Friday, Dec. 31, 1999
ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
- Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy D. Baca
won't be riding on the Sheriff's Department float tomorrow,
but in spirit he'll be sitting high above the Rose Parade
crowd, waving in triumph.
That's because the mere existence of the floral
creation, moving up Orange Grove and across Colorado Boulevard
in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade, is a vindication of
sorts for the sheriff, who just completed an eventful first
year in the post.
Baca, 57, prevailed in an odd election after
having mounted an emotionally draining campaign. In the press,
he has faced skepticism over many of the new ideas he brought
to the department's Monterey Park headquarters, from establishing
an Asian Crimes Task Force, to reopening an old jail as a recovery
center for drug addicts and wife beaters, to creating an abortive
unit of celebrity deputies, complete with badges and guns. To
the Rose Parade float.
So far, Baca has been lauded above all for
his candor, such as his straightforward admission that the celebrity
unit wasn't thought through. Ongoing struggles over sexual harassment
among deputies have gotten some press, too, but the sheriff's
quiet successes, such the recovery center, and programs to teach
inmates to read, have drawn less attention. It's as if Baca's
attempts to reinvent the culture of the nation's largest sheriff's
department have been so sweeping that it's taking some time
for observers, both inside and outside the department, to catch
The reaction to the float was typical. The
Sheriff's Department? A New Year's parade float? People asked
whether that's what the department really needed to be spending
its time and money on, especially after news reports that fundraising
But Baca persisted, and the private donations
came through. Money raised above the amount needed for the float—by
award-winning designer Raul Rodriguez—will support youth programs.
Now, in a year in which several important
sesquicentennials are all but obscured by the turn of the millennium,
the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will open the celebration
of its 150th anniversary a step ahead of the county itself—and
the state. Because of Baca, county residents will be reminded,
on the first day of the Year 2000, of the service and sacrifices
of sheriff's deputies.
At the close of his first year as county sheriff,
Baca is being honored as the Metropolitan News-Enterprise 1999
Person of the Year. He will be feted at a black-tie dinner at
the Biltmore Hotel on March 9.
Baca, who formally goes by Leroy but is almost
universally known as Lee, describes his job as going far beyond
the traditional realm of law enforcement. As sheriff, he must
also focus on prevention, he says, and that means knowing the
community, and knowing it well.
"As sheriff, I'm on a platform," he explains.
"I can see everything going on in the community."
That includes the legal community. Baca is
in effect the head bailiff in a force that includes about 1,400
bailiffs and other sworn officers providing courtroom security,
lockup, transportation and other services in nearly 50 courthouses
around the county. His deputies who work in court services get
an additional 40 hours of training in weapons screening and
It is a function increasingly relied on by
the courts, which have seen an upsurge in courtroom violence.
Bailiffs must simultaneously be "user friendly" to the jurors,
the public, and above all the judges, who receive their services
on a contract basis, while still remaining alert to any public
In addition to the bailiffs and other security
personnel, the courthouses are filled each day with hundreds
of deputies on hand to testify on criminal cases.
Deputies also serve as jailers for the 22,000
inmates in Twin Towers and the other holding and incarceration
facilities scattered around the county.
Baca runs one of the nation's largest food
service operations, feeding the inmates. Similarly, he runs
an enormous hospital system, a huge mental health program, a
growing drug rehabilitation center.
He has 71 commands across the county.
Baca's staff of 13,000 sworn and civilian
personnel serve the nation's most populous county, where demographic
changes and immigration from far-flung countries complicate
an already complex law enforcement system.
In addition to providing police services for
the county's vast unincorporated area, the Sheriff's Department
also serves as the police department for some 40 cities with
which it contracts, such as West Hollywood and Lynwood.
He manages a $1.4 billion annual budget, with
a plethora of funding sources that carry spending mandates.
As to the $500 million or so over which he has discretion, he
must struggle with a Board of Supervisors with its own notions
of how best to spend his money.
This is not a job someone can do, he says,
by thinking small.
He raised eyebrows with a laundry list of
programs he set before the supervisors during budget season,
together with a demand that they all be funded. He was, and
remains, quite serious.
"You have to think big," Baca explains. "If
you don't start off ahead of the curve and stay there you are
never going to be prepared for the crises and the emergencies.
It's a personality characteristic of mine. I'm always vigilant
about these issues. I think it's a cop on the beat mentality.
You're never relaxed. And I shouldn't be relaxed. You have to
put pressure on yourself to turn the opportunity key."
Baca may not be relaxed, but he certainly
comes across as controlled and unflappable. He says that's just
the way he is. But his optimism he attributes to strong role
models, including the people who raised him—his paternal grandparents.
Thomas Baca came from Albuquerque, N.M., and
married the former Clara Bottom of Silver City. Her father came
from Louisville, Ky., a fact that the sheriff says must explain
his own love for country music.
Lee Baca's parents divorced when he was 7,
and he grew up in his grandparents' household in East Los Angeles.
Lee Baca with grandparents,
and Thomas Baca
A quick mind and a healthy impatience led Baca
to skip ahead in fourth grade. He was in high school by age
14. Using his father's address, he enrolled at Benjamin Franklin
High School, rather than stay at Garfield High where his East
Los Angeles address would have put him.
East L.A. was a melting pot of Jewish, Latino
and Asian immigrants and their families, and Baca early on developed
a connection with people from other cultures, all of whom were
striving to remake themselves and seek opportunity in the U.S.
But the area was also beginning a slide toward poverty, and
its success rate for high school graduates was low.
Highland Park offered a new environment. Baca
did well at Franklin, earning good grades and becoming class
It was at Franklin that he decided to pursue
a career in law enforcement, after hearing a police officer
describe his job.
He studied police science at East Los Angeles
College, but took a year off to work at a plant in Culver City
building ovens for airlines. As fate would have it, one of his
co-workers in the tool crib was Melvin Block, whose younger
brother Sherman had left his job as a delicatessen counterman
to become a deputy sheriff. Sherman Block was motivated by an
encounter with a police officer that left him impressed with
the way law enforcement seemed to be handled on the West Coast.
Baca recalls being told, "You ought to join
the Sheriff's Department because my brother's a sergeant and
he loves it."
Sherman Block, of course, went on to become
the 29th sheriff of Los Angeles County. He mentored Baca, and
made him a top department commander.
Before completing his training at the sheriff's
academy, Baca enlisted in the Marine Corps reserves. It was
1964, and U.S. involvement in Vietnam was escalating, but Baca
was never called up.
Still, he says his Marine training was crucial
to his development.
"I'm very proud of that experience," he says.
"The Marines helped instill a sense of duty, and an understanding
Baca was sworn in as a deputy sheriff trainee
in 1965, and worked his way through the standard deputy assignments—custody,
patrol, recruitment. He also served as a staff instructor at
the Sheriff's Academy.
Then-Sheriff Peter Pitchess made Baca a captain
in 1981 and assigned him to command the Norwalk Station. As
a commander under Block, Baca supervised field operations in
the western part of the county and the special enforcement and
aero bureaus. He also ran the custody division and administered
courthouse security services.
As chief of court services, Baca supervised
the bailiffs and other deputies who serve the county's more
than 500 bench officers. The job carries a high level of responsibility
under the best of circumstances, but Baca was in charge when
the Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate the Marshal's Office,
which provided bailiff services to the municipal courts, and
fold that function into Baca's division.
When the merger took place in 1994, Baca was
faced with a sudden increase in the number of bailiffs and courtrooms
for which he was responsible. By all accounts, he handled the
"He was a problem-solver," Los Angeles Superior
Court Judge Robert Mallano, who at that time was presiding judge,
recalls. "I found him to be very responsive to the needs of
By then Baca's goal was clear. He earned a
doctorate in public administration from USC in 1993, and was
a dark horse finalist to succeed Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl
Gates following the beating of motorist Rodney King and the
racially charged troubles that followed.
Baca was ranked third, but eliminated from
the list of six after losing points for being an LAPD outsider.
Latino activists blasted the procedure, noting that it led to
a final list that excluded any Hispanics. In a move that the
public would come to know as typical of Baca's approach, he
called for a "creative solution" that would add him back to
the list, send a message of fairness to the Latino community
and the public at large, but not force the process to begin
all over again.
