Los Angles Sheriff Lee Baca’s resignation announcement Tuesday wasn’t so much of a surprise as it was a puzzle: Why now?
Baca still has nearly a year left on his current term, so why has he decided to quit his job at the end of this month, rather than just announce he will not run for reelection in June?
That question has been the subject of much speculation and behind the door debate during the last couple of days, with few seemingly ready to accept the Sheriff’s explanation that it’s time, he’s getting too old, or that he wants to spare the good men and women of the department from the political mudslinging that is sure to be focused on his tenure in office during the upcoming election, particularly if he is still at the helm.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been in turmoil since last year when the U.S. Department of Justice unveiled charges against not only county jailers but also two lieutenants. Charges of obstruction of justice, by hiding an FBI informant, charges that jailers not only abused prisoners but also visitors to the jails showed a department completely out of control.
FBI indictments of 18 current and former deputies and allegations that lax screening and favoritism have resulted in the hiring of personnel with criminal backgrounds, are the latest bombshells to hit the department, prompting the Board of Supervisors to recommend the creation of a commission to oversee the department and the hiring of the county’s first Inspector General to take a close look at the sheriff’s department.
The aura of mistrust by the public hangs heavy in the air, in large part due to what many see as Baca’s failure to rein in some members of his command staff, either because he was unaware of the bad behavior, or because he did not want to know.
While Baca has often advocated for programs for at-risk youth in the communities served by the sheriff’s department, and for jail programs aimed at reducing the recidivism rate, those efforts have been greatly overshadowed by the complaints of many that abusive behavior on the part of deputies and unjustified shootings are too normal an occurrence in LA County.
The rumors that more charges will soon be unveiled against additional members of the department, including some higher ups and perhaps Baca himself, may have brought about his unanticipated retirement.
For now, we applaud Sheriff Baca for his backing of a commission to oversee the department, as proposed by the Board of Supervisors.
No matter the reason, Sheriff Baca’s retirement before the end of his term means a new sheriff will ultimately be elected to lead the department in the future.
We don’t believe a member of the department’s current hierarchy can overcome all the turmoil the sheriff’s department has been experiencing, and that it is in the best interest of county residents that someone from the outside, who can bring a new perspective and experience, be elected to lead the L.A. County’s Sheriff’s Department as it faces reforms.