Sheriff Lee Baca admits shortcomings in 2010 hiring practices
Under fire for hiring dozens of officers with histories of serious misconduct, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Wednesday acknowledged shortcomings in the way his agency handled the process.
“We did a job that could have been done better,” Baca told reporters. “There is a reality here that certain individuals, upon scrutiny, need to be revisited and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
Baca’s comments came a day after county leaders demanded he investigate his department’s hiring practices. Those calls came in response to a Times investigation over the weekend that found that Baca’s agency hired dozens of officers from a disbanded county police force in 2010 even though investigators had found significant misconduct in their backgrounds.
Internal sheriff’s files showed that jobs were given to officers who accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work, committed theft or solicited prostitutes.
For nearly 100 of the roughly 280 hires, investigators discovered evidence of dishonesty, such as making untrue statements or falsifying police records. At least 15 were caught cheating on the department’s own polygraph exams.
Baca, who had previously declined to be interviewed on the subject, said “the undersheriff” was responsible for the hires — a reference to his former second-in-command, Larry Waldie, who led the expansion.
“We should not have relied on just one person” to make the hiring decisions, Baca said.
Baca’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, later elaborated on the sheriff’s comments. Whitmore said the sheriff “doesn’t know yet” if his agency hired officers it shouldn’t have. He said the shortcomings Baca was referring to were how the process was handled — instead of leaving the decision on whom to hire completely up to the undersheriff, “it should have been done with several people.”
Baca “believes he should have been more involved,” Whitmore said.
Waldie and a small circle of aides were responsible for reviewing the background files. In an earlier interview with The Times, Waldie said he personally reviewed many of the applicants’ files, but he said he was not aware of any hires with histories of significant misconduct.
Waldie, who is now retired, also said he and his aides were under “significant pressure” from the county Board of Supervisors and other officials to hire as many county police officers as possible.
A county spokesman denied Waldie’s account, saying the Board of Supervisors told the Sheriff’s Department to hire only applicants who met the agency’s hiring standards.
Waldie could not be reached Wednesday to respond to Baca’s comments.
Sheriff’s officials are expected to present their review of the hirings to the Board of Supervisors in two weeks.
Michael Gennaco, who heads the sheriff’s civilian monitoring agency, said he is conducting a separate review of the county police hires. He said he expects that report will be coordinated with the department’s newly selected inspector general.
Law enforcement experts who reviewed The Times’ findings have criticized the 2010 mass hiring.
Records showed that 29 of the new hires had previously been fired or pressured to resign from other law enforcement agencies.
One applicant had been fired from another agency amid allegations he abused inmates, but was hired by Baca’s agency to work the jails. Another was forced out of the Los Angeles Police Department after lying to a supervisor.
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