Baca’s blame game

first_imgAs sheriff of Los Angeles County, it is Lee Baca’s responsibility to oversee and ensure safety at the county jails. The buck stops with him, or at least it should. But in the midst of recent spate of racial rioting within county jails, Baca has seemingly been less interested in solving problems than in pointing fingers. Acting much less like a sheriff than a politician, he has retreated to the typical political response to crisis: Deny and deflect. The jail flare-ups, which claimed one life over the weekend, should surprise no one. Such incidents have happened before, and ethnic tensions in the jails – which are populated largely by members of rival, racially divided gangs – is nothing new. This has been a simmering problem that existed well before Baca became chief. Yet despite having all the advance warning he could ask for, Baca has proved singularly unable to rise to the challenge, as evidenced by the repeated brawls over the last few days. There are also other problems. Under Baca’s leadership, the department’s administrative costs have soared. Moreover, the jails are overcrowded, which only fuels tensions and violence. But these are precisely the sort of issues – like inmate rioting – that the chief is handsomely paid to address. No one ever claimed that a county department could run itself, or that managers wouldn’t be faced with tough decisions and finite budgets. This is the job Baca campaigned for. It’s Baca’s job to manage his department, to correct its defects and to accept responsibility for his failures. It is not his job to deny and deflect. With its jails in a moment of crisis, what the county needs now is Baca’s leadership, not his excuses.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card In the private sector, a manager with this sort of performance record would be sacked, or at least severely reprimanded by his or her higher-ups. But this being the public sector, the situation is exactly the opposite. It is Baca who is reprimanding his higher-ups – the county supervisors and the taxpayers. Baca claims that the entire problem stems from his shortage of deputies, for which he faults the supervisors for supposed “cuts” to his budget and, presumably, voters for rejecting his proposed sales-tax hike. This a recurring behavior for Baca – refusing to live up to his responsibilities unless he gets more money. Previously, he protested what he deemed inadequate county funding by granting convicted criminals an early release from county jails. But in truth, county funding for Baca’s department has only increased over the last three years. Baca’s real problem isn’t that he lacks money, but that he lacks the determination to successfully recruit and retain enough deputies. The department currently employs only 8,150 sworn officers – about 1,100 fewer than it’s budgeted for. There are many causes for this problem, such as overly generous pensions that encourage early retirement and a policy of making new recruits work in the dreaded jails for their first five years – a policy that sends many would-be cops to other departments. last_img read more