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Election 2020: Your Guide To LA County's Measure R

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy sits in a patrol car in a file photo from 2016. (Photo by Maya Sugarman/KPCC)
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This is part of Voter Game Plan, our project to get you prepped for the 2020 elections. And if you have questions about voting, ask us anything.

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One of the measures on L.A. County voters' ballots in the March 3 election is Measure R, a proposal to expand the powers of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission.

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Here's what to know before you vote.


After the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's massive scandal under former Sheriff Lee Baca -- in which deputies were accused of hiding an informant from FBI agents who were investigating systematic abuse of jail inmates -- the pressure has been on to create more oversight so no similar scandal could happen again. The Board of Supervisors hired an inspector general in 2014, and in 2016 it created a civilian oversight commission.

The commission is an advisory body, but it can investigate complaints and provide findings and recommendations to the Sheriff's Department and the public. The commission didn't have the power to compel the department to turn over documents or witnesses for investigations. That changed in January, when the supervisors voted to give the commission the power to direct the inspector general to subpoena documents from the department.

The move comes amid ongoing tension between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Board of Supervisors, particularly over Villanueva's attempts to rehire deputies who were previously fired and his termination of internal misconduct investigations. The inspector general issued a blistering report last year saying Villanueva has been actively trying to thwart oversight of his department.


Measure R would give the Civilian Oversight Commission the power to issue subpoenas to the Sheriff's Department, rather than having to go through the inspector general.

The measure would allow the commission to conduct investigations using its own staff. It would also give the commission the power to administer oaths, raising the threat of perjury for false testimony.

Measure R also directs the commission to develop a plan to reduce the L.A. County jail population, with a particular focus on getting inmates with mental health issues out of jail and into treatment. The commission would have seven months to develop the plan, and it would also have to conduct a feasibility study. It's unclear how this effort would relate to a project launched by the supervisors in February 2019, the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup. The Workgroup is expected to issue its blueprint to the supervisors in March.


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Supporters say Measure R is an important step to codify and expand on the subpoena powers granted by the Board of Supervisors, so that the Sheriff's Department will provide more transparency into its actions. They also say that seeking out ways to reduce the population of inmates with mental health issues, and finding ways to treat them instead, is an important move for both public health and criminal justice reform.

Read an argument for Measure R from the L.A. Times here, and listen to KPCC's interview with a policy consultant for the "Vote Yes on R" campaign here.


Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who opposes Measure R, has said that added subpoena power won't make a difference because the Sheriff's Department can't turn over certain documents (confidential personnel records, documents relating to ongoing criminal or administrative investigations or confidential information about victims). In an interview with KPCC's AirTalk, Villanueva called Measure R a "taxpayer funded public shaming effort" against the Sheriff's Department, and that all other non-confidential information pertaining to Sheriff's Department cases was posted publicly on its website. He said giving the Civilian Oversight Commission independent subpoena power wouldn't "improve public safety or transparency one iota." He argued that it would just lead to more lawsuits that would cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Listen to KPCC's interview with Villanueva here.


And fill out your sample ballot through our Voter Game Plan>>