If no such solution could be found, Baca said—surprising
many, including his supporters—he would not sue.
Having pointed out the problem in the Civil
Service rules that discriminate against outsiders, Baca said,
it was time to move on.
People remembered the tall, quiet sheriff's
chief who could make a point, but know when to back off. It
was clear Baca would be heard from again.
And he was. Ironically, the LAPD chief's job
went to another outsider, Willie Williams, but Williams was
not kept on for a second five-year term. Baca again landed on
the list of finalists. But this time the job went to LAPD insider
Meanwhile, Baca was becoming known for his
outreach efforts to communities around the county and his innovative
approaches to opening the lines of communication. Not content
to simply serve out his term on Block's Cultural Diversity Committee
as an advisor, Baca sought to link law enforcement officials
with community groups.
Typical was his embracing of Emek Hebrew Academy,
a Jewish elementary school in the San Fernando Valley. School
leaders complained about intimidation by young Latinos in the
area, and Baca helped persuade the Los Angeles Police Department
to boost patrols, especially on Saturdays, when because of the
Jewish Sabbath Orthodox Jews went on foot, instead of by car
The academy honored Baca, who also assisted
the Anti-Defamation League in organizing Jewish-Latino unity
It was just natural for him, Baca explains,
especially given his upbringing in East L.A., where Latinos
and Jews grew up together.
Besides, he says, it is important to introduce
law enforcement officers to the community whenever possible.
"I think people like to be in contact with
law enforcement officers," Baca says. "Officers should be in
contact with everybody, and we are. There isn't a community
in this county that I can't go to and have a warm reception."
Baca helps hone that "cop on the beat mentality"
with a morning run, usually starting at 5:30 or 6 a.m.
"I've done it for 21 years," he says. "Eight
miles every morning, all over Pasadena, San Marino, Arcadia.
It's important to me for emotional and spiritual and physical
reasons. There are certain trees I'll look up and see changing—the
composition of the leaves. There are homes and flowerbeds that
are important to see and appreciate. It's kind of going through
a nature run. I bring my own human nature to meet what is essentially
But Baca's morning run isn't merely a Zen-like
contemplation of nature. It is also an act of personal conquest.
"I wanted to face a predictable difficulty
and beat it," he explains. "If a person can self-impose the
difficulty and conquer it, then all other difficulties pale
Baca notes that he also runs competitively,
distances from 400 meters to half-marathons.
"I win more often than I lose," he volunteers.
The starting point for the sheriff's morning
run is his new house in San Marino. It is perhaps a measure
of the celebrity that comes with being sheriff that Baca's purchase
showed up in the "Hot Properties" section of the Los Angeles
That article—as well as numerous articles
in the Times and other papers—mistakenly asserted that Baca
is the county's first Latino sheriff, or its first Latino sheriff
this century. Neither statement is remotely true (Eugene Biscailuz
was only the most recent, before Baca, of several Los Angeles
County Latino sheriffs). Baca simply shrugs his shoulders over
any possible meaning to such gaffes. What's important, he says,
is that the sheriff opens up his department to the entire spectrum
of the county's people.
Baca's marriage (his second) also made the
newspapers. Highlighting a year of personal and professional
changes, in which he challenged his boss for his job, changed
his appearance (eliminating the comb-over hairstyle in favor
of the more straightforward bald pate), and once and for all
became a public figure, Baca married longtime girlfriend Carol
Chiang grew up in Taipei, Taiwan, coming to
the U.S. in 1979. She earned a master's degree in electrical
engineering at USC.
Baca has 34-year-old twins, a son and daughter,
from his first marriage.
Even Baca's post-wedding trip to Taiwan drew
scrutiny from the media, which he noted insisted on calling
the trek a honeymoon. It was not, Baca says. It was an official
visit to help address the problem of Asian gangs that have opened
up shop in Los Angeles County, especially in the San Gabriel
"This county being as diverse as it is, I as
sheriff must be something of an ambassador," Baca explains.
"It's part of the job. In countries around the world, people
know who the sheriff of Los Angeles County is."
