Tag: Transparency

County Drags Feet on Body Cams–But Here’s What’s Gonna Happen

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was one of the first agencies in America to try out body cameras–and will be one of the last to adopt them. And not for good reasons.

Now, the Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday on–by our count–the fourth study (possibly the fifth?) on how LASD should implement in a cam program. This is pretty dysfunctional stuff, even by the County’s standards.

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Agencies began snatching up the cameras four years ago in a mad dash to avoid being the next Ferguson. Many brands tried to capitalize on the gold rush: Vievu, Safariland, Wolfcom and, of course, Taser–which has since rebranded as Axon, bought Vievu, and seen its stock price soar from $8 or so pre-Ferguson to nearly $70 today.

The cameras, which were initially demanded by African American activists, liberal groups and the media and viewed warily by officers have now become popular with officers and deputies, with many buying their own. Meanwhile, the Movement for Black Lives (a policy-recommending group affiliated with Black Lives Matter) has called for the elimination of body cams, as part of what it views as a war on black people.

The great activist, liberal and media hope was that body cams would reveal all kinds of police misconduct and send officers to jail. Of course, they’ve mostly just vindicated officers falsely accused of misconduct, shown officers putting their lives on the line to save strangers, and revealing how little time officers have to make impossibly hard decisions.

While many agencies nationwide hopped aboard the body cam bandwagon, Sheriff Jim McDonnell waited–and wisely, we think. There were still many different brands, the technology was rapidly evolving, and there were real unknowns about performance, policies, and long-term costs. Given LASD’s size, it was smart to make a deliberate choice–and, since the cams were a political demand, understandable he dragged his feet to get the Board of Supervisors to pay for them.

But that was almost four years ago.

Of course, McDonnell also wanted to use the body cams as a Trojan Horse for hiring nearly 240 new administrative people (plus another 60 at the DA and Public Defender’s offices). That’s two entire patrol stations…just in admin. Will body cams require people to process public record requests? Pull videos, blur faces, legal stuff and subpoenas? Sure. But 240? Ridiculous.

While the sheriff and Board of Supervisors have been playing hot-potato on the cameras for years, many deputies have gone out and bought their own cams, despite uncertainty re how the Department will view their recordings or whether opportunistic/low-integrity managers will punish them for infractions on the recordings the Department never would have known about without high-integrity deputies recording themselves. What a sorry state of affairs…

Now, LASD and the Board of Supervisors is calling for YET ANOTHER study (at taxpayer expense) on how to implement body cams. This after the department’s own 2014 test, a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General in 2015, a report issued by the Citizens Oversight Committee just last month, and the experience of many large agencies nationwide…

As Celeste Fremon writes on her Southern California criminal justice blog Witness LA today, yet another study isn’t needed. Her article is great and you should check it out.

How’s all this gonna end?

  1. Someone’s gonna go to Taser (Axon) and buy like 4,000-5,000 body cams.
  2. The cams will get delivered, sit in a warehouse for a while, and it’ll take months (maybe years) to for people to get off their asses and issue them, set up the necessary docks and chargers and wifi hotspots, etc, etc, etc. (Of course, it could all get done in like a week, but that ain’t the County Way–not when making it all happen can justify entire jobs and enough overtime for a thousand trips to the river!)
  3. The department will implement policies, and require people to attend training, on how to use the cams, and acknowledge how they’ll be punished if they forget to turn them on under stress, etc.
  4. The cams will record tons of HD-quality data, which Axon will store in Amazon Web Solutions’ cloud, and the county will pay tens of millions of dollars per year for it. Many recordings (such as with uses of force) will be kept forever.
  5. From an evidentiary and PR perspective, sometimes the cameras will be helpful, sometimes they won’t.

That’s what’s going to happen. So we might as well get on with it.

What we’re really looking forward to is the sheriff and brass having to wear the cams, in all their closed-door meetings, where they talk about things deputies and the public didn’t until now have the ability to know. You know, for transparency, right?

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

Today In The LASD Police State…

Maybe it was the recent article by an LASD watchdog on how homicide detectives have been retasked from workable cases in poor areas to one in affluent Rolling Hills.

