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Criminal Justice

With Focus On Deputy Gangs, LA Sheriff Luna Elevates Role Of Constitutional Policing Advisor

A man with medium-tone skin wears a full sheriff's uniform. He is at a lectern with a mic.
Sheriff Robert Luna
(Brian Feinzimer
for LAist)
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna Wednesday announced his appointment of L.A.’s former top federal prosecutor as the director of his new Office of Constitutional Policing, promising she will help him eradicate deputy gangs.

The new sheriff’s selection of Eileen Decker signaled his intention to once again elevate the constitutional policing advisor to a position of significance. Former Sheriff Alex Villanueva had a constitutional policing advisor but their role was unclear and Luna said the office had been shut down by the time he took office in December.

What Decker will do

Decker — who is also a former president of the L.A. Police Commission — will play a role in eradicating deputy gangs, complying with consent decrees and improving policies to ensure deputies follow the U.S. Constitution, according to a department statement.

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Decker said the job is “the culmination of my life’s work.”

Luna called Decker “one of the top civilian law enforcement leaders in our country.” She served as U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles from 2015 to 2017, when the office successfully prosecuted former Sheriff Lee Baca for obstruction of justice in his attempt to cover up jailhouse abuses. Decker said she previously worked as a frontline federal prosecutor on consent decrees mandating reform at various police departments. She also worked on Luna's transition team.

The Sheriff's Department has faced increasing scrutiny over allegations of a pattern of excessive force and unlawful arrests. In 2020, the California Attorney General opened a wide-ranging civil rights investigation into the agency. The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission is investigating the role of deputy gangs in abuses.

'We're not messing around'

Luna said Decker will report directly to him and have a team of investigators and lawyers working for her.

“We’re not messing around,” said the sheriff, who was sharply critical of Villanueva during the campaign for not taking deputy gangs more seriously.

Decker’s role will include ensuring the department complies with multiple federal settlement agreements and other mandates for reform, including one requiring it to reduce the use of force and improve mental health care inside the jails. Last year, federal monitors issued a report that criticized jail deputies’ use of force, calling out examples such as “head shots” — deputies punching inmates in the head — along with a lack of accountability and communication.

“My job simply is to get the department to not fall short,” Decker said.

Decker and her staff “will continuously be looking at policies, they will be looking at our training, they will be looking at our systems of accountability to make sure that we not only meet national standards but exceed them,” Luna said.

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Some criticized Decker when she was on the police commission for being too easy on the LAPD, a charge she denies.

During the news conference, Luna said he had shut down Villanueva’s controversial Public Integrity Unit, believing its work could be “distributed not only to other law enforcement partners but even other details within the department.”

“I want to make it clear that if there’s public corruption, we’re not looking the other way,” he said.

Luna and others had accused Villanueva of using the unit to investigate political enemies, including former Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Asked if he found that to be true, Luna said no.

“To answer your specific question about political witch hunts, I didn’t see anything that I have read so far,” he said. “But if I’ve learned anything from sitting in this chair, I am learning things every day.”

Go deeper

Check our our podcast on former Sheriff Alex Villanueva's tenure in office. Luna defeated Villanueva by a wide margin in a runoff election last November.

Listen to the first episode: 'Imperfect Paradise, The Sheriff'

Listen to the whole series wherever you get your podcasts or right here on LAist.

What questions or concerns do you have about civics and democracy in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze explores who has power and how they use it at a time when our democratic systems have been under threat.

Updated February 16, 2023 at 11:55 AM PST
This story was updated after it was first published. The final update was at 5:23 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15.
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