His wife accompanied him to Asia, Baca says,
but she doesn't go in for the morning runs.
"She's more of a nocturnal person," he says.
The run finished, a typical day for Baca would
continue not at the Sheriff's Headquarters, on a secluded hillside
in Monterey Park, but at one of the command posts around the
It was a Baca pledge during the campaign against
Block to visit each and every jail, sheriff's station, detective
facility and other units. That task accomplished during the
first three months, Baca did it all over again, and intends
to continue repeating the cycle, over and over.
"We do need assessments," he explains. "If
we have identified something from the first tour that hasn't
been taken care of by the next, the person responsible has to
stand up and say why. With so many things to take care of, that's
the only way to get things done. As long as I'm giving the bureaucracy
my attention, I can rest assured that nothing will fall through
After the morning needs-assessment visit,
which can cover things as mundane as fixing the fax machines
to something as crucial as purchasing more radio cars, Baca's
day is typically devoted to a series of meetings, sometimes
with community leaders, sometimes with the county bureaucracy.
On one recent Tuesday, after his morning run,
Baca's schedule took him to the county Board of Supervisors
to present a request for funding for a special Hate Crimes unit,
and to defend proposed changes to the personnel files kept on
deputies. Baca wants to be sure that unresolved complaints of
sexual harassment or abuse are left in files, but he also must
assure that the officers' privacy rights are guarded—as new
At two minutes after 10, Baca bounds out of
his office and downstairs with Sgt. Pat Maxwell, who is presently
assigned as his driver and assistant. The sheriff is dressed
in a dark suit for his business with the board. On other occasions,
he is as likely as not to be in uniform, and he has encouraged
his other management officials to wear their uniforms as well,
to underscore the department's presence in the community.
One can't imagine the imposing Baca in need
of a bodyguard, but if he was to have one, Maxwell would fit
the bill. Chatty where Baca is reserved, blond and broad-shouldered,
Maxwell spends much of his time on the cell phone, shifting
appointments and keeping his boss on schedule. But if there
was trouble, you'd want him there.
And, indeed, he was there a couple of weeks
later when he was ferrying Baca from another meeting. On the
Santa Monica Freeway, near the Harbor Freeway interchange, Baca
and Maxwell witnessed an attempted carjacking. Leaving their
car, Maxwell held the suspect at gunpoint while Baca slapped
the cuffs on him.
It is not often the sheriff of a county the
size of Los Angeles actually makes an arrest, and it was Baca's
first in a while; but he now joins Los Angeles Police Chief
Bernard Parks, who personally made an arrest earlier this year,
as a law enforcement leader who still can walk the walk on the
But that incident is still two weeks down
the road. On this trip, Maxwell and Baca are on the San Bernardino
Freeway, headed toward the county Hall of Administration. Stuck
Reviewing his notes on the proposed Hate Crimes
Unit, Baca runs through the list of reasons for the special
"We don't have the sophistication yet to say,
'Here's how hate crimes must be treated,'" Baca asserts. "There's
a whole host of other offenses that we don't really identify
as hate crimes but that's what they are. The special unit would
be able to address them."
Does Los Angeles County rank far behind in
identifying and addressing hate crimes?
"I think we're in the middle and we need to
be in the lead," Baca says, adding with the candor for which
he is rapidly becoming known:
"My strategy here is to present as positive
an explanation as possible. But everything I do I do with fallback
positions in mind. The nature of my relationship with the Board
of Supervisors requires me to give my best-case argument, but
what could happen here is that they will say they don't have
the financing available. I will figure out another way if I
don't get the funding. But the funding legitimizes this effort
with the county."
It's 10:11 a.m. At Baca's suggestion, Maxwell
gets off the freeway and takes surface streets to Civic Center.
