Sheriff Lee Baca retirement announcement gets mixed reaction

01/07/2014 1:41 pm0 commentsViews: 18

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Reaction was decidedly mixed today to Sheriff Lee
Baca’s retirement announcement, with some officials hailing his decades of
public service but many activists saying his departure was necessary to improve
the operation of the department and the jail system.
County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he spoke with Baca yesterday
and that the sheriff gave him “no indication” he was thinking of stepping
down from his post. The supervisor said his feelings about Baca’s decision were
mixed.
“He’s seen as one of the most enlightened law enforcement officials in
the nation and I think in many ways he is,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Somewhat
unpredictable, typically progressive, he tried his best to be responsive, so
it’s mixed. You can’t deny the problems that are stalking the department.”
Ridley-Thomas has pushed for a permanent citizens’ commission to oversee
the Sheriff’s Department. Discussion of that matter by the board was
postponed today, but Ridley-Thomas said he and Supervisor Gloria Molina would
continue to seek the third vote on the board needed to create such a body.
“The call for an oversight commission was without regard for who would
be the sheriff,” Ridley-Thomas said. “This sheriff embraced the idea of a
citizens’ commission.”
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union was less conflicted.
“Well, the ACLU called for his resignation two years ago, so, yes, we
are pleased with this,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of
Southern California. “We believe that the major reform that is necessary for
the Sheriff’s Department can’t happen with him at the helm.
“But it’s not the only issue. It’s not only about who is the sheriff,
but if the department really changes its direction and introduces a dramatic
number of reforms.”
The Board of Supervisors will need to appoint a successor to Baca, and
staffers are researching the requirements for the post, which include
residency. Baca suggested that Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald “hold down the
fort,” but mentioned two others, Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James
Hellmold as possible candidates in the June election.
Ridley-Thomas said the list of potential appointees would include all
the assistant sheriffs, adding Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo’s name to the
speculation. But the supervisor said he wasn’t ready to comment on the
campaign.
Eliasberg said he was prohibited by his role with the ACLU from
endorsing any candidates, but said the organization would favor someone from
outside the department.
“It’s been a very insular organization for a long time,” Eliasberg.
“I think the Board of Supervisors should consider what the benefits would be
of bringing somebody in from the outside.”
Los Angeles Police Department

Sheriff Lee Baca Photo by Gary McCarthy

Sheriff Lee Baca
Photo by Gary McCarthy

Lee Baca gunscalled Baca “a
tremendous leader” who has “done an immense amount of good for the county.”
“All of us in leadership positions have to decide when is the right
time for us to go and I talked to him last night and he feels this is the right
time,” Beck said. “He feels this is in the best interest of his family and of
the organization. I told him what I tell you — he should be proud of the work
he’s done as sheriff of L.A. County.”
City Councilman Bernard Parks hailed Baca as “a remarkable public
servant for almost 50 years.”
“There are very few that get the opportunity to start at the entry
level of an organization and eventually reach the top leadership position,”
Parks said. “Sheriff Baca should be commended for his many achievements and
personal sacrifice. I wish him well in retirement and he will soon find out
there there is life after LASD.”
Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is campaigning for the sheriff’s
job and left the department after being named in a county commission report
blasting management of the jail system, said that while he and Baca had their
“differences,” he respected the sheriff’s work.
“He’s voiced his opinions publicly as have I,” Tanaka said. “I’ll
talk about that during my campaign, but I want to put politics aside for today
and applaud him for his dedication to public service. this is a tough job and I
want to thank Sheriff Baca for his decades of public service to Los Angeles
County.”
Former sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, who has been vocal in his criticism
of Baca and is also running for sheriff, said Baca “can run from the job, but
he can’t hide from the culture of corruption.”
“It’s like cleaning up after a hurricane,” he said. “The storm is
gone, but the damage remains. It’s time to clean house, implement major reforms
and restore honesty and integrity to this department.”
Patrisse Cullors, executive director of the Coalition to End Sheriff’s
Violence in L.A. Jails, hailed Baca’s decision to step down, but said the
county needs to continue working to ensure changes are made in the Sheriff’s
Department to improve conditions in the jails.
“The Board of Supervisors’ moral burden is massive and their decisions
will go down in history,” Cullors said. “Whether Sheriff Baca acknowledges it
or not, there is no greater failure than stepping because of the shameful
conditions of the department.”
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant
Rights of Los Angeles, said Baca has left the department “mired in
controversy and shame” and “has been no friend to the immigrant community.”
“Whatever his reasons for leaving, Sheriff Baca will not be missed by
our community,” she said. “We expect (Baca’s successor) will have a lot of
cleaning up to do should it expect to regain some of the community trust it
lost as a result of missteps, overreaches and violations gone unchecked under
Baca’s administration.”

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