Interim Los Angeles County Sheriff John L. Scott said Thursday that he left the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in 2005 because he felt the agency was "headed in the wrong direction."
"I saw inaction, and I saw a certain level of neglect," he said, referring to the rise in use of force incidents and other issues in the department. Scott said the department could have moved more quickly to reverse the trends.
The comments came as Los Angeles County leaders gathered Thursday to swear in Scott before an audience packed with Los Angeles County sheriff's officials and other county employees. Employees of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, where Scott has served as undersheriff since 2008, also attended.
Scott is on leave from the Orange County position until Los Angeles County voters pick a new permanent sheriff in later this year. He replaces retiring Sheriff Lee Baca, whose last day with the department was Thursday.
Baca did not appear at the ceremony. A Sheriff's Department spokesman said Baca "wanted to come — he just didn't want to detract from the day."
Scott praised Baca's "48 years of dedicated service" in the department and said he will meet with the former sheriff Friday.
Rather than appointing an undersheriff of his own, Scott said retired division chief Neal Tyler will serve as his executive officer.
He said he will focus on continuing reforms in the jail system and keeping the department unified despite a potentially contentious primary election in June. At least seven candidates — including two current assistant sheriffs and two former high-ranking sheriff's officials — are vying for Baca's vacated seat.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, another former Los Angeles County sheriff's official, said she left Los Angeles with misgivings similar to Scott's.
"I was disappointed with the direction of the department — not necessarily Lee Baca, but some of the people Lee trusted," she said.
When Hutchen's brought Scott to Orange County in 2008, that department was dealing with its own scandal over the indictment of former Sheriff Mike Carona on public corruption charges. Hutchens said Scott's knowledge of the Los Angeles agency, and his experience implementing reforms in Orange County, will help him succeed in his new, interim position.
"He's not interested in running for sheriff," she said. "He can focus, not on politics, but on what needs to be done on the business side of the operation."