are the lawyers. But worse than the lawyers are the brass who abdicate their duty to lead, leaving decisions about deputies’ careers, finances, personal and emotional well-being, and the community in general to a sheriff and his lawyers who don’t give two shits about them.
That’s where we are and how far we’ve fallen.