We endorse the passage of ballot Measure R because of the current — and ongoing — history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department proves the need for greater independent oversight and transparency.

The Sheriff’s Department was created in 1850 as the first professional police force in Los Angeles. Now the department currently polices itself and, like wolves guarding the hen house,  has run amuck without oversight whether it involves the use of deadly force, misconduct investigations or treatment of prisoners in the numerous city and county jails they oversee. 

They are funded with public dollars —- a $3 billion budget — which means they should be held more accountable for their actions, especially when it comes to the continued employment of deputies who might be better off in another line of work.

Equally troubling: Why are our jails filled with people who need social and medical services? LA county jails have been called the largest mental institution in the country, with so many people in need of medical service instead of imprisonment. Cells are also stocked with homeless people who are in need of a safe roof over their heads, or who are battling addictions.

According to the Los Angeles Almanac website, the inmate population inside the correctional facilities is overwhelmingly black and brown. Their latest statistical racial demographic report stood at 50% Latino and 30 percent African American, as opposed to 16% white. Latinas, at 39%, are the fastest growing female population in the prison system.

Measure R can provide an important start toward change.

It would give the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission that was formed in 2016 the power to subpoena witnesses and documents relevant to citizens’ or inmates’ complaints. The current commission does not have the power or authority to properly subpoena police records or to conduct its own independent investigation of misconduct.

This should lessen the department’s reliance on cloaking any and every incident as being “under investigation,” and allowing too many matters to slowly fade from public conscience.

The ballot measure would also require the commission to research, draft, and propose a “Comprehensive Public Safety Reinvestment Plan” to be presented to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and published to the public seven months after its adoption.

The plan must include a feasibility study regarding its implementation, strategies to reduce the county’s jail population — which can average between 17,000 and 18,000 inmates on a daily basis, well above its designed capacity — through mental health treatment, and a timeline and detailed allocation of resources for the plan.

The need to remove the mentally ill who shouldn’t be incarcerated and instead provide them medical and psychological help, is vital and necessary. So is the need to start restoring public confidence in the department.

Criminal justice reform advocates believe Measure R may be more of a “first step” and “the unlocking of a door,” rather than an all-encompassing panacea to fix all ills.

But Measure R will be the start of crucial change to give the commission subpoena power and develop a plan to reduce jail populations and to look toward diverting funds into treatment for the thousands who are incarcerated who should be in treatment programs rather than behind bars. 

This is an all-or-nothing measure — you cannot support one part of it and reject another.  But Measure R deserves the public’s support as well as ours. No progress can be made without moving forward. And no door nailed shut by history or a culture that continues to operate in a “business as usual” manner can be opened without a strong pull.

On March 3, vote “yes” on Measure R.

— The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol