That the problem of deputy violence in the jails has outlasted many sheriffs suggests that whatever L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca’s role is, systemic factors are involved. Likely among them are the nontransparency of law enforcement, new deputies eager for patrol stuck in the jails, department isolation from the rest of county government and many in jail who could be safely released pretrial.
The blue-ribbon commission’s proposals — among them transitioning to a professional jail staff and having monitors report to the Board of Supervisors — look promising. One alternative is for the county to make custody a regular department, as in Miami, Chicago and New York.
An indication that a supervisors-run department would result in greater scrutiny is the drop in deputy jail violence during the year of the commission’s investigation.
A sheriff should carry the reputation of a competent law enforcement officer; Baca is more of a politician, and he’s not the first to head the Sheriff’s Department. How is this possible?
The county sheriff should not be elected but instead chosen by a supervisors-appointed commission. We don’t elect the Highway Patrol commissioner or the Los Angeles Police Department chief, so why the sheriff?
Baca has done his job poorly, but we can’t get rid of him until the next election. Voters cannot know what they’re getting when the candidate with the most money, the best ads and the most prestigious endorsements carries the day.
Baca has been under the gun from commissions, panels, civil rights groups and The Times for more than a year for his lack of control of the largest jail system in the country. Unfortunately, abuse in jails and prisons is pervasive throughout the U.S. and the world. It is an obligation to incarcerated men and women everywhere to have humane conditions and treatment.
Reporting on abuses is necessary to obtain reforms. Essentially charging Baca with malfeasance seems unfair given the overall conditions of L.A. County jails. Let’s give Baca time to implement the proposals to improve the county jails.