Friday, July 15, 2016
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Lee Baca, as I Know Him
By CAROL BACA
1) My Beloved Husband
I met my loving husband at the Chinese Club yearly event on Nov. 2, 1996. He told me his goals in life were four things: security, education, welfare, and charity. I was so impressed that the first time in my life, I saw someone as great as my father. And indeed, I saw how much effort Lee spent relentlessly for these four goals in his life….
2) Workaholic, Leader
[B]ecause of his passion and his love for L.A. Sheriff’s Department (LASD) he was working for free; he could have retired ten years earlier and received the same amount of pay and benefit. Many people offered to support him to be the governor or the Homeland Security Secretary. He said that he only want to be the Sheriff.
After Lee’s tireless endeavors, the LASD yearly budget grew from 1.5 billion to 2.9 billion which is equivalent to the state of Arizona’s yearly budget. Despite that, he never stopped trying to make the LASD become better.
Lee encouraged everyone to be a leader. A leader has to be a good role model and work the hardest. All of Lee’s drivers and secretaries said that they couldn’t keep up with his energy. Only I knew that Lee had so many things he wanted to accomplish that he never had enough sleep since he was the Sheriff. He was always yawning and couldn’t even watch a movie without falling asleep before he retired. While he was the Sheriff, we never even finished a movie because the only time we had for a movie was the time in between events.
His most common comments at night are “too much…” But it’s hard for him to refuse requests – he had 30 new requests daily. He committed to too many activities for sixteen years. Sometimes ate three dinners in one night, and sometimes we were hungry because we went to 3 dinner events but all missed dinner time. Every time I met him at his office to go for events, I always saw four or five people waiting in line to ask questions or discuss issues with him. I always wondered how he could remember so many things while getting interrupted with different things all the time.
People said I probably didn’t have many chances to see Lee because he was so busy, but I always joked that I saw him “a lot” at events. He read, handled phone calls, changed clothes…in the car out of time constraints; the car was his second office….
3) Visionary, Educator, Preacher, Mentor…
When Lee first ran for Sheriff in 1998, some people teased him by calling him a social worker and educator because he wanted everyone to learn including inmates. The LA Times drew Lee as a huge Don Quixote fighting the windmill on full newspaper size. I, too, was wondering shouldn’t the police catch criminals and not worry about educating them? How ignorant I was then. Now I realized how the teaching process prevented numerous crimes. People with vision are usually lonely at the beginning because most people haven’t caught up yet.
After Lee got elected, he wanted to have all LASD employees have the opportunity to get college degrees while working to advance their career. Some captains said it was impossible. After two years of trying, Lee selected two lieutenants who made it happen. The LASD-University is composed of twenty universities and colleges. And thousands of employees now have their bachelor, master, and doctor degrees because of ‘LASD-U’.
To prevent juvenile crime, he implemented educational programs in elementary schools, high schools, seventeen Sheriff Youth Centers, and eight centers for Vital Intervention & Directed Alternatives (VIDA). We went to a lot of graduations of these programs every year. I was so moved by the teen delegates who gave speeches on how the program changed their life. I was touched by a mother who said that she would commit suicide if wasn’t the VIDA changed her son.
We saw kids overcome with awe by the new baseball team uniforms, computers, footballs, basketball, soap box derby, and boxing games at various Youth Centers.
Lee didn’t forget successful children; he gave numerous speeches on many occasions including university graduation ceremonies. He developed the Police Ambassador Program and Explorers Program to encourage teens to be involved in a law enforcement career and to be a better person.
Lee tried thousands of programs. E.g. he even had deputies give children educational books while they were on street—they called the action ‘book the teens’ etc.
In 2003, Lee created EBI (Educational Based Incarceration) programs to help inmates get back to society as a lawful citizen. He provided them with academic and many life skills programs. Approximately 8,000 inmates in county jails are in learning programs daily. There are some inmates that requested longer sentences so they could finish and get a high school degree. He cared about the inmates’ needs; I saw hundreds of inmates in a room expressed their needs in a jail town hall meeting and Lee did his best to accommodate requests. Lee even encouraged a death sentenced inmate to study and get a degree to better himself.
