Cover: Understanding Subgroups Within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

Understanding Subgroups Within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

Community and Department Perceptions with Recommendations for Change

Published Sep 10, 2021

by Samuel Peterson, Dionne Barnes-Proby, Kathryn E. Bouskill, Lois M. Davis, Matthew L. Mizel, Beverly A. Weidmer, Isabel Leamon, Alexandra Mendoza-Graf, Matt Strawn, Joshua Snoke, et al.

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Research Questions

  1. What is the function of subgroups within LASD?
  2. How do subgroups form?
  3. What do members of subgroups do?
  4. What do deputies and community members think of subgroups?
  5. What is the impact of subgroups on LASD and the communities it serves?

RAND Corporation researchers studied deputy subgroups within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) to help LASD and the county learn more about how these subgroups are formed, why they exist, and what actions might be taken if it is determined that these subgroups have a significant impact on LASD's mission.

The research team formulated questions for an anonymous survey, confidential interviews, and focus groups with a range of LASD personnel and community stakeholders. The team collected interview and focus group data from 141 community leaders and members; interview data from 57 individuals, including members of LASD and other county stakeholders; and responses from 1,608 LASD survey participants.

Sixteen percent of LASD survey respondents acknowledged that they had been asked to join a subgroup, with one-quarter of those being invited in the last five years (the survey did not directly ask whether participants belonged to a subgroup). Personnel had a wide array of views on the structure, function, risks, and value of the subgroups, but many recognized that the potential risks outweighed any functional value or other purported benefits.

This matter negatively impacts community trust, and community members wanted to see that LASD was taking the matter seriously. Deputies expressed mixed opinions as to what actions they felt the department should take. Thirty-seven percent of respondents agreed that subgroups should be prohibited. These results suggest that this subject is divisive within LASD and that efforts for such change could be met with some resistance.

Key Findings

  • Community member interviews indicated that subgroups and problematic behavior associated with them have negatively impacted perceptions of LASD. About 47 percent of LASD survey respondents agreed.
  • Combined with the interview findings, the LASD survey findings suggest that, for some parts of LASD, subgroups exhibit features of being a normalized part of the organization.
  • About 40 percent of LASD survey respondents agreed that subgroups are more common at high-crime stations (55 percent of those who had been invited to join a subgroup agreed).
  • About 40 percent of respondents identified the following criteria for being invited to join a subgroup: being known as a hard worker (91 percent of those who had been invited to join a subgroup), working in challenging environments (86 percent of those invited), socializing with subgroup members (51 percent of those invited), and engaging in specific behaviors, such as being aggressive about making arrests (47 percent of those invited).
  • According to 30 percent of respondents and 42 percent of those who were invited to join a subgroup, the groups have codes of conduct and expect members to perform to certain standards. Among these respondents, subgroups are perceived to be a motivational tool.
  • Around 15 percent of those who had been invited to join a subgroup agreed that being invited to join a subgroup was associated with behavior that violates LASD policy, while 22 percent of invitees agreed that willingness to look the other way when others engage in improper or unethical behavior was a criterion for being invited.


  • Take steps to bolster the policy on employee groups by clarifying policy language, taking steps to address secrecy, improving investigations, and identifying desired cultural change.
  • Open lines of communication and encourage reporting behavior.
  • Encourage collaboration among executive leadership.
  • Ensure that those in key roles are aware and accountable.
  • Develop a holistic approach for organizational change.
  • Develop personnel through training.
  • Promote openness to change, adaptability, and learning.
  • Devote resources to change efforts.
  • Institutionalize procedural justice through training, performance, and accountability.
  • Improve or increase community interaction.
  • Give the community a greater voice and more points of contact.
  • Increase the accountability of both the department and individual deputies.
  • Improve hiring practices.
  • Improve relationships with external oversight.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by Los Angeles County Counsel and conducted in the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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