Let Block Pursue Reform Promises : Sheriff, with worthy agenda, deserves 4th term

At 70, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, after an apparently successful battle with cancer, is running for his fourth term.

But this time he faces five opponents, some of them plausible and attractive. And the five all agree on one thing: Block has been in office too long and a change is needed. They have a point, but Block's reply that the Sheriff's Department is currently under immense pressure to reform and that he needs more time to see the revision through is valid, too.

When Block last ran for reelection, his department had just been shaken by a major narcotics scandal. Confidence in him was not at an all-time high. Today he can claim to have attacked that problem; he can also point to a measure of success in working with the Kolts Commission, created two years ago to recommend reforms for the department and to monitor whether they are being carried forward.

Block no doubt views this election as his last and wants another term so he can go out on an upbeat note. Does he deserves this chance? Block is a nationally respected law enforcement professional whose quiet demeanor and bespectacled appearance mask knowledgeability, pride and commitment. Almost all of his opponents make good points and impressive presentations (Block and his rivals gave their views recently on our Commentary page). But if Block can deliver, as he promises, on the Kolts reforms and can keep corruption out of the department, he will indeed have made a case for experience over change.

That will be especially true if he also works hard in two other key areas. One is pressing forward with the spirit of community policing: Get the department closer to the people. The second is improvement of relations with minority communities; in the past, relations between deputies and some Latino, African American, Asian and gay communities they patrol have been plain awful. These ties are improving, but must be made even better.

The five county supervisors also can help. With the additions of Gloria Molina and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, the board is already less likely to automatically go along in order to get along. That quality would come in handy if for any reason a victorious Block chose not to serve out the full four years of a new term. If that happens, the board should not follow the tradition of meekly accepting whatever replacement the incumbent sheriff puts forward. Instead, the board should initiate a national search for a replacement, or order a new election.

Because of the greater activism among county supervisors and given Block's apparent commitment to reform, corruption control, community policing and minority relations--and we'll be monitoring these areas carefully--The Times endorses Sherman Block for reelection as sheriff.

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