I saw the inmates give Lee a standing ovation. Lee allowed kosher food, a dog training program, transported inmates to First AME church on Sunday, have inmates visited by religious leaders, and allowed books in the jail because that’s what the inmates wanted, and it was good for them. Every Christmas we would visit the inmates and Lee would shake hands with all individual-cell serious offenders. During Christmas, there were gifts for all children visitors and inmates were provided with individual Christmas treats.
The inmates need a good environment and support group after they get out of the jail. Lee and USC football coach Pete Carroll started the Better L.A. Organization (Pete supported $2 million operation fund yearly which has former inmates helping gang members to reintegrate into society).
In 2003, to ensure the fair justice and appropriate discipline for LASD problem employees to the public, with support from the LA Times, Lee created “The Office of Independent Review (OIR)”. A former Civil Rights US Attorney was selected by the Board of Supervisors to manage the OIR and staffed by 7 civil rights lawyers. This unprecedented move caused headline news. Committed to transparency, Lee opened the jails for adults interested in a visiting, he welcomed ideas and suggestions. He worried the most about managing unstable inmates who can become abusive.
In 2008, he worked with the FBI to investigate problem staff in the jails. In 2011, he created a Jail Task Force of the best commanders in LASD who worked tirelessly to improve the policies, services, practices, education, and training of the jail personnel. No one wanted to have the best jails [more] than Lee.
He loves the public and all the men and women in the LASD. Whenever any deputy died or was wounded, he would be very quiet, not smile, and drop everything to fly or drive to support and console family members. He even went to Mexico to lobby for the extradition of a fugitive who killed a deputy. He eventually was extradited to the U.S.
In 2008, when the second largest recession began and lasted for five years, a 5 year $500 million budget cut happened. The biggest area hurt was the jail system. Insufficient staff and supervisors created a lot of problems. He tried all means possible and somehow managed not to lay off any employees. He did this by enforcing one man per patrol car, stopped overtime, did not fill positions of people that retired, encouraged higher rank officers to volunteer for more work, cut working hours, shifted employees to different locations and positions, and lobbied the State and the Federal government for more funds. He sacrificed a lot and managed not to lay off any employees. But a lot of the employees complained about the shifting and changes which helped save their jobs. Again, the visionary person usually lonely because the majorities don’t see the big pictures.
Finally, he developed a ballot Initiative for a half-cent sales tax to help all County law enforcement Agencies. Many of his friends said, “That’s political suicide, people don’t like a tax increase.” Again, it was right thing to do, so he was not afraid. He raised $1 million and two thirds of the citizens’ signatures for qualification of the voting requirement, but when they deleted the unidentified signatures, it went slightly under two thirds of the required voters (64%).
Lee loves a clean and beautiful city. He picks up trash in any city and any street. I just make sure that he has washed his hands before eating. There is the “Broken Window” theory that [former] LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and Lee embraced which means you maintain the city clean and tidy, the security is improved too. When Lee and [then-]Governor Gray Davis saw that [then-]Chicago Mayor [Richard M.] Daley hired homeless on the weekends to clean the city, Lee had his inmates clean the streets where the homeless reside. They got approval from the homeless to remove the trash, but because the City Attorney threatened to sue Lee for violating homeless rights, it did not last. Inmates, however, willingly cleaned alleys in Compton as a permanent work crew.
Many times people thanked Lee for the Asian Task Force who targeted Asian Gangs and criminals. E.g. the Duarte City Mayor said because LASD cleaned the criminal on the street, they could develop the City with a prosperous future. Lee had ‘Gang Task force’ that reduced high crime rate cities to a safe and growing city. I remember when Compton had a murder rate of 80 per year. After LASD took over, the murder rate dropped to 16 per year. Among the 20 retirement parties, hundreds of Compton, Cudahy, Central City and Norwalk residents appreciated that Lee and LASD deputies made their cities better and safe.
4) Philanthropist and Hero…
Lee has a great heart, like Buddha. He wants to help everyone who has a need. Frequently, people would come up and ask for help ranging from a mother suspecting his daughter was murdered, someone that felt misjudged by justice, a teacher who experienced unfair treatment, to a dead body that needed to be removed from the street. No matter rich or poor, weak or strong, even the President needed help too. The more power Lee had, the more people he helped. He often asked assistants to follow up on those he tried to help.
One time, Lee was sick and we had just come out of the pharmacy and saw a motorcycle accident. There were people already helping the wounded, but even with a serious sickness and late for a function, Lee still joined in to help.