Baca reviews his notes on his battle with Special Counsel Merrick
Bobb—and the supervisors—over the department's Personal Performance
"This is our computer system that tracks shootings
and other incidents," Baca says. "It is the most comprehensive
tracking system in the U.S., but there are modifications needed
under the law. Merrick Bobb has made some sweeping accusations
that are frankly baseless. The key here is I've opened up my
office to him. My staff has been working with labor to make
sure it was fair. Law requires administrators to remove unfounded
complaints from the record after five years, and I don't have
any choice but to follow this law. Bobb has changed some of
his posturing, but that doesn't eliminate damage in the minds
10:24 a.m. Maxwell parks on the street in
front of the Hall of Administration, in a handy spot unavailable
to anyone but the sheriff or other high-ranking law enforcement.
It is a privilege befitting the Los Angeles County sheriff,
and it is a convenience virtually mandated by the sheriff's
schedule and responsibilities.
Baca walks in the back of the cavernous meeting
room, at the public entrance, quietly grabbing the outstretched
hands of those who come forward to say hello and pay their respects.
The meeting has already started, and Baca is looking around
for people who planned to be on hand to address the hate crimes
issue. He confers with Assistant Sheriff Bill Stonich.
"I prefer coming early," Baca explains. "It
gets you in the flow of their daily work. You don't want to
go up here and talk incessantly about the issues if they're
well disposed toward them already. I'm not very optimistic that
they're going to approve my hate crimes plan, but I don't want
to be unnecessarily confrontational."
10:25 a.m. A steady stream of envoys from
department heads and elected officials who spotted Baca standing
in the back has approached the sheriff and his aides. Briefly,
the focus of the room has shifted from the platform in front,
where the supervisors are conducting their business, to the
back, where Baca chats.
Miguel Santana, an aide to board Chair Gloria
Molina, asks Baca if he wants his item called right away, since
he is there and has a busy schedule to keep. It is a courtesy
that is also accorded to elected officials such as District
Attorney Gil Garcetti, but it falls short of the obeisance the
board paid to Sheriff Block, especially in more recent years.
When Block would walk into the board room, no one would ask
him if he wanted his item called early. Instead, he and his
aides would stride toward the dais, and the desk was cleared
for him. Automatically.
Baca and the board are still involved in the
early stages of the political game of testing each other. Each
of the board members supported Block in last year's election,
even though the sheriff was clearly ailing. In a monumental
slap in the face to Baca, several supervisors called on voters
to stick with Block in the last week of the election—after
Block had died.
The rationale, they said, was to allow the
board to select the next sheriff. Some supervisors went so far
as to say such a move would support democracy.
"Politics is a strange place," Baca says of
the episode. "It brings out the best and the worst. I know the
supervisors angered a lot of people. The voters who were most
incensed were in the African American community. They saw it
as negating the vote. But I think the board quickly understood
that was not a very productive stance to take based on common
10:35 a.m. Having decided not to go early,
Baca continues to chat with county officials in the back. County
Personnel Department chief Mike Henry says hello, and the two
men have a surprisingly friendly talk about a matter that has
Baca incensed—his employment status.
The problem stems from Baca's resignation
as an employee of the Sheriff's Department after he pushed Block
into a runoff. It was a step he had to take, he explains, given
the nature of the campaign and the fact that he still reported
He was elected and found to his embarrassment
that as a retired Sheriff's Department chief, he was entitled
to $142,000 annually in pension payments, on top of the yearly
salary of $207,000 that already made him the highest paid elected
official in the nation.
Baca wanted to instill a culture of efficiency
and selfless service, but he was being virtually forced to take
nearly $350,000 a year in pay and benefits.
But Baca didn't want to have to give up the
retirement benefits to which he would be rightfully entitled
upon leaving office, just to be able to waive his "early" pension.
He could be reinstated as an employee, he explains, if he did
it within a year, and not suffer a loss in pension benefits.
"It is as though you never broke service,"
Baca contends. "But then the bureaucrats got into definition
of 'reinstatement.' The head of department must reinstate the
employee. But that was Sherm, and he died. Now I'm the head
of the department, but they say I can't reinstate myself. Why
is that right denied me, especially in view of the fact that
I was elected? I'm going to fight this thing all the way. I
want full reinstatement as a county employee. I'm not going
to take any more of this...." He provides a slight shake of
the head in lieu of a noun.