Maybe it was the report about how much crime has risen under Sheriff McDonnell’s command.

Maybe it was our recent dispatch on the decimation of LASD’s reserve deputy program.

We’re not sure.

But the transparency this site and other truth-tellers have provided to the community about what is going on inside the LASD has not gone unnoticed by our Dear Leader, who promised to be transparent with the community four years ago but forgot as soon as he had the power.

Disagreeing with the boss is already against policy at LASD. And so, too–as the department made clear in an email earlier today–is revealing anything the sheriff’s minders don’t approve. (See below.)

We will not allow LASD censors to demonize us or those who are defending LASD by blowing the whistle when it’s doing the wrong thing. Neither this site nor other media are reporting information about victims or suspects of crimes. We are reporting on matters of LASD policy, practice, priority, spending and abuse. Because if we don’t, nobody will. The mainstream media doesn’t care: they want to attack LASD or get access to the sheriff. Nobody cares to hear your screams.

We don’t enjoy having to share internal information, either. We wish the sheriff and LASD took responsibility for their actions. We wish they were open and honest with the community. We wish this site wasn’t necessary. It’s exhausting–especially after you’re drafted for mandatory overtime six times a month. But what choice do we have?

THANK YOU to our tipsters and to our readers. If you have information for us, know that we appreciate your bravery and want you to stay safe. Here are a few ways how:

  1. Think of yourself as living inside a police state. You are being watched.
  2. If you send anything our way, do not to forward it from your county email.
  3. Instead, copy/paste it to another email address from a non-county computer, or send a photo to tips@lasd.news.
  4. Know that if you send us a photo, we will purge any metadata (such as GPS coordinates) from it.
  5. Also, be sure you’re using an anonymous email address, such as from Gmail. We do not need (or want) to know who you are. Maybe even consider using a VPN (Google it).

And for those outside the organization, here is the order we received from the Ministry of Information earlier today…


 

From: Sheriff Department Announcement

Date: May 25, 2018

To: All LASD Employees

Subject: LASD Special Message – Discussing Confidential Information

***LASD Special Message***

********DISCUSSING CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION********

The Department has trust in each of you! Department members must be cognizant of the confidential information entrusted to them on a daily basis.  Information contained within Department databases, reports and files are confidential and/or sensitive and should not be communicated to others without a business reason.  Department members need to think twice before communicating about Department-related topics.

The official business of the Department is confidential.  Members shall only discuss or give official information to persons for whom the information is intended; as directed by a superior officer; and/or as required by law.

When Department members disclose confidential information, the rumor mill begins and will circulate even wider.  If someone tells you confidential information, admonish that person that confidential information is CONFIDENTIAL.

Members shall only divulge the contents of any directive when required to do so by the nature of the directive.  The content of any criminal record or other official information maintained by the Department shall be disclosed only to those authorized by state and federal statute.

The best way to stop the release of confidential information is by not repeating it to anyone other than Department members who have a business reason to know.  It is important to re-brief everyone, making it clear that confidential information must remain within the LASD.


 

LASD and McDonnell To Be Sued for Preventable Death of Young Girl

At a press conference outside Sheriff’s Headquarters yesterday, the family of 11 year old Ashley Flores announced their intent to file what one would imagine will be a pretty hefty lawsuit against Sheriff McDonnell and the LASD due to a misrouted 911 call which they say resulted in Ashley’s death.

The family told CBS reporter Randy Paige they were forced to file a lawsuit because the Sheriff’s Department has not told them anything since the incident happened five months ago. They are literally saying that they are suing because the sheriff has not been up-front with them about what happened to their daughter and why.

“Waiting for answers, and nobody told me nothing,” Ashley’s father Alfonso Flores told CBS. “Nothing. Nobody. So, this is what I need for answers and justice.”

As CBS 2 reported last month (and with additional reporting from LASD watchdog Surruo.com), Flores suffered an asthma attack this past Christmas Eve. A 911 call was placed to Century Station but the deputy who answered the call–who was apparently untrained on the phone system–either misrouted the call or hung up on it entirely while trying to transfer it. Many minutes passed without a paramedic response and by the time help got to Ashley she was dead.

