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No End to Sheriff’s Dept. Laxity

The two remaining candidates for sheriff of Los Angeles County have some explaining to do about the Century patrol station in South-Central Los Angeles. Deputies there have been involved in shootings three times more often than police officers in a similar area.

The report comes from Merrick Bobb, a special counsel appointed by the county supervisors to monitor the Sheriff’s Department. Its most compelling section compared the Century station and the L.A. Police Department’s Southeast station, which is in the neighboring patrol area. In 1996, the two stations reported similar types of violent crime and a roughly equal number of such crimes. But the LAPD officers were involved in only three shootings that year, while the number for the deputies was 14.

Incumbent Sheriff Sherman Block bears ultimate responsibility for a failure to investigate a matter of such obvious public concern. His challenger in the November runoff, Lee Baca, who just retired from the department to pursue election full-time, last served as chief of the patrol region that includes the Century station. In other words, both Block and Baca appear to be part of the problem.

Both candidates have Bobb’s findings at hand: too little training and too many inexperienced officers in a tough patrol area; inadequate guidance from too few supervisors, and too many of those weren’t very experienced. Some of the veterans at Century were viewed as cowboys who hadn’t been reined in by superiors. And there were too few Spanish-speaking or African American deputies in this mostly Latino and African American area.

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Faced with these plain facts and such a clear presentation, voters could reasonably expect both candidates to agree that the situation at Century demands attention and to then outline how they would implement common-sense solutions. But Baca’s response to a Times story on Bobb’s report was in essence “no comment.” No comment? Is this man serious about wanting to be sheriff?

Block’s response to the report: “What [Bobb] is saying about the Century station is fact as far as the numbers, but there is a lot of conjecture in there as to why things are happening. . . . I don’t think anybody can say what the correct number of shootings is.”

You can regard that reply as standard boilerplate. It’s just another example of Block’s shoulder-shrugging lack of awareness about the problems within his department and another reason why he doesn’t deserve to be reelected sheriff.


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