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L.A. Sheriff Sets Agenda to Root Out Department's Gangs, Fix Jails

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna has announced a plan to combat violent deputy "gangs" operating within the nation's largest sheriff's department, the Los Angeles Times reports. Luna appointed Eileen Decker, a high-profile attorney who previously served on the city’s Police Commission and on Luna’s transition team when he took over the department last year, in a chief-level role leading a new Office for Constitutional Policing. The office will also confront longstanding allegations of poor conditions inside the county's jails. “This new office will be tasked with helping to eradicate all deputy gangs from this department,” Luna said at a midday news conference outside the Hall of Justice. “I will have an absolute zero tolerance for this type of conduct.”

The announcement signals a sharp departure from the tactics of Luna’s predecessor, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who at one point said he would eliminate the department’s constitutional policing advisors and later denied the existence of deputy “gangs.” Allegations of such groups promoting violence and running roughshod over certain stations and jails have long plagued the Sheriff’s Department, sparking multiple investigations and costing the county more than $55 million in settlements. Luna said the new office will also work to bring the department into compliance with the many consent decrees and settlement agreements the county has failed to obey for years. Several stem from sprawling lawsuits over poor care and persistent violence meted out by staff inside the Los Angeles County jails. Sean Kennedy, who has investigated deputy groups extensively in his role as the chair of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, lauded the creation of the new office. “Our past sheriffs undervalued constitutional policing to the detriment of so many struggling communities that LASD is supposed to serve,” he told The Times. “I am glad Sheriff Luna is trying to take a new path by instituting a full office of constitutional policing.” But Melissa Camacho, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California who represents inmates in a pair of class-action lawsuits over jail conditions and violence, expressed some skepticism about whether the new office could fix the problems behind bars. “The only thing that is going to enable the Sheriff’s Department and the county to come into compliance with consent decrees is by reducing the jail population by thousands,” she said. “If this person can help do that, then I welcome it.”


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