Leadership Failure – State DOJ Poised to Take Over the LASD

That low rumbling sound you may have been hearing recently is the freight train that is slowly rumbling towards the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

This past Thursday, March 28th, all members of the Department were treated to an email from the current Sheriff, advising them that due to his abject failure of leadership, along with that of his recent predecessors (I’m paraphrasing here), they can expect a visit from the State Department of Justice in the very near future.

The pending arrival of the Justice Department has not been unexpected.

In January of 2021, the California Attorney General notified the Sheriff’s Department that they were initiating a civil investigation into certain aspects of the department’s operations. Frankly, this action can be placed at the feet of our prior sheriff, Alex Villanueva.  While his daily dustups with virtually every entity in Los Angeles County may have been amusing/entertaining/satisfying, we all need to remember that actions have consequences.

The Board of Supervisors also owns a part of this, since they originally choked off funding to the Department during the tenure of Villanueva, a decision they are going to pay dearly for over the next few years. Things have fallen apart, broken, lost relevance, disappeared, and generally been left unattended for years. The price will be a steep one to bring things back into compliance.  Shame on them and their petty political gamesmanship.

While Villanueva and the BOS rightfully own a portion of what’s going on, Alex is by no means the one and only head of the LASD who has failed their personnel.

When I first joined the department, we were dealing with the Rutherford Decision in custody. Rutherford was an action from 1979 (the year before I drove up), and essentially dictated how people in department custody were to be treated.  It’s unbelievable to me to see that it is still an active Consent Decree even today.

All these years later, and as of this morning as I sit to write this article, the Department is now subject to not one, but four Settlement Agreements (Consent Decrees). Joining Rutherford are the Rosas Settlement Agreement, The Johnson Settlement Agreement, and the Antelope Valley federal Settlement Agreement.  In my estimation, that seems to be a whole lot of outside oversight, and more than enough for one agency.  I can’t help but think that the Attorney General does not share my viewpoint, and is essentially saying, “hold my beer,” as they formulate their plans for the future of the LASD.

Based on the email that went out to the entire department, it is clear that the DOJ is looking into the following:

Use of Force, Stops, Searches, and Arrests, Law Enforcement Gangs, Internal Investigations, Discipline, and Complaint Processes, Integrity, Oversight, and Community Engagement, Training, Hiring, Retention, Staffing, and Supervision, Custody and Conditions of Confinement.

Yep, looks like just about every aspect of the Department is going under the microscope. The only thing to do in this situation is to make the best deal you can and get to complying with the requirements.  I know that the federal monitors have pretty much had it with what they see as the lack of cooperation from the Department when it comes to the AV Settlement Agreement.  Don’t be surprised to see something more come of this in the near future.

All of this brings me to a point I’d like to make.  Who is held responsible when things fall apart?  Too often I have seen the line troops suffer when things go south.  It is my belief that each and every one of these Settlement Agreements point towards one thing: leadership failure.  Let’s face it, like it or not, the man or woman at the top is ultimately responsible for how things go; good and bad.  It’s leadership 101. If you get the big bucks, then the “buck” stops with you.

The Sheriff needs to get a handle on this, asap.

It amazes me that the Department has known about this DOJ investigation since 2021 but has done nothing to shortstop some of the issues by proactively working to correct them.  Over one year in office, and this Sheriff has virtually nothing to show for it. Nothing, that is, except record levels of suicides, IOD’s, employee burn out, record forced overtime, record poor morale, record broken down equipment, including buses.  One unenviable record after another. And now the prospect of yet another soul-sucking Settlement Agreement and outside oversight.  The Sheriff better hope and pray that the State doesn’t decide to install a Special Master to oversee the entire Department.

The Department needs to take this situation seriously and react decisively and appropriately. Agree to the required fixes and get to work on it!  To do anything less is to once again fail the department and fail your personnel.

One rumor stands above the others regarding this situation, and that is the belief that the DOJ is pushing for the current LASD director of Constitutional Policing, Eileen Decker, to be the point person for Department oversight upon implementation of the expected Settlement Agreement.  If true, this could put the current sheriff in the position of needing to run everything by her before implementing any changes.  Pretty sad situation for an elected sheriff.  Keep a sharp eye out for the Inspector General, Max Huntsman, possibly angling for a piece of the pie as well.

Sheriff, do your job.

People like to talk about “Constitutional Policing,” I say, go beyond “Constitutional Policing.” I consider the Constitution to be the baseline.  Go beyond.  Make things even better.  This is not the time to grumble and groan about the fairness or unfairness of what’s happening.  The results have pretty much been baked into the pie at this point.  May as well suck it up and move forward. The LASD will be stronger for it in the long run.


Mike Bornman

Michael Bornman, Captain (ret) LA County Sheriff’s Department, 36 years of service. Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership, Bachelor’s Degree in English, Associate’s Degree in Police Science.

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