LASD in need of a major overhaul
In the face of reports of deputy gangs and tragic police shootings nationwide, our Sheriff’s Department needs to be restructured to serve its constituents properly.
Opinion by Soren Blomquist Eggerling, Staff Writer
Ten miles from an ongoing trial that has placed American police brutality in an international spotlight, another black man has been killed by police. It is clear that immediate, radical change is needed in the country’s law enforcement. Looking locally, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is a great place to start.
According to their website, the LASD, which serves much of Los Angeles County, is the largest sheriff’s department in the world. The Sheriff’s Department patrols 153 unincorporated communities and 42 cities that hire them, run our county jails, and even police community colleges, including Valley. Their influence and control are vast.
After recent reporting on deputy gangs from Knock LA and others, it is clear that there is a culture of lawlessness and violence endemic to parts of the LASD that cannot be addressed without a reallocation of resources, if not entirely disbanding the department.
First acknowledged in the 1970s, deputy gangs within the LASD have been a persistent source of violence and crime whose actions have rivaled some of the street gangs they police. The deputy gangs have shared tattoos, go through an initiation process, and view getting into a shooting as “a definite brownie point,” according to one anonymous deputy who spoke to CBS News.
This culture and line of work can take people with the best of intentions and make them unrecognizable to even themselves. A therapist who has seen cops for a number of years said that “the transformation is remarkable.” He recalls one client in particular who he watched turn from an ebullient rookie into a jaded veteran with questionable values.
“I have a fiancé from Mexico,” the therapist said the officer told him, “and I’m becoming a racist.”
It would be inaccurate to classify this problem as being limited to the police force’s foot soldiers. As deputy gang members, like undersheriff Timothy Murakami, have been transferred and promoted throughout Los Angeles County, their influence runs deep. Even self-purported reformer Alex Villenueva, Sheriff of Los Angeles County, was quoted by Knock LA during a LA County Board of Supervisors meeting as saying, “We were all Cavemen,” when referring to an East LA deputy gang called the Cavemen which existed while he was stationed there.
For those hoping for a middle ground, the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin offered hope that if cops can be held accountable through the legal system and American policing can be reformed. However, Chauvin was cast as a bad apple by the officers and experts who testified against him without acknowledging the role the system had in teaching and enabling his behavior. Being a law enforcement officer does not mean one is inherently evil, but casting off a few officers as miscreants ignores that the system is rotting from the core.
Creating effective change is not possible by keeping these systems in place. With gang influence throughout the LASD and powerful unions putting roadblock after roadblock in the way of both minor and substantial reforms, there is no way to negotiate progress.
Los Angeles needs to deconstruct its current forms of law enforcement and pivot to a community policing model. Law enforcement should be focused on building relationships within communities and working to help solve problems, not punish and demonize citizens. Although there have been some complaints from activists surrounding non-local officers, the city of Camden, New Jersey had success with disbanding and reorganizing their police department, as evidenced by a 95 percent decrease in excessive force complaints according to its former police chief in an interview with NPR.
Social workers should replace police officers in a number of mental-health related calls, an approach recently employed in Denver that led to zero arrests on 748 calls in its first six months. Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen called the program “common sense.”
And independent citizen review boards need to play a major part in determining police discipline, instead of clandestine arbitration processes that often retain offending officers and seal their records. Olugbenga Ajilore of the Center for American Progress emphasizes, “The key to their success, however, is independence from law enforcement.”
The phrase “Defund the Police” is unpalatable to some, but in recognizing the options reality has presented, replacing the police may be the only way to stop these rampant injustices.