Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Reports Inaccurate Jail Violence Data
by Ed Lyon
Already rocked by a scandal that put its former sheriff and his top deputy behind bars, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) has come under fire for its inconsistent reporting of violent incidents in the county’s jail system, which is the largest in the nation.
According to an August 2017 audit report by the county’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the problem lies in the LASD’s data reporting systems, which employ multiple overlapping databases that are not reconciled with each other.
The impetus for the OIG audit came from a set of jail violence statistics released to the Los Angeles Times in February 2017. Those numbers did not match data provided to the OIG at the end of 2016. Then, in April 2017, LASD officials admitted that neither set of numbers was one “that it could confidently report as accurate,” according to the OIG’s report, which also quoted LASD employees who said they “did not believe their own data.”
Responding to the audit, LASD spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said the department was “committed to providing accurate custody-related data,” and that Sheriff Jim McDonnell was aware of the problem and had ordered an internal review.
McDonnell, 59, was elected sheriff in 2014, defeating former Undersheriff Lee Tanaka. Tanaka, 59, and former Sheriff Lee Baca, 75, were convicted of obstructing an FBI investigation that uncovered corruption among LASD jail guards, who accepted bribes to smuggle contraband to some prisoners while subjecting others to savage beatings. Baca, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, was convicted in March 2017 and received a three-year federal prison term. Tanaka began serving a five-year sentence in January 2017. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.42; Aug. 2016, p.34; Mar. 2016, p.1].
Depending on where you look, four different sets of numbers can be found for three categories of jail violence tracked by the LASD. One set was reported to the OIG. Another was provided to the Times. A third set can be found in the Sheriff’s Critical Incident Forum (SCIF), which was reported in April 2017. And a different set of violence numbers is recorded in the jail’s “Monthly Book.”
For 2015, prisoner-on-staff assaults in LA County jails may have been as few as 382, according to the Monthly Book. Or they may have been as many as 464, which was the total reported to the OIG – a discrepancy of over 22 percent.
For 2016, prisoner-on-prisoner assaults totaled 3,716 in the data the OIG received, but only 3,354 were reported to the Times – nearly 10 percent fewer.
Also for 2016, use-of-force incidents by LASD deputies working as jail guards totaled 1,849 in the SCIF, while 1,833 were reported to the OIG and recorded in the Monthly Book.
The OIG audit concluded that the problems stemmed from a combination of legacy and current computer hardware, incompatible databases, applications with decentralized data entry and a lack of data reconciliation systems. As a result, some violent incidents were not recorded while others are reported as multiple occurrences.
Assistant Sheriff Kelly Harrington agreed that “an integrated jail data system with one repository for information” would work better. He added that creation of a streamlined jail data management system “has not been a top priority” in the 1½ years he has been in his position at the LASD.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, www.correctionsone.com, “Los Angeles County Office of the Inspector General Report on a Review of the Jail Violence, Tracking, and Reporting Procedures of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department” (August 2017), response by L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell to OIG report (August 22, 2017), www.witnessla.com, www.usnews.com