By Emilie St. John
LOS ANGELES — New Sheriff Robert Luna announced the creation of the Office of Constitutional Policing during a press conference Feb. 15.
The office was created after Luna spent his first two months in office traveling across the county and meeting with the members of the Sheriff’s Department.
“This is an incredible Department, but like any organization, we can always do better,” Luna said. “The Office of Constitutional Policing will help our department eradicate deputy gangs, comply with consent decrees and ensure our policies, procedures and operations uphold people’s constitutional rights. This office is an important step forward in my promise to bring new leadership and accountability to the Sheriff’s Department.”
The new office will work in collaboration with the undersheriff, the Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General Max Huntsman.
Luna appointed former U.S. Attorney and Los Angeles Police Commissioner Eileen Decker as the head of the new department.
“I’m very pleased to appoint Eileen Decker as the director of the Office of Constitutional Policing,” Luna said. “Director Decker is one of the top civilian law enforcement professionals in our country, and an accomplished attorney. She will bring invaluable leadership to our office, and help us improve public safety and public trust in the Sheriff’s Department.”
Decker was one of three co-chairs of Luna’s transition team. She recently helped oversee the Los Angeles Police Department as Vice President of the Los Angeles Police Commission, after previously serving as the commission’s president. She also was a lecturer at the USC Gould School of Law.
“I’m honored to join the Sheriff’s Department as the director of the Office of Constitutional Policing,” Decker said. “The employees of this department are talented and courageous, and I have the highest respect for their work to keep our communities safe. My career has been dedicated to public safety and public service, and this assignment is the culmination of my life’s work. I want to thank Sheriff Luna for his confidence in me, and I’m looking forward to getting to work.”
Decker vowed to be committed to ensuring the department has appropriate policies, practices and training.
During her time as a member of the Los Angeles PoliceCommission, the commission was tasked with similar duties to ensure the department was operating in a constitutional manner.
So far this year, sheriff’s deputies have killed six people. Luna was asked how he would handle deputy-involved shootings.
“For the deputy-involved shootings that we have we are going to look at each and every single one of them and it’s a topic of discussion in tomorrow’s Civilian Oversight Commission [meeting], but this office will also be looking at best practices throughout the country,” Luna said.
Luna also responded to questions on whether he believed the deputy gang issue was either on par with what he thought or was worse.
“That is exactly why Eileen is here with us,” he said. “I came in here with my eyes absolutely wide open and asking a lot of questions; learning and listening and as I do so the public … the community believes that this is occurring and at the end of the day we are accountable to the community and the county and until we prove otherwise the problem exists.”
“This is a challenge this department has faced for decades and won’t be solved overnight,” Luna added. “I want people to talk about the people who work here and the work that we do as opposed to talking about gangs and deputies that hopefully will be in the past.”
Luna was asked to what extent does he believe there is a problem with constitutional policing if he appointed a constitutional policing advisor in his two months of office?
“I believe there are some challenges here but they’re not challenges that can’t be overcome,” he said. “You have to realize any executive taking over a large department anywhere in the United States has to be aware of these types of issues.
“Let’s take the deputy gang issue out if we’re talking about constitutional policing that is in question just about every day when you look at police departments across this country,” Luna said. “This office is not only focused on the gang issues and consent decrees, but they will continuously be looking at policies, training and systems of accountability to make sure everything falls in line and not only do we meet national standards, we exceed them.”
During his campaign for sheriff last year, Luna repeatedly referred to the many reports of deputy gangs in the department and confirmed their names during a Feb. 2 interview with radio host Tavis Smiley.
Award-winning freelance journalist Cerise Castle penned a deputy gang database that alleged to have contained the names of every member she identified as belonging to alleged gangs, and Inspector General Max Huntsman provided details of 41 members of deputy gangs prior to Luna winning the November 2022 election.
Sheriff Luna was then asked a more hard-hitting question.
“Two months in as of now do you have any specific leads? Numbers? Names of deputies that you’re looking for,” asked a reporter.
When Luna went to answer what he thought was a question about staff for the newly created office the reporter said she was referring to the names of deputy gang members.
“We’re working with our partners and the inspector general and there are some investigations going on but this is where this is not only a message to the community but really a message to our employees to make sure when they see or hear of any type of activity like this that they come forward because I’m telling you what 99% of the employees I’m running into they don’t like this department being talked about in that gang fashion. They’re embarrassed by it,” Luna said.
“So as of now, you don’t have any specific names?” she asked.
“I do not have any names as I stand here before you,” said Luna.
Another major task Decker has before her is addressing multiple consent decrees related to the conditions of the jails.
Democratic senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York raised concerns about jails in New York City and Miami, which are under federal monitoring as well. In lockups in all three cities, conditions “appear to have grown worse,” the senators said.
They placed the blame on the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The DOJ’s failure to correct or prevent the constitutional and human rights violations in facilities that are under consent decrees undermines the department’s broader efforts, as well as the public’s faith and confidence in our legal system,” the senators wrote in the letter.
Huntsman has been consumed with the deputy gang issue since former Sheriff Alex Villanueva took office in 2018 and it is now one of the primary focuses of Luna now that he has taken over.
“This department faces some real challenges like multiple consent decrees, court judgments, settlement agreements, the existence of deputy gangs, and lawsuits that cost our taxpayers millions in settlements and judgments,” Luna said. “I will have zero tolerance for this type of conduct.”
Decker added the prior constitutional police advisors were not as engaged in the oversight of all the consent decrees, and court settlement agreements that have come into play in the last few years.
“Working with the monitors to ensure compliance and ultimately try and get the department out of all the consent decrees so that the department is managing itself again,” Decker said was the goal. “There will be a team of people: attorneys, investigators, auditors, compliance individuals all involved in these efforts.
It is not known how much the new office will cost taxpayers. Luna appeared before the Civilian Oversight Commission Feb. 16 seeking funding for the office.
Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.