“Based on the current state of the investigation, but for the extended delay in getting medical help, Ashley would have lived. The claim alleges that the delay was caused by totally inadequate training and gross negligence by Los Angeles County and Sheriff McDonnell who are responsible for the training,” the Flores family said through their lawyer.

“The family wonders if this would have happened if they lived in an affluent community, and question whether their community is getting fair and equal treatment,” the statement concluded.

While an inflammatory accusation, it’s also probably a correct one.

In fact, sources tell us that Century Station (which serves the Lynwood area) has failed its annual audit of its “desk” operations for years, yet nothing has been done about it. The “desk” is LASD lingo for the 911 operation: calls for help coming in, the relevant details being collected, calls being entered into the dispatch system, and deputies being sent to calls. But it’s not just Century Station that has had problems. So, too, have other stations serving the county’s poorer and darker-hued communities such as Compton, South LA and East LA stations.

Stations with a good record of passing their desk audits tend to be in the more affluent/fair-skinned communities: Crescenta Valley, Lakewood, West Hollywood, Malibu.

So, what explains the difference?

There’s a long history of inconsistent standards between what happens at “ghetto stations” and all the others. They get worse equipment and cars, less training and there’s just an overall vibe of do-more-with-less. And the deputies serving those communities take pride in their ability to do just that. The deputies aren’t the problem. The problem is the Sheriff’s Department leadership that starves them of the resources they need and the community deserves. Leadership that doesn’t prioritize all communities equally.

This isn’t cynicism: it’s Politics 101.

Indeed, look no further than Sheriff McDonnell’s reported obsession with announcing the arrest of whoever killed Susan Leeds in white, affluent and politically-involved Rolling Hills. He reportedly demanded daily updates on the case, personally involved himself in it, and prominently announced an arrest at a press conference on Friday. (The alleged killer was released back into the community yesterday because the District Attorney said the case was rushed to cameras.)

How often do the victims of murders in Compton, South LA, East LA or Lynwood receive such attention? How often does the sheriff himself hold a press conference to announce the killers’ apprehension?

We all know the score here. LASD has long starved Century Station–and others in more urban areas–for resources and accepted failures that wouldn’t be tolerated in more affluent communities.

What’s really disappointing is that Sheriff McDonnell didn’t have the spine over the last five months to simply stand up and say, “We screwed up. We’ll pay for it and we’ll fix it.”

He’s not doing it because his lawyers (the real leaders of the Sheriff’s Department) are telling him not to. We’re going to be sued, they’re saying. You can’t admit anything.

That’s not leadership, sheriff.  This is.

Grab A Drink and Buckle Up for the Civilian Commission Body Cam Survey

The LASD Civilian Oversight Commission released a survey today for “community” input on what LASD’s body cam program should be like.

The survey is 18 questions, will probably take you 20-30 minutes to complete, and is full of leading and politically correct questions… So, you and other busy people probably won’t bother to do it, because you’ve got stuff to do. Except that the people who hate law enforcement, or who see LASD (like LAPD) as their toy, will do it.  So we’ve got to bite the bullet and school some folks.

To Participate in the Anonymous Body Cam Survey, Click Here

If you want to have any input in the rules we’re probably soon to live by, you’d best pour yourself a Titos and soda, strap in and make your views known.

Personally, our view is that while body cams will sometimes provide a helpful perspective on uses of force, they can hurt the community a lot more than help it.

