The reported use of force in county lockups rose by more than 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, a jump the assistant sheriff responsible for the jails attributed to more aggressive reporting.
“I honestly think a lot of this is reporting issues,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said.
Still, she told the Board of Supervisors, “This is an area that has me concerned.”
Following reforms proposed by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, the Sheriff’s Department has pressured deputies to report every single use of force, even if that means taking an inmate’s elbow to steer him away from trouble, McDonald said.
McDonald emphasized that the quality of the interactions between custody deputies and inmates had changed dramatically since 2012.
“Before the CCJV reforms … over 50 percent (of force incidents) resulted in an inmate being seriously hurt. Now it is very rare,” McDonald told the board.
Use-of-force incidents are classified by the department into three categories. Category one incidents involve no injury and no allegation of excessive force. Category two incidents involve an allegation of force which may or may not include an injury. Category three includes situations where an inmate is injured.
McDonald cited orbital and hand fractures as common injuries.
Based on a graph presented to the board, but without access to the raw data behind it, it appears that roughly one-quarter of the reported incidents fall into the last two categories. No breakdown between categories two and three was offered, but McDonald said there were no serious injuries in 2015.
When the numbers revealed that the clinic and reception area had a high use of force, McDonald increased staffing there to move inmates through more quickly.
However, there was no clear trend behind the 2015 increase, she said.
Getting prisoners out of their cell — an “extraction” — can be a situation where inmates and deputies clash, but McDonald said 95 percent of all cell extractions are now resolved without the use of force.
McDonald stressed that the numbers were still “well under the national average,” noting that Chicago’s Cook County has about 40 percent more use-of- force incidents even though it jails half as many inmates.
Rikers Island, which also houses half the number of inmates, has nearly five times as many use-of-force incidents, she said.
McDonald also pointed to a lack of growth in disciplinary action as evidence that the use of force has not been excessive. Earlier in her presentation, she mentioned that the department was deferring hiring to fill several internal affairs positions.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis said they would like to see more details.
“It seems to be kind of an alarming growth in 2015,” Kuehl said.
The county has paid out millions of dollars to settle claims of excessive force against inmates. An attempt to cover up a culture of jail violence and block a federal probe resulted in the convictions of 18 deputies and other department officials — including former sheriff Lee Baca, who may be sentenced to up to six months in federal prison.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell has implemented most of the reforms recommended by the CCJV — including enhanced training, the installation of cameras in the jails and changes in the use-of-force policy.
Now, McDonald said, the department is beginning to pivot to address 100- plus provisions demanded by the proposed settlement of Rosas v. County of Los Angeles, a class-action lawsuit brought by inmates who alleged a culture that condoned violence.
McDonald, who announced her retirement in December, told the board it was probably the last update she would personally present, but that her team would provide a more detailed breakdown going forward.
There has been no word about McDonald’s replacement, although the sheriff originally announced that McDonald would stick around until a new custody chief had been hired.
Inspector General Max Huntsman said his staff had been looking at quarterly discipline reports by the Sheriff’s Department and he expected to report back to the board soon.
–City News Service
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