Has the Day Finally Come for OC to Get a Law Enforcement Watchdog?

Will Tuesday be the day they finally do it?

In December 2015, with the ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal making headlines, Orange County supervisors made a big deal about beefing up their oversight of law enforcement.

They expanded the role of the Office of Independent Review (OIR), the county’s tiny agency that’s supposed to probe potentially problematic practices within the Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney and other agencies.

But in March 2016, Stephen Connolly — the OIR director – resigned under pressure from supervisors who were unhappy with his work. The office has had no staff ever since.

And, now, nine months later, with the jailhouse snitch scandal still making making headlines, supervisors finally appear to be close to naming his replacement.

The supervisors put the appointment on the agenda for their Jan. 10 meeting, yet ended up not doing anything. But it’s on the agenda again for Tuesday’s meeting, and at some point they’re bound to do something.

Whenever the OIR does get appointed, it will be interesting to see if he or she jumps into the snitch scandal, which is already a crowded place — with investigations by the feds, the state, and the county grand jury already underway.

One thing that does seem to be a pretty good bet is the new OIR launching a probe into the DA’s controversial DNA collection program, known as “spit and acquit.”

DA officials say it’s been instrumental in solving more serious crimes that they couldn’t have solved otherwise. The database has provided over 725 “investigative leads” to local law enforcement, according to Rackauckas’ office.

But the program has also sparked concerns about conflicts of interest, given that the DA’s office is collecting and analyzing the evidence it presents in court. And there’s a specific case in which a county crime lab scientist testified that the the DA’s office tried to manipulate DNA evidence to support its case against an innocent person.

The DA’s office disputed those claims.

Results of any appointment vote would be reported publicly after closed session, near the end of the meeting.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.