Use-of-force reports generated in Los Angeles County jails are on pace to exceed the number recorded in 2012, according to figures made public on Tuesday July 23, but a lawyer who monitors the sheriff’s department said he was unconcerned.
“At this point, I’m not terribly concerned,” said Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the Board of Supervisors.
He said he was following the trend carefully, but that most of the year- over-year increase related to use of the lowest level of force. Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who runs the jail system, said that the lowest level incidents tracked were those that did not result in any injuries or complaints and were judged to be in line with department policy.
That category accounted for three-quarters of all reported incidents in 2013. As of July 6, the sheriff’s department has logged 310 use-of-force reports against inmates for the calendar year. That compares to 479 reports logged in all of 2012, according to the county.
McDonald said force was sometimes needed to break up fights, “rescue” inmates or control mentally ill inmates, for example. Bobb and McDonald agreed that it was reasonable to expect a jump in the numbers now that supervisors were demanding all use-of-force incidents be reported.
“It may be that force is being reported more faithfully than it was in the past,” McDonald said.
Bobb, who has been reviewing conditions in the county’s jails for decades, updated the Board of Supervisors on the status of reforms intended to change a culture of deputy-on-inmate abuse in the jails. Seven incidents of deputies using excessive force have been logged so far this year. Those cases were typically brought to the attention of supervisors and internal investigators.
One of the biggest reforms the department is implementing is a dual-track career path for deputies on patrol and those working as jailers. That plan includes rotating jailers between jails and cellblocks to prevent dangerous cliques from forming. The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence pointed to such cliques as empowering a culture of violence.
Supervisor Gloria Molina urged McDonald to root out the “bad guys” among jailers, as the county invests in upgrading the jails and paying for reforms. The department has asked for more money to hire 25 more jail supervisors and to create a bureau to train deputies to work in jails. The county’s chief executive officer is reviewing those requests. So far, none has been handed up the board for approval.