If you want to get to the real source of political issues in America, follow the money.
For years, grassroots organizations have been protesting against the Los Angeles County District Attorney (D.A.) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department for their actions or inactions.
But what if the D.A. and the Sheriff aren’t where the real problem lies?
In order to find the source of the problem, you’ve got to find the source and required uses for funding these two departments.
Both of these positions are beholden to their funding sources, like Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and other federal and state agencies. If grassroots organizers want to do the real work of breaking through the culture of systemic unfairness and injustice, they must first understand the money that funds the work of both departments. The second step is understanding the associated metrics by which these two elected officials have to respond in order to receive funding. Those metrics offer a true understanding of why the Sheriff and the D.A. operate the way they do.
Both the Sheriff and the D.A. are elected by the voters, but the funds that support their offices are not based on metrics set by voters. The money and metrics are what drives the systemic behaviors and decisions implemented by these departments. If the funding metric is based on arrest and convictions then, as we have seen, that’s the business they’ll be in. However, if the metric was altered to arrest and conviction, then that’s the business they would be in. So at the end of the day, it’s all about hitting the numbers and keeping the funding flowing in. Once that is understood, there can be a real conversation with those agencies regarding changing the metrics to be more in alignment with the efforts of the County Board of Supervisors (BOS) including issues such as prisoner recidivism, re-entry and other programs.
One such program supported by BOS is the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR), which, thus far, has diverted 4,600 people from jail into long-term care and supportive housing with very low rates of reoffending. The cost is $70 per person per day, compared to the $600 per person per day for incarceration.
Considering this cost differential, why would the Sheriff or D.A.’s office want to maintain a draconian policy that leads to increasing the prison industrial complex, rather than the reforms that BOS is implementing? I am of the mindset, that until we depoliticize both the Sheriff and the D.A.’s office, the full potential of these reforms will never come to fruition. Primarily because these two independent bodies, while funded by the county, can still act on their own accord unlike department heads that the BOS and County Administrative Officer oversee.
Making the Sheriff and the D.A. non-elected department heads would make them more accountable to the various initiatives as set by the County Board of Supervisors and associated oversight commissions to drive justice reform initiatives.
As it stands today, the D.A. and the Sheriff run for their seats just like city council members or the mayor or county supervisors. If there is a disconnect between the Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff’s Department like we’re seeing right now, the Sheriff, for the most part, is not accountable to the board because he /she will always be the sheriff as long as they are elected and likewise the D.A.
The D.A.’s office is in an inherently conflicting position. The symbiotic relationship between an elected official sworn to enforce the law and the elected official sworn to prosecute those who are alleged to have broken the law, prevent the D.A.’s office from being more autonomous. This is why it’s almost impossible for these two offices to have systemic cultural change that would create a true justice system. Currently, what we have is a legal system, not a justice system.
It is my sincere hope and desire that we can begin a discussion that will ultimately lead to a countywide ballot measure to depoliticizing the D.A. and the Sheriff from elected officials to County of Los Angeles department heads.
Robert Sausedo is president and CEO of Community Build, a non-profit organization located in South Los Angeles dedicated to job training, youth development, civic and community engagement and social activism.