LA County Sheriff-Elect McDonnell Aims to “Restore Public Trust” in Department

Newly-elected Sheriff Jim McDonnell has his work cut out for him.

"The main goal is to restore public trust in the LA County Sheriff's Department," said McDonnell Wednesday over coffee at a Long Beach restaurant not far from the police department he currently serves as chief.

McDonnell is the first to be elected Sheriff from outside the department in more than a century.

He will be sworn in on the first of December to succeed Interim Sheriff John Scott, appointed last January after Lee Baca chose to step down after 15 years.

McDonnell said he's eager to move forward with the transition, and has already met twice with Scott.

It is an enormous department, with more than 17,000 sworn and civilian employees, responsible not only for patrolling more than 40 cities and county areas, but also for running the county jail system and providing bailiff and other law enforcement duties in Superior Court.

The department faces continued scrutiny over the handling of the jail system, and patrol practices in the Antelope Valley.  Baca also faced criticism for allegedly affording special treatment to friends and supporters.


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McDonnell served on the civilian commission that investigated the jails, and found "a persistent pattern of unreasonable force."  The commission's final report contained dozens of recommendations.

"Reason I'm here is because of what I saw on the jail commission," McDonnell said.

Prior to being chosen chief in Long Beach, McDonnell served 29 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, finishing as top deputy to then-Chief William Bratton.  McDonnell was in the running for LAPD chief in 2009 when Charlie Beck was selected.  McDonnell has worked closely with the Sheriff's Department, but never directly for it.

"He's sort of an outsider-insider, because of serving on that jail violence commission. So my expectations are very high," said Don Knabe, member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from the Fourth District.  McDonnell was Knabe's appointment to the commission.

Targeting sex trafficking has been a priority of Long Beach police under McDonnell, participating in a county task force that has emphasized rescuing under-age victims.

McDonnell has long been an advocate of community policing, both in Los Angeles and Long Beach, and believes it can be more fully implemented by the Sheriff's Department in certain areas.

"Parts of the county are operating extremely well, and other parts not so well," McDonnell said. Early on he plans to do an assessment, "to be able to get kind of a wellness check on the whole county relative to our treatment of people and the focus on community policing."

In Tuesday's general election, McDonnell defeated former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

The term of office for sheriff is four years.  During the past century, LA's elected sheriffs have tended to remain in office for multiple terms.  Prior to the interim appointment of Scott and the election of McDonnell, the previous four sheriffs -- Baca, Sherman Block, Peter Pitchess and Eugene Biscailuz -- had served a combined 82 years.  The last time an incumbent sheriff failed in a re-election bid occurred in in 1998, when only days before the election, Block died.

Having yet to be sworn in, McDonell brushes off questions how long he would like to remain sheriff.

"I wouldn't want to speculate on what the future looks like other than I will work as hard as I can, do the best job, and we'll see what the future holds," said the sheriff-elect.

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