Baca: ‘The system is the consciousness’

Sheriff Lee Baca came by the editorial board Wednesday to talk up his soon-to-open Gang Emergency Operations Center (GEOC), which, beginning as soon as January, will attempt to harmonize and computerize the disparate threads of L.A. city and county efforts to reduce the size and scope of gang activity. Along the way he had some sharp words for the L.A. Unified School District. Some highlights:

Sheriff Baca: That’s why this fusion center is so critical, because the policy implications are enormous. I mean, can you imagine how we do things today, is that everyone’s in their own little island of effort. And the police are key linchpins to all of this -- like I have intervention youth centers, I have four, where kids are in there doing things to stay away from troubles. [...] But the transition of the center is that everyone has to be sensitized to the other person’s role in this stuff. And schools, we haven’t even gone over that school stuff, but the key to all of that connectivity here is that everyone who has a piece of knowledge about the kid at risk -- and gangs is the overriding issue -- they have to be involved in communicating their effort somewhere. And so this is going to be a really amazing tool, because all of the truancy information from the school district, all of the dropout information, all the demographics in terms of where and amount, is going to fall into place here. And so the pinpointing of specifics is going to be enhanced to where we’ve never seen it that way. [...]

The realities here is that no one can get their arms around any of this because none of it’s coordinated. It’s all out there in different paths and energy levels. And what this does is it creates a higher sense of accountability for the whole of the problem. This is where I come in as a sheriff, you know, I’m supposed to do this kind of stuff. I hadn’t thought about it until I was just, “Well, this is [an] emergency.” I want to heighten the reality that if you don’t put it on emergency-level status on a daily basis, it calls for less resolve, it calls for less support. [...]

The thing that worries me the most, is the most delinquent part of this whole process, is the schools. They already know the kids who can’t read and write, they already know the kids who are dropping out. It’s called private failure. According to them, they can only tell their parents, their parents don’t know what to do, you can’t tell anybody else, and there’s this whole context of, “That’s really not our mission, is to rehabilitate gang members; it’s to teach people how to do the fundamentals of school.”

All right. So, so in all the conferences I’ve been with in the last 15 years, we bring schools in, they say, “YEAH, yeah yeah yeah YEAH yeah YEAH,” then you go “Kumbaya,” and then you go back and they’re too busy too fool around with kids not doing well in school.

Jim Newton: So would this program then allow for the schools to communicate dropout or illiteracy information to police? Because as a parent I’m not sure I’d want; I mean, I think I’d be a little nervous about that--

Sheriff Baca: Not to police, but to interventionists. You see the police don’t want to delve into sensitive contexts of learning and failures and all that. My programs do that, but I’ve got officers in schools, you know, I’ve got a lot of teachers in the Sheriff’s Department out there, so it’s already in the culture. So the culture is really the school culture, and the relationship with the family. And there are service capabilities that can be brought to both. But it’s not gonna happen if there’s not someone watching.

Now, it sounds so sinister, sounds like “Oh, there’s a big intelligence system here.” But the watching is the system; the system has a consciousness. That’s the problem with any kind of governmental institutional problem-solving is that no one knows where the consciousness is, and so the person ... that wants to help the kids is not bounded by some institutional indifference. [...] The simplest way to explain this: There is an indifference that this (points to the GEOC flow chart) doesn’t allow. [...]

Matt Welch: Um, you, uh, have spoken a couple of times about like the political buy-in, and getting everyone kind of so that they can take credit or whateer. Um, where is the status of this? Is this the Baca Plan right now, or this the--

Sheriff Baca: No no! [...] No, it’s just GEOC. It’s the Gang Emergency Operations Center.

Matt Welch: But who’s signed up for it, who’s excited about it?

Sheriff Baca: The mayor’s excited, the [County] Board [of Supervisors] is excited, the City Council members are excited. Janice Hahn has even written the GEOC into her legislation for a parcel tax. [...]

Matt Welch: How about David Brewer?

Sheriff Baca: I talk to him about other things. He wants to talk about school security, I says I want to talk about school reform. And so what I told him, I says, “You only got one high school diploma, that’s the problem. You should have two.” And he says, “Well how do you do that?” I says, “Focus on English and math. And test them at the exit exam on the standard test, but if they don’t pass the overall test, but they pass the English and math, they get another high school diploma.” And which doesn’t bar them from college or testing in the LSATs and the ACT and all that other stuff.

He said, “Politically it’s a nightmare,” and I said, “No it’s not. Because there are school districts in other parts of the country that do this!” If these kids can’t function in the broader subject matter area, the life skills are English and math. And so I’ve talked to [ Jack] O’Connell about this, and I’ve talked to a lot of people, so, he’s on board, but he doesn’t know how--

Jim Newton: You don’t have enough to do running the Sheriff’s Department; you’re doing school reform too?

Sheriff Baca: Well, but the school reform issue is big, because of the crime program that I end up with, that’s my relevance. I mean I certainly don’t want to do reform for schools, but I can say this: Governance of schools is not reform of schools, it’s the system that’s defective, because there’s an indifference to failure. There’s a systemic indifference to failure. And failure should not be hidden, it shouldn’t be somewhat, “This is the way it is.” It should be an alarm, an emergency. It is an intellectual crisis when a person has fallen behind in their reading and math skills. It is worse than a disease. It is worse than having a terminal disease. There are people with terminal diseases who can at least think, read and write, and expand their world. A person that can’t read, and can’t calculate, is in total terror, and will not build up to the level of competitive existence with those of us who have jobs and that sort of thing.

They’re sitting on such a disaster over there, that absent that clarity, that disaster will continue to perpetuate itself.

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