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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on Jan. 28 to create the Probation Oversight Commission and strengthen oversight of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department by giving new tools to the Civilian Oversight Commission and the Inspector General.
Under the changes, the civilian bodies overseeing the Probation and Sheriff’s Departments will each have the ability to subpoena documents or testimony.
The creation of a Probation Oversight Commission follows a yearlong public process to gather community recommendations and a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas. 2nd District, and Hilda Solis, 1st District, that was unanimously approved on Oct. 1.
POC will be endowed with all the authority currently vested in the existing probation commission, as well as new powers including the ability to conduct facility inspections, establish an independent grievance process, conduct investigations through the Office of the Inspector General and compel the forthcoming of information by issuing subpoenas. The commission, which will be composed of nine appointed members, has designated seats for people who were formerly incarcerated in the justice system, family members of probation clients and experts in juvenile justice and legal defense.
“For years, the board has spoken loud and clear about the need to enact robust oversight of the Probation Department,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Creating the POC is nothing short of game-changing, as is giving the ability to compel data, documents and direct testimony. Probation reform is the order of the day, and stronger oversight will help us get there.”
The board similarly strengthened oversight of the Sheriff’s Department by giving the Civilian Oversight Commission authority to issue subpoenas. The change stemmed from a motion by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, 3rd District, approved in October that grants the COC access to sheriff’s department data, documents and direct testimony, including the authority – through a majority vote by the COC – to compel the department to provide information through the issuance of subpoenas. The change comes after months of difficulty in obtaining information from the sheriff’s department.
“The county cannot afford to erase the progress that has been achieved under recent reform efforts of the sheriff’s department,” Ridley-Thomas added. “Back-tracking is not an option. Returning to the day of rampant abuse in the jails, or of scandals hidden from the public, cannot happen under our watch. Oversight is a critical part of reform and the county’s oversight bodies – for the Sheriff’s and Probation Department – need timely access to information.”
“Over the past three years as executive director of the Civilian Oversight Commission, I have learned that the commission is only effective when we have access to information,” said Brian Williams, executive director of the COC. “Obtaining this information has not always been easy. Subpoena power will help us in our efforts to provide solid oversight of the LASD and will go a long way toward increasing the level of transparency of the sheriff’s department and repairing relationships with the community.”
The ordinances are expected to go into effect in 30 days.
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