There’s (almost) a new sheriff in town

The proper way to handle anti-Semitic hate crimes was one of several topics discussed May 4, when six of the seven candidates vying to succeed former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca gathered for a forum at the Westside Jewish Community Center. 

A recently released audit by the Anti-Defamation League indicated that hate crimes are on the decline but that Jews continue to be disproportionately affected by the incidents. 

Todd Rogers — an assistant sheriff in the Sheriff’s Department, mayor of Lakewood and a participant in the debate — said he wants to see improvement in how law enforcement responds to these incidents, which often include graffiti of anti-Semitic symbols, such as swastikas.

“We have to treat these crimes seriously. We have some folks in the law enforcement profession who tend to kind of downplay them or talk people out of filing a report if it’s … what they consider to be a minor incident, a hate incident or even a hate crime. That’s not acceptable.”

Rogers said that Baca — who resigned as head of the department in January — was very good at the education component of curbing anti-Semitic hate crime, which included making sure the Sheriff’s Department’s has “a relationship with the community and that the community has a relationship with us.” He emphasized the importance of cultural-diversity training inside the Sheriff’s Department “to make sure that we are educating our people about the various cultures that make up this diverse country.”

Rogers was speaking in response to a question from moderator Warren Olney of KCRW about the role the Sheriff’s Department might play in ensuring the safety of the Jewish community. 

Others present were Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold; retired Cmdr. Bob Olmsted; L.A. Police Department Detective Supervisor Lou Vince; Long Beach Police Department Chief Jim McDonnell and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who stepped down in 2013. Former Sheriff’s Lt. Patrick Gomez was not present. 

Much of the evening’s discussion centered on reform, cleaning up corruption and restoring accountability to a tarnished department. Allegations of misconduct on the part of L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies, including the excessive beatings of inmates in county jails and the absence of rebuke by their superiors, are included in the findings of a 2012 report by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. The report cites deputies’ “excessive use of force” against inmates and singles out Tanaka as being partially responsible for the department’s dubious activities. 

Among the other topics of discussion was the possibility of allocating $2 billion for a new central jail, the use of surveillance technology for police work and how to implement education-based incarceration.

Still, hate crime was on the minds of a community still reeling from the recent fatal shootings at a Jewish community center and Jewish assisted-living facility in Kansas. 

While he was unable to comment on the topic during the debate, McDonnell told the Journal afterward that the key to ensuring the security of the Jewish community is open communication with the leaders of Jewish organizations. This is particularly important around the High Holy Days, he said.

The forum, which was attended by about 150 people, was co-organized by CivicCare, a grass-roots organization that educates Jewish voters about local politics; the Shomrim Society of Southern California, a fraternal benefits organization composed of Jewish law-enforcement personnel; and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

The election takes place June 3. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the ballots cast, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a November run-off. 

Adeena Bleich, co-founder of CivicCare, was among the attendees. Speaking to the Journal as the guests cleared out of the community center, she said voters should also pay attention to the treatment of religious minorities within the Sheriff’s Department.

“I think another question we had that didn’t get asked was to talk about how, within the Sheriff’s Department, there can be cultural inclusion and sensitivity, for example, for religions that have holidays that are opposite to the standard of the American holiday schedule,” Bleich said. “So for example, if you had an Orthodox Jew who was in the Sheriff’s Department, how would [the department] accommodate that?”