By Michael Bornman, retired Captain LA County Sheriff’s Department
“A Leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
– John C. Maxwell
The recent senseless murder of Palmdale Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer has once again shed light on the absolute inadequacy of Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna. As a 36-year veteran of the once-proud Department, I have finally reached the point where silence is no longer an option.
Like many others who knew Ryan or his dad, Michael, I was dumbfounded when I heard the Sheriff struggle with, and finally mispronounce Ryan’s last name. It was painfully clear that he had not even taken the time to learn how to pronounce it before speaking on national television. To those who have paid attention this past year, his failure to prepare has been a mainstay of the Sheriff’s public addresses.
Most recently, the Sheriff appeared on an ABC news special with longtime television personality Marc Brown. During the interview, the Sheriff made a number of subtle yet significant statements that directly reflect on his less-than-satisfactory stance on issues affecting those of us living in Los Angeles County. When asked directly if he disagreed with LA District Attorney George Gascon’s decision not to charge the killer of Deputy Clinkunbroomer with the death penalty, the Sheriff deflected criticism from Gascon. He at least said he believed that if convicted, the killer was deserving of the death penalty.
If this is the Sheriff’s position, why then has his silence been so deafening on this subject? Why hasn’t he heretofore made a public statement about this critical issue? Why hasn’t he come out strongly against the DA’s decision? Afterall, not everyone watches ABC television. The Sheriff has acknowledged that our worthless District Attorney was/is a personal mentor of his. Has this fact colored his thinking in this regard? He also noted during the interview that he was not an advocate of the death penalty. Seriously? A cop killer? This fact alone should make him ineligible to hold the office of sheriff. Enforce the laws on the books or step down.
During the TV interview, the Sheriff also made light of the fact that people in LA County fear rising crime. He dismissed the fear as being “perception” only, proudly noting his own data, which shows a 2% decrease in Part 1 crimes.
Part 1 offenses include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, grand theft auto, and arson.
Well, Sheriff, tell that to people who have been victimized by violent crime recently in LA County. To those folks, I’m guessing we can simply tell them to “look at the data” and calm down. We all know how statistics and data can be tweaked to mean whatever you want them to. More to the point, the Sheriff’s statement completely ignores other “lesser” offenses such as vandalism, petty theft, public intoxication, simple battery, along with the drugged-out zombies who wander our neighborhoods in droves. Let’s talk about the rampant thefts and destruction of personal property like bicycles, skateboards, lawn mowers, and virtually everything else that isn’t nailed down or hidden in our homes. What about the mentally ill and homeless who defecate, urinate, and fornicate in public?
Let’s see the “data” on that.
Regarding the short-sighted and doomed-to-fail concept of cashless bail that has been concocted by an out of touch judge, the Sheriff simply said he wanted to “give it a chance” to see how it works out. Again, seriously? We all know how it’s going to work out. Petty crimes and low-level misdemeanor and felony crimes are going to skyrocket. Anyone who has been in law enforcement knows full-well that without a “hook”, crooks will not just show up to court. What they WILL do is to go right back out and commit other crimes. Again and again.
Criminal justice has historically been enforced through the analogy of “the carrot and the stick.” First time offenders were offered that carrot to help direct their behavior toward mor acceptable actions. Those who violate the rules of the “carrot” become subject to the “stick.” This could be in the form of longer jail time, supervised probation, monetary fines, etc. Nowadays, when someone commits another crime, some folks like our sheriff and district attorney advocate giving them yet another carrot. And another. And another. How many carrots do we pass out before employing the much-needed stick? How many carrots does one crook need? How many do they even deserve?
This is not a partisan issue. The people of LA County do not want or need a Sheriff who is a Democrat or a Republican, conservative or liberal, moderate, left wing, right wing, or any wing in between. The people of LA County expect and deserve a Sheriff who will enforce the law. Period. This concept is so basic that it seems odd to even point it out. Enforce the laws as written. No favoritism, no prejudices, just honest, proactive, hardworking enforcement of the law.
