Board, sheriff argue over policy changes, delays

LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva (top center) addresses Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Signal File Photo

A Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors motion aimed at crisis response drew mixed reviews at Tuesday’s meeting, while supervisors delayed a vote aimed at changing use-of-force policy for police agencies.

The county also requested the immediate implementation of body-worn cameras, which county officials contend has been funded. However, Sheriff Alex Villanueva blamed the delays on the implementation of body-worn cameras directly on the board in a letter dated Monday. 

The county’s Human Services Crisis Response Coordination Steering Committee, composed of various health, fire and law enforcement agencies, is tasked with looking at new alternatives to crisis response and whether armed law enforcement is the appropriate option.

“I have to believe that if we had more robust programs like this some of the instances that you’re seeing taking place throughout this country would not occur as it relates to law enforcement,” said county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, of the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley. “And, I maintain that it’s not an ‘either-or’ as relates to law enforcement, it’s an ‘and’ because these types of services should be done to enhance public safety and for the benefit of our law enforcement across the county.”

The committee is set to report back to the board in three months on the feasibility of establishing a unique number for non-law-enforcement health and human services crisis responses and reconfiguring 911 to more effectively triage calls involving these types of crises to non-law-enforcement first responders by default.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva also addressed the motion, adding that while he supports the idea of 911 operators transferring non-emergent calls to another branch, he doesn’t approve of modifying the 911 system. 

“It is a successful pairing of law enforcement with a service provider that is not public safety,” said Villanueva, describing various scenarios where law enforcement already works with non-emergent agencies, “and we encourage that and we need to build up the capacity out there, but it’s not going to come at the expense of dismantling or diverting the 911 system.”

In addition, the board requested the immediate implementation of the body-worn camera program by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which is the sole responsibility of the Sheriff’s Department, according to county officials.

The Board of Supervisors has worked to provide the necessary policies, funding and staffing to allow for the program’s implementation in efforts that stretch back to a motion approved in 2012, according to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, of the 2nd District.

“The Board of Supervisors and the Chief Executive Office are steadfast supporters of the body-worn camera program and have long championed this technology as an essential investment in law enforcement transparency and accountability,” county CEO Sachi Hamai said in a prepared statement. “Over the past three years, the board has proactively set aside $34.78 million in a dedicated account to support this program, and on Sept. 24, 2019, unanimously approved a motion to authorize the Sheriff’s Department to implement this project. The Sheriff’s Department has sole responsibility for the implementation timetable to roll out body-worn cameras, including the procurement and implementation process.”

In a letter to the board, Villanueva acknowledged these motions, detailing funding issues, which he said delayed the project, and addressing a report from the Office of Inspector General for the program’s policies.

“Since taking office, it has been the board’s desire to constrict the sheriff’s budget (that), combined with the obstacles detailed above, has (caused) the county to lag behind the rest of the nation’s cities and counties who have implemented body-worn cameras,” Villanueva said in the letter.

“Every delay, obstacle and misdirection can be traced directly back to your offices and those who report to you,” the letter went on, referring to the Board of Supervisors. “Both the community and the (Sheriff’s) Department would appreciate it if you prioritize the body-worn camera program and eliminate all obstacles remaining.” 

Other motions

As “Safer at Home” restrictions continue to be eased, the Board of Supervisors also approved motions related to post-COVID-19, including a free face mask program set to procure 3 million cloth masks from local manufacturers to begin distributing by July 14.

The Board of Supervisors also approved a motion that requests each county department submit plans and a timeline to resume public-facing operations in county facilities.

A similar approved motion allows appropriate departments to begin plans for resuming in-person visitation and service-provider engagement at the county’s custody and detention centers. 

The board also voted to extend the eviction moratorium through July 31, while also approving a motion that instructs the director of the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs and relevant departments to create programmatic and legislative recommendations to aid in preventing significant numbers of evictions and foreclosures once the moratorium is lifted.

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