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What’s the Deal with Subpoena Power?

What is subpoena power?

A subpoena is a request under penalty. There are two types of subpoenas. The first requires you to testify in front of a court and the second requires you to produce documents, materials, or other evidence. Without subpoena power the civilian oversight commission could ask the LASD for documents and they could lawfully say “no.” With subpoena power the civilian oversight commission could subpoena documents from the LASD and they would have to comply or face a criminal penalty. Subpoenas are the difference between asking and telling. Subpoena power is power.

Why does the civilian oversight commission need subpoena power?

The LASD has a long history of secrecy, misclassification, and “losing” reports. For example, LASD keeps 30% of the L.A. County homicide and death cases on security holds. That is a significant amount of information withheld from the public! The current Inspector General whose job it is to audit and investigate the department’s handling of complaints has been very public with his inability to access reports. The things that the LASD wants to keep hidden are precisely the things that the civilian oversight commission needs to find out. Subpoena power is necessary for transparency and accountability.

With subpoena power can the commission discipline deputies?

To be clear, subpoena power does not give the commission the power to discipline anyone. State law prevents disciplining deputies via a commission. However with subpoena power the civilian oversight commission can compile data, create legitimate reports, and offer recommendations backed by evidence that will incite a high level of consideration from the board of supervisors and sheriff – who can discipline deputies. Subpoena power is the difference between making a blind recommendation and a credible argument.

So how can the civilian oversight commission get subpoena power?

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors are in the position to do the necessary things to ensure the commission has the opportunity to have subpoena power. They have the power to put a charter amendment on the ballot that the county would then vote on.

If you want the civilian oversight commission to have the ability to make influential arguments based on evidence then tell your working group representative and county district supervisor to put a charter amendment on the ballot so that we the people can vote for subpoena power.