He wanted to build two homeless shelters because 10% of inmates are homeless. He believed homeless veterans belong in public facilities. Lee also believed homeless belong to shelters, not jail. He obtained money, and even drew blueprints and environmental reports for the proposed shelters. But he got strong rejection from some elected officials and local residents wherever he proposed a shelter.
In a meeting in the Sheriff’s conference room, people were so strongly united against Lee putting a shelter in their community. One rich contractor I respected said, “I like you, Lee, but if you insist on building the shelter, I swear I will use all the power and money I have to stop you.” Lee answered firmly to push the plan with his gentle tone as usual. I was shocked and also felt like Lee was David vs. Goliath; He was not afraid that the whole world was against him as long as he helped the homeless.
When misfortune falls upon his friends such as divorce, unemployment, and family member passed away, wedding canceled, etc., Lee would accompany them for hours. He spent a lot of time helping the unemployed to apply for jobs and took them to movies, sport games, and other forms of entertainment to try to cheer them up. He wanted all people to be respected.
When Serbia was in trouble, Lee helped a Serbian student apply to college and supported his tuition. One time he got a complaint that a deputy chased a suspect and ruined a lady’s roses. Lee bought new roses and planted them in her garden during the weekend.
Lee volunteered for a lot of activities. One time he was supposed to teach a class at West Los Angeles College and only one student showed up. Most people would cancel the class, but Lee still spent hours with that one student. He even helped a church set up a school for preschool students in order to have a foundation and prepare for their future success.
In the South Central Century Station, Lee persuaded the LA County United School District to fund a charter high school at the closed court in the Lynwood Regional Justice Center. The school graduated all of its students and all were accepted to colleges throughout the United States.
Lee tried hard to serve all age groups. One time we went to a juvenile detention center that consisted of approximately thirty girls (mostly prostitutes around 16 years old) and approximately thirty boys (gang members or drug users). They didn’t have any programs setup so they were just doing nothing in that small place. Every one cost $250,000/yearly without any mentor or education program. A passionate officer there hoped that Lee could help those misfortunate kids.
Lee gave an intelligent and upbeat speech to the detained teenagers. The girls were very cooperative from the beginning. The boys were cold and motionless but became attentive listeners and participants at the end. Lee tried to merge the Probation Office into LASD and provide programs for these teens but did not succeed. Lee felt that juveniles incarcerated for minimum violence needed mentors. It makes sense to have most efficient use to merge the probation with LASD. It’s like Lee merged the court Marshal Service into LASD which not only saved $14 million yearly since 1992 but also made the system very efficient….
In October 2015, we went to a referred Doctor (the best in this field) Helena Chang Chui from Keck School of Medicine of USC. She confirmed Lee’s short term memory loss and progressive cognition problem with Alzheimer’s disease.
The two doctors each ordered more advanced tests which both proved Lee had Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. My worst fear came to reality. Now I hope the experimental program that Lee signed in at USC will have a cure in the near future.
Lee’s mental state is declining. Two doctors’ reports stated that Lee’s cognition test done every 6 month showed a steadily decline. I know he needs to use his brain more and learn new things so he can slow the downgrade progress. I thought of dancing. I try to ensure that he does familiar routine activities (e.g. running, golf, opera, massage, gardening, watching sport games, and dance etc.). Lee now attends a dance class with me.
We don’t know what will happen minute to minute, all we can do is to prepare ourselves. As I have been, I will be here to care for him every step of the way. I am worried constantly that I might get sick too. Then who could take care of this great man?
Lee is constantly amazing me. His wisdom has turned crisis into opportunities. His perseverance made impossibility into reality. His braveness reflected his courage to do what was right in spite of criticism. His kindness touched people who encountered him. His humbleness gained him endless friendships. His righteousness won him respect. Yet his confidence in humans, fully trusting people, caused him several problems but also enable many to be a better person.
The more I know him, the more I love him and can’t live without him. Lee always gives and doesn’t like to take. I am so afraid of not seeing him for even one day that, as long as anything might help, I will try.
….At his age, 74, I am not sure how many years left for me with the Lee that I know and love. My one wish is to have as many good memories and offer the best quality life for the man that dedicated over fifty years of his life to the service of his Country and did so with the greatest courage, honor, and selflessness that I have ever known.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company