The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a recommendation to have the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department work with the Office of the Inspector General to improve firearm safety in relation to department personnel mixing alcohol use with firearms.
The motion, authored by Supervisors Hilda Solis, 1st District, and Lindsey Horvath, 3rd District, was approved with a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Janice Hahn, 4th District, abstaining.
Hahn said she is aware that other law enforcement agencies have adopted similar policies but that she believes Sheriff Robert Luna should be left to “making the decisions that work best for his department and his ability to lead that department.”
The LASD sent a statement to The Signal on Tuesday acknowledging the recommendation.
“The department is reviewing the current policy, researching best practices, and exploring options related to this matter,” the statement reads. “Additionally, we are evaluating the OIG report and the outlined concerns. There are multiple stakeholders that need to be incorporated into this decision and any policy changes need to go through the appropriate meet and confer process.”
The recommendation to reform firearm safety comes from the Inspector General’s quarterly report on reform and oversight efforts for the period of July through September 2023, published in November.
The report showed that there were eight incidents involving LASD deputies and alcohol while in possession of a firearm from October 2019 to February 2021. That came after a report was published by the Inspector General in 2019 that “identified and reviewed 81 administrative cases charging deputies with various policy violations for being under the influence of alcohol with a firearm in reach.”
The 2019 report was based on cases going back eight years from the report’s publication.
The Inspector General provided six recommendations following that 2019 report:
- The standard of 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit that triggers a presumption of reasonable off-duty action as stated in the current Safety of Firearms policy is too high. The blood alcohol concentration limit in the Safety of Firearms policy should be lowered to the .02 BAC standard used in department policies for being under the influence of an alcoholic beverage when on-duty and for operating a county vehicle.
- The Safety of Firearms policy should include a strict prohibition against carrying firearms while consuming alcohol in establishments that serve alcohol.
- The rebuttable presumption language in the Safety of Firearms policy should be removed. The rebuttable presumption language undermines the intent of the policy and creates ambiguity in the interpretation and application of this policy.
- The Safety of Firearms policy should include an emergency exception that allows a deputy, who has consumed alcohol, to arm himself or herself in emergency situations that require quick action to protect human life.
- Language similar to (policy regarding vehicle operation) should be added to the Safety of Firearms policy. That policy section states that if a department member has an odor of alcoholic beverage or there is a reasonable suspicion to believe the member is under the influence of alcohol, the unit commander or higher shall order a test of the member. If the department member refuses a direct order to be tested, the member shall be subject to discipline.
- The Firearms Safety policy should mandate alcohol testing for all off-duty accidental discharges. There have been instances where deputies had accidental discharges of their firearms while off-duty either at home or in social settings. Because there is no policy requiring alcohol testing in accidental discharge scenarios, it ends up being unknown if alcohol was a factor.
The Board of Supervisors held a discussion with representatives from the LASD and the OIG at the board’s Jan. 9 meeting in which the board learned that the LASD had not yet acted on any of the six recommendations that the OIG provided in its 2019 report.
“I think the frustration that we all had when this was discussed was the lack of clarity,” said 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley, “because the 0.02 (BAC) by the National Highway Safety Administration, there are some effects of a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.02, including loss of judgment, relaxation, altered mood, decline in visual functions and others. And I have to believe that that standard is carried within the department, and I was shocked to hear that there was no clarity as it related to the understanding.”
Barger went on to say that the standard for LASD personnel should be the same as any other civilian when it comes to alcohol use.
“Even as a public civilian,” Barger said, “if you get in an accident and you are slightly impaired, that will be taken into consideration as it relates to the cause of the accident.
“I know this is a recommendation and it’s up to the sheriff to take that and decide what he’s going to do,” Barger continued, “but I have to believe that the department is going to err on the side of wisdom.”