  • Let’s get past the idea that deputies don’t want to be on camera. In fact, they’re on camera all day anyway. Cell phone camera, CCTV, whatever. The real problem is that deputies are called to solve problems and body cams, and all the policies and expense around them, may just increase the walls between the community, not reduce them.
  • Cams will likely protect deputies from made-up complaints and deputies will learn how to play to the camera, same as politicians and reporters do. Who will suffer is the community.
  • Cams known to be regularly reviewed by managers will simply create an environment of micromanagement, producing rule-adhering behavior that provides a lesser service to the community than when deputies have the discretion to do their jobs as they feel appropriate.
  • We should be really careful about using body cams to “shape officer behavior”. LASD does a good job of doing more with less; deputies do a good job of exercising discretion and LASD is well-liked in most of the communities it serves (especially the contracts, where LASD can be fired).
  • Activists used to want the cameras but don’t as much now because of all the evidence they end up creating.
  • These days, it’s mostly the media that wants body cams. Some reporters think virtually everything should be public (and who better to air it than them?).
  • Civil libertarians rightly worry about the millions of hours of data stored for however long, in many cases (such as a use of force) probably forever
  • In fact, it will be ordinary people who pay the price. Especially if deputies are concerned supervisors will regularly pull video, and given the huge increase under Sheriff McDonnell in firing people for failure to maintain “performance to standards”, they will follow the letter of the law rather than the spirit. This will translate into less discretion (warnings) and more arrests, especially of people at the socio-economic margins (most of whom are people of color).
  • What activists and the media don’t understand is how many traffic stops and calls for service involve a situation where someone could easily be arrested but the deputy decides that isn’t how the community is best served. Body cams–particularly in a politicized disciplinary climate like at LASD–eliminates that. “Sorry, bro, I wish I could but I can’t. <points at body cam>”
  • Also, we are dealing with the worst moments of peoples’ lives.  That stuff just shouldn’t be on camera.
  • And the stuff that should be on camera–deputy involved shootings and serious uses of force, often happen so fast that they’re easy to forget to record when your focus is on not dying.
  • Beyond that, LASD management clearly cannot be trusted with body cam footage because they’re mostly a bunch of self-promoting sycophants.
    • Unless we’re also down on brass wearing body cams all day, too?  Since there’s more allegations of mismanagement and corruption and abuse in their ranks than ours…?
  • The costs of a body cam program are *enormous* (tens of millions of dollars per year), to be borne by a county and department that cannot afford it, and it’s unclear that the value of the program will ever offset the costs to run it.

Sheriff McDonnell hasn’t asked for your opinion (duh), so at least these people are.   If you don’t respond you can’t complain about the result.

To Participate in the Anonymous Body Cam Survey, Click Here

At Least Five Things LASD Is Hiding From You Right Now

Although Sheriff McDonnell ran on a platform of “transparency” four years ago, he changed quickly upon entering office.  Within just his first few weeks he instituted a policy forbidding subordinates from voicing disagreement with him, he punished or demoted those who did (former OSS Captain Brackpool), and he has made obstructing journalists a hallmark of his term.

So much so that two months ago the Los Angeles Times sued to force the Department to release public records as required by law.  (A copy of the lawsuit itself can be viewed here.)

Unfortunately though entirely predictably, this lawsuit has had no impact on the sheriff’s behavior.  Here are several examples of the sheriff’s continued anti-accountability LASD.News has learned of recently:

 

Who’s provided more “transparency”?  Sheriff McDonnell in the last four years or this site–run by pissed-off deputies wanting a better LASD–in just the last week 24 hours?

 

LASD Crime Stats Back Online; Still Unclear Who Ordered Them Taken Down

Three months after LASD removed crime statistics from the internet without any public involvement or notice they are now back up, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Department states it removed the stats because they reflected the crimes as deputies classified them on reports and may not reflect what others along the chain of command might reclassify them to later on.  Which is probably good because if they reflected cases actually taken to trial, LA County would look a lot like Mayberry.  It remains totally unclear who gave the order to take the crime stats down, why the public wasn’t consulted or notified, and whether anything has been done over the last three months to manipulate how crime stats are reported going forward.

This seems like a pretty flimsy argument to us: most crimes are pretty straightforward and most deputies have a pretty good idea what they’re doing.  Beyond that, all are reviewed and approved by a sergeant, at a minimum.  Withholding data from the community because a detective may later reclassify something is pretty weak.  Actually, withholding the data until it can be managed merely increases the chances that it will be manipulated, LAPD-style (allegedly) (and allegedly here, too).

It’s unclear if the Department changed anything about how the statistics are gathered or managed during the three months they were being withheld from the community, though there is now a disclaimer stating that the information is for “informational purposes only”…which, being information, seems sort of weird.

Anyhow, the crime stats are back up and you can find them here.