As the Sheriff approaches his first full year in office, I am hard pressed to find even one positive thing he has accomplished. He has alienated his personnel on a number of occasions, including his public statement a few weeks back concerning the incident that occurred in Lancaster, wherein a deputy was seen on video forcing a female onto the pavement. Without so much as conducting a meaningful inquiry into the incident, the Sheriff stood shoulder to shoulder with activists who were condemning the deputy involved.
From my many investigative assignments within the LASD, I learned early on to keep my trap shut until all the facts were in. There were many times when, at first blush, you were left scratching your head, wondering what the deputies had been thinking during an incident, only to find out later that they had followed procedure to the letter. The Sheriff could learn a lesson from this; hold your tongue until after all the facts are known. To do otherwise is to invite mistrust from your personnel. Once lost, that trust is nearly impossible to recover.
It was interesting to note that during his ABC interview, when asked to comment on the progress of certain cases involving the department, including the murder of Deputy Clinkunbroomer, the Sheriff said he didn’t want to comment until the investigations were complete and all the facts were known. Funny how he didn’t give the deputies in the Lancaster incident that same deference when he was talking smack about them immediately in the aftermath of that incident before any meaningful review or investigation had taken place.
It is my firm belief that the Sheriff is in way over his head when it comes to leading a department as large and diverse as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Having come from a local police agency which employs fewer that 1200 personnel (roughly half being sworn officers), he is ill-equipped to oversee an organization with approximately 18 thousand personnel, with over half, 10 thousand, being sworn peace officers. This is a case where simply being “an outsider” is not a positive thing as some people may want you to believe.
In my estimation, the Sheriff appears to be trying to “manage” the Department the best he knows how. This is exactly the problem. Managers encourage and protect the status quo. Managers ensure that the assembly line keeps moving on cue. They make sure that widgets are all made exactly the same, day in and day out. Managers make sure the French fries hot and tasty at a fast-food restaurant. Managers are NOT what a professional law enforcement agency needs. Trying to be a manager in a law enforcement agency is a recipe for failure.
Law enforcement needs, law enforcement requires leadership, not management. Leaders inspire others to greatness. They inspire confidence in their personnel, not mistrust. Leaders grab organizations by the collar and pull them into the future. A true leader can analyze and predict where the organization needs to be in the next 2, 5, or 10 years. Leaders are forward thinkers. They are decision makers. They are ahead of the curve. I haven’t seen any of these attributes in our current sheriff or his immediate command staff.
Unfortunately, our current sheriff seems to be more concerned with his own optics and how he is perceived than doing his job. He should be backing his people as they work tirelessly to protect the good people of LA County. He should be leading the charge in combatting all of the senseless acts of violence that are sweeping across southern California. He should be leading and molding consensus, not seeking it from others who want to tear down the Department. He is doing none of these things.
Some folks like to think that law enforcement should be pretty and wrapped with a bow. It most certainly is not. Enforcing the law is not just a bunch of good-looking men and women passing out lollipops to the kids. Sure, they have done that too, but there comes a point when someone needs to go through a door. Someone will need to confront a criminal with a gun. Who is going to do that? Enforcing the law is a dangerous, dirty job. To be sure, personnel in the department continue to do an outstanding job despite being led by someone who doesn’t understand what they face daily. Sadly, with the current sheriff, they are doing so at their own risk.
As a final point, during his interview, the Sheriff lamented about how the Department’s policies and procedures are somehow not up to the task of keeping his employees in line. It has always been my experience that members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department are among the most talented, best educated, best equipped, and best trained law enforcement professionals in the world. I would personally keep a sharp eye out for any changes he attempts to make in this regard, as his statements may be a harbinger of draconian changes that are in the works to further hamstring department members.
During my own, admittedly unscientific survey of people throughout the Department, I have learned that at this point in his tenure, the Sheriff is not held in high regard by the sworn rank and file. He is not inspiring confidence. He is not encouraging. He does not appear to understand what it means to lead the largest, greatest law enforcement agency on the face of the earth. Let’s hope he finally gets it before the Department begins circling the drain. I fear he will not be up to the task.
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.