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LA County watchdog urges disbanding of sheriff's 'aggressive' Risk Management Bureau

Keri Blakinger, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — Oversight officials this month urged the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to disband a specialized bureau they say is silencing whistleblowers, protecting favored employees and downplaying misconduct in the upper ranks.

The job of the 83-person Risk Management Bureau is to help the Sheriff's Department minimize its liability by avoiding accidents and defending against lawsuits. But the L.A. County Office of Inspector General's latest report, released Feb. 20, describes a historically "flawed" bureau that became "inappropriately aggressive" under the prior sheriff and has not improved under the current one.

In one instance, the report said, the bureau appeared to retaliate against a whistleblowing deputy by wrongly reporting him to state oversight authorities for dishonesty, an accusation that could have caused him to lose his law enforcement certification permanently.

Yet, repeatedly, the bureau failed to report to state authorities allegations of deputy gang membership — even after one deputy named names in court. And when former Sheriff Alex Villanueva and several top aides were caught on tape "lying to a reporter" about a photo-sharing scandal, the department failed to investigate at all, the report said.

"The euphemistically named bureau corrupts the county's efforts to improve government conduct," the report said, describing the utilization of law enforcement "to protect the Sheriff's Department" from citizens seeking redress as a "misuse of government resources."

In a six-page response, Sheriff Robert Luna criticized the recommendation and called the report "speculative, unfair and irresponsible."

 

The blistering report and the sheriff's pointed response appear to signal a shift in relations between the county's top cop and the inspector general, which had generally been amiable — at least in public — since Luna took office in December 2022.

Under his administration, Luna wrote, the Sheriff's Department has reported more than 3,600 instances of serious misconduct — including 128 allegations of deputy gang membership — to state authorities who oversee the certification and decertification of law enforcement officers.

In his letter, the sheriff criticized oversight officials for failing to acknowledge changes under his administration and said that many departments have similar structures. He called the report's examples "anecdotal" and questioned why oversight officials did not visit the Risk Management Bureau to better understand its operations.

"The Department is in fact obligated to mitigate risk, appropriately support the goal of reducing liability and ensuring root causes are identified and corrective actions are implemented," he wrote. "The draft report includes gratuitous attacks on Department personnel that include assumptions about motive and intent that is not supported by any evidence."

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