As the sun begins to set on his fourth term as Los Angeles County Sheriff, Lee Baca has heard the critics who have urged him to retire, but has dared to fight on and intensify his focus on supporting African Americans.
Baca who sat down at his headquarters with the Sentinel for an exclusive interview indicated that he is not ignoring the challenges of running the 18,000-member department.
However, he contends that he is poised to run for a fifth consecutive term as Los Angeles County Sheriff.
“I believe that it’s an honor to serve the most diverse population. We have more diversity in numbers than any other part of the world, but I am very-very focused on the realities of what it is like to work with diverse people and specifically the African American,” The Sheriff told the Sentinel.
Baca hailed African Americans as part of the original society of the United States of America, but contends, “That original society of African Americans was not given the opportunity to expand its talents in ways that is entitled to all human beings.”
When told of recent published critics that included lawsuits against his department and over crowding jails and alleged abuse against inmates by deputies, he retorted.
“We have the lowest crime rate over the past 40 years.”
“The L.A. Times needs to do one thing. They are entitled as any newspaper is to do their own editorial in whatever way they choose to write their stories, but the L.A. Times needs to diversify. When Jackie Clayton was the editorial page editor, an African American woman, she was strong and she was strident and she had a good grasp of how to balance editorials within the L.A. Times.”
Asked about the recent prison hunger strikes, Baca said that his department is not responsible for prisons, but that he sits on the board of State Corrections so he took responsibility nonetheless.
“Those who are demonstrating are claiming they don’t have enough social contact if you really boil it down to the essence of the beef. There’s not enough social contact which brings to bear a positive opportunity which means perhaps there needs to be some more social contact, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be with other inmates,” Baca explained.
He pointed to the Education Based Incarceration (EBI) program that is designed to educate and rehabilitate inmates.
“I had a young man with my EBI program and with that program there is socialization and there’s hope. Hope that they will get out and start a new life and shed the old problems that got them into jail, but it’s a program that teaches them how to learn how to read and write better and they can earn full high school accreditation as well as their GED. What I think is happening with EBI here is what I thin those prisoners who are striking want up there.”
Baca contends there is no secret of the over crowding of jails, but that many of the allegations against his department stem from when inmates are engaging in fights and his deputies have to subject themselves to violence in breaking it up.
Two of his top deputies have resigned and the challenges to retain the services of his department in Compton have been won.
He said that he openly endorsed new Compton Mayor Aja Brown.
“I supported her and I think that she is going to be a wonderful mayor because she is a community organizer and understands how to engage citizens of the community with her civic duty,” Baca praised.
Baca said that he is proud of implementing First Time/Second Chance Program in the highly populated Black region of the Antelope Valley.
The program is designed to provide alternative sentencing scheme for a first time offender who commits a low level crime. It requires restitution to the victim, but allows first offenders an opportunity to keep a felony or misdemeanor conviction of his or her record while discouraging future criminal behavior.
Baca commands the largest Sheriff's Department in the United States with a budget of 2.4 billion dollars.
The Sheriff's Department is the law enforcement services provider to 42 incorporated cities, 130 unincorporated communities, 10 community colleges, and over one million daily commuters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metrolink. The Sheriff’s Department directly protects over 4 million people.
The Sheriff's Department also protects 42 Superior Courts and 600 bench officers. Moreover, the Department manages the nation's largest local jail system with a housing capacity of nearly 20,000 prisoners. An estimated 6,000 of those are enrolled in EBI.
Baca is the director of Homeland Security-Mutual Aid for California Region I, which includes the County of Orange. Region I serve 13 million people.
Baca has incorporated incorporates innovative practices during his leadership that includes a commitment to diversity, public safety, youth services and the Sheriff Clergy Council which is a model that has been hailed by the White House.