One has to wonder just how damn powerful the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department really is. Even without their fearless leader, Lee Baca at the helm, the Sheriff’s Department is still a power to be reckoned with. To the surprise of many, Baca who started with the Sheriff’s Department in1965 and worked his way through the ranks to become Sheriff in 1998 where he has overseen the Department for the last 15 years, announced his retirement in January and insisted that his decision to retire was “based on deeply personal and private reasons” as well as “the highest of concern for the future of the Sheriff’s Dept.”
Yeah right. If he had really been concerned about the future of the department he would have retired years ago! The only thing that concerned him was covering his aging ass! He’d been reading the handwriting on the wall and just wanted to get out while the getting was good, you know, before the shit hit the fan. Unfortunately he may have waited a little too long, the shit had already begun hitting the fan and hitting it hard.
At the time of his retirement announcement the Sheriff’s Department was already the big news in town and under the public microscope for several use of force incidents and more than one questionable shooting situation and under investigation by the FBI for jailhouse corruption and possible civil rights violations. Interestingly, just a month before Baca’s announcement, 18 sheriff deputies had been formally charged by federal prosecutors for beating jail inmates and visitors, obstruction of a FBI investigation and other assorted crimes. He has also been linked to illegal hiring practices in which unqualified candidates, some who had been dismissed by other departments or charged with crimes were hired as Sheriff’s anyway. Yeah I think Lee may have hung in there a wee bit too long and some of the shit that hit the fan is gonna land all over him! oh well, shit happens.
So Lee Baca retires! Woo Hoo! Hurray for the Department! Yeah not so fast. I thought that when you cut the head off a snake the snake squirms and thrashes about for awhile but is no longer dangerous. I guess that applies only to snakes of the reptile persuasion not the human kind. It’s pretty obvious that the LACO Sheriff’s Department is alive and thriving, and still has clout with the LACO Board of Supervisors. Despite the fact that the Sheriff’s department is being slammed time and time again for reckless and inappropriate behavior in the county jails and on the streets of LA County, they still have control of the County Supervisor’s vote.
Last week the Board voted on a proposal to create a civilian oversight Commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department’s actions. The proposal was rejected because the civilian panel would have no real authority to problem solve and would just create more red tape before any action could be taken. Proponents argue that it isn’t power they seek, they don’t want the authority to hire, fire, discipline or suspend officers. They simply want a group that has access to information and reports, who will act on an advisory capacity. A panel that can oversee, review and evaluate police actions and procedures and offer suggestion on improvement. Discipline and any policy changes would be handled by the Department not the Commission. their sole purpose would be to evaluate and suggest. If nothing more the establishment of a commission would at least give citizens a forum to air their grievances.
Personally with all the crap the Sheriff’s Department has been muddling through recently, the civilian committee seems like a good idea. Do you realize that the Sheriff’s Department is the only law enforcement agency in California that doesn’t have a civilian commission to oversee it’s actions. That’s right, the Sheriff’s Department are the only group that police themselves! I don’t know about you but I truly think that the formation of a civilian group to oversee the department is an excellent first step in reeling in the Sheriff’s Department and getting them back in line. A civilian panel could really be an asset to the future of the Department.
So what’s the hang up? Why do the Sheriff’s and County Board of Supervisors have such a problem in establishing such an oversight committee? What are they afraid of? Any move to make the Sheriff’s Department more transparent and improve accountability should be welcomed with open arms. What exactly is the hold up? What are they trying to hide?
Just a Thought…