Lee Baca is the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and he might have made his worst mistake ever. He was at the helm when he hired deputies from a defunct county police force. The hiring went on despite some candidates having known histories of prior criminal convictions and extremely poor job performance. Worse, it took an investigation by LA Times reporters to show that the department knew about the dismal records, yet did nothing. According to a Dec.18 LA Times article, Baca is just now admitting that his department should not have hired the deputies.
The performance and criminal issues are stunning, considering that Baca was aware of his responsibilities as Sheriff. During an interview, he said that
"People have to trust that we're hiring the best and brightest … because of the awesome authority and responsibility our deputies have. Almost everything we do is predicated on public trust."
The problem hires included 51 deputies and supervisors, plus 33 jail workers. 280 people were hired in all, but as many as 100 have something wrong with their records. Further investigation might identify even more problem hires.
After the Times exposed the problem, the LA county Board of Supervisors demanded a report from Baca. He sent a two-page letter admitting that his department violated hiring standards, but saying little about the real issues. He ultimately passed the buck by claiming he delegated the entire matter to Undersheriff Larry Waldie.
Baca insists he demanded the “highest standards” in the hiring decisions, but the board of supervisors is not buying his explanation. Baca did not tell how or why the hires went on, despite being obviously bad decisions. Waldie vaguely claims he was pressured by the board to make the hires. The board is demanding more information as Baca never really explained how or why the hiring continued.
In the next outrage, the department claims it might not be able to get rid of the problem deputies. This is in spite of dozens of deputies with past problems like having sex while at work, stealing, accidental weapons discharge and falsifying records. One deputy fired her gun at her husband as he was trying to escape her attack. Another had already been fired from the LAPD for lying. Another was put to work at the jail in the midst of brutality complaints.
Knowingly hiring problem deputies, covering up their issues and keeping them on the job is somehow expected to make them immune to being fired. Baca actually stated plans to shove them into less “sensitive” positions and out of the limelight. There is also mention of more training and special monitoring.
An attorney for the police union thinks that the above makes sense. He said,
"The department has known for years their background and that background was vetted, and the good and the bad was revealed. It went to the highest levels of the department for review,"
It is unclear what will happen to Baca and Waldie. Baca is 71 years old and his fifth term should be his last. A Dec.10 CNN article says that 18 of his deputies were indicted for corruption and civil rights violations.
According to an Aug. 26 NPR article, he is under scrutiny for much more malfeasance under his leadership. In August, the FBI investigated jail abuse so bad that bones were shattered, teeth were kicked in and wounds required dozens of stitches.
In July, the Justice Department investigated Antelope Valley deputies who were roaming the area and making unconstitutional and racially based stops. Their searches and seizures mostly went against Blacks and Latinos.
Baca’s tends to pass blame by claiming to have delegated responsibility. Or, he sees himself as powerless to do anything. Finally, he dodges giving answers and promises future improvements. Time is running out on those tactics and Baca will eventually be forced to account for his department’s failures.