Supervisors to Take Final Vote on Expanding Their Oversight of Law Enforcement

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A months-long drama over how to change Orange County supervisors’ oversight over county law enforcement seems to be coming to a close, with a final decision slated for next Tuesday on whether to expand the duties of the county’s Office of Independent Review (OIR).

Currently, the OIR’s purview is limited to Sheriff’s Department operations. The proposal before the supervisors would expand it to include the District Attorney’s office, Probation Department, Public Defender’s office, and Social Services Agency.

The proposal also calls for the OIR, which reports directly to supervisors, to conduct audits of department functions, review incidents that present legal liability to the county, recommend reforms, and oversee jail monitors, among other things.

Given prior comments and votes by supervisors, including an approval this week, the proposal is likely to pass, but just barely. Supervisors Todd Spitzer, Andrew Do, and Lisa Bartlett have supported expansion, while Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel have opposed it.

Spitzer, who is a bitter political foe of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, has led the push for expanding the OIR’s oversight in the wake of the jailhouse informants scandal that has rocked the DA’s office and Sheriff’s Department over the past year.

He and Nelson have said that the longtime OIR director, Steve Connolly, failed to keep board members apprised of developments in that case.

The scandal involves misuse of informants to gain incriminating statements, withholding of key evidence from defendants, alleged perjury by law enforcement, and convicted criminals being released early due to the botching of their cases.

The issues have gained national attention and led to calls for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Rackauckas’ office.

Rackauckas, his prosecutors’ and investigators’ unions, and Public Defender Frank Ospino have fought hard against the proposal. Meanwhile, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens – who says the OIR model has worked great in her department – supports the expansion.

Among the key changes to the proposal now before supervisors is that it prohibits OIR’s feedback from being used to punish employees, and that the office can’t affect the wages, hours, or working conditions of union-represented county employees.

At this week’s meeting, the top attorney for the largest county workers’ union thanked supervisors for those changes.

But there still are concerns about the impacts of the ordinance on “existing disciplinary processes” and the possibility that OIR triggers some sort of investigation that wouldn’t occur otherwise, said Don Drozd, general counsel for the Orange County Employees Association.

Drozd said the union, which represents about 12,000 of county’s 18,000 workers, would still like to meet and confer with top county officials about that issue.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the vote that was taken this week. It was to give the first of two approvals of the item, not to place the first approval on next week’s agenda. We regret the error.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • Marco T

    Someone should investigate OC Sheriff keeping news media and other interested parties from monitoring their radio calls, while hiding behind the guise of “officer safety”. You would think if that was a valid argument, cities like Chicago, LA, NYC would be doing it. Counties with law enforcement that has something they don’t want the public to know (OC, Riverside) hide behind encrypted communications.

  • David Zenger

    People really have the right to know how a failed program metastasized into department four or five time BIGGER.

    Only in the warped mind of Todd Spitzer can this be justified as improved
    government. Everybody else sees it as government just getting more
    expensive and more politicized.

  • Paul Lucas

    Oh hello there Johnny come lately. Now that the Feds are signaling they are coming in they wanna look busy? pffffffft

    • LFOldTimer

      Yep. And they kept Stephen Connolly at the OIR on board w/ an extended contact to keep the Feds at bay. At $17,500 a month! Lots of good that did, eh? More money down the rat hole. Once again, Stephen Connolly to the rescue. ha. Good Christ. What a clown act!!!

  • LFOldTimer

    Yet another farce. OIR can’t even keep OCSD and the Sheriff in line. ha. How are they going to police 4 additional agencies? ha. This will end up being a HUGE waste of money and a political weapon that the BoS will use against the weakest of agencies (ie. the PD) and their political enemies. Mark my words. This is a travesty. I wonder if they’ll keep Stephen Connolly on board? Why not? Create a 3-ring circus clown show. Make him El Hefe! ha.

    • talkinghead

      The BoS political weapon has already been cast once Andrew Do gets the PD gig.

      • LFOldTimer

        Giving Andrew Do the “PD gig” would be like putting Rush Limbaugh in charge of the DNC. But it would not be beyond the realm of possibility in the County of Orange. So while at first glance I find your claim to be laughable I have to admit that in the back of my mind I am asking myself “Would they actually do that?”. What I’ve seen in the last few years in county government truly brings back memories of the old politburo style government. You never quite know what’s coming next.