10:50 a.m. Merrick Bobb finds Baca in the
rear of the room. They talk, and the conversation becomes heated
at times. Or, at least it does on Bobb's part. Baca stands firm,
but his voice does not rise. But it is clear the discussion
of the Personal Performance Index won't be smooth.
11:06 a.m. Baca turns from Bobb and addresses
his aides. "Okay, we're ready to go, then," he says.
11:10 a.m. Molina calls up Baca and Bobb.
The sheriff defers to the special counsel, who lays out his
criticisms of Baca's proposed changes to the PPI. What ensues
is an hour-long discussion during which the supervisors, the
special counsel and the sheriff become bogged down over terms
like "founded," "unfounded," "unresolved," and "exonerated."
It is clear that they are talking at cross-purposes, and it
is clear that the supervisors are using the occasion to repeat
public statements of their opposition to sexual harassment and
other alleged misconduct by sheriff's deputies.
Baca, who eschewed the drop-everything-for-me
approach that Block had, now finds it necessary to remind the
board, gently, that he is the sheriff and will run his department
as he sees fit.
"When Mr. Bobb responds to what you say," Baca
tells Supervisor Yvonne Burke, "without giving me, the sheriff,
the courtesy to respond to what you say, I am distinctively
undermined in terms of my commitment....I am the sheriff of
this county, not Mr. Bobb. We have to make this very, very clear."
The supervisors back off, briefly. The contentiousness
does not reach the rancor of some months earlier, when Molina
lambasted Baca over his handling of sexual harassment—even
though they both agreed on the extent of the problem and how
to handle it. But it is clear that the conversation has not
set a helpful tone for Baca's coming request for Hate Crimes
Task Force funding.
12:10 p.m. The discussion on the PPI ends,
with Baca and Bobb agreeing that they have some things to work
out away from the board. A week later, Bobb will return, without
Baca, with a simple, straightforward solution the two men hammered
out. It will meet with board approval.
But now comes the Hate Crimes request, together
with strong words of backing from Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
The other supervisors aren't so sure.
"The district attorney wants a hate crimes
unit," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky thunders. "You want a hate
crimes unit. Everyone wants a hate crimes unit. It's a good
ticket to an appropriation."
Bottom line: the supervisors tell Baca to
make his request next year as part of his budget package. So
the pitch has been a failure? Not at all, Baca says. He has
stated his case, and he has his back-up plans. At 12:43 p.m.
he leaves the board room, and his aides give him knowing looks.
"Good board meeting," one of them says.
"The sheriff has a great working relationship
with the board," Supervisor Don Knabe asserts. "That doesn't
mean we always agree on things. His staff may have gotten ahead
of him on some issues. But I think he's had a good first year
after a very difficult transition."
As for the different approach the board accords
Baca, as opposed to Block, Knabe says it shouldn't be misread
as a comparative lack of respect.
"Sheriff Baca," Knabe says, "doesn't demand
as much tender loving care as Sheriff Block did. He isn't one
who would expect you to drop everything for him. It's just a
In Orange County, freshman Sheriff Mike Carona
says he knows exactly what Baca is going through.
"My predecessor was in office 24 years, his
was 16, so we know what each other is going through," Carona
says. "We face a lot of ingrained ways to do business, and we
have to find ways to make people interested in change. And that
is part of the excitement both he and I face."
Carona says he and Baca found a lot of "natural
synergy," and have made the most of it by joint press conferences
and task forces on issues such as drugs and technology crimes.
"He's a bright, articulate individual who understands
collaboration," Carona says.
In the contract cities, where officials had
deep loyalty toward Block, they are coming to appreciate Baca's
Jeffrey Prang, the only elected councilman
in West Hollywood to have supported Baca over Block, says the
new sheriff's commitment to understanding and serving the communities
far pre-dates his electoral challenge to the past sheriff.
"When he was in charge of the contract cities
he made a point to meet with leaders of the gay and lesbian
communities," Prang says. "He showed his commitment to reversing
the problems the community has had in the past with law enforcement,
and he made it clear he meant it."
Prang has since become one of two Baca field
deputies hired specifically to foster community contact.
San Fernando Valley attorney John Moriarity,
who served on the board of the sheriff's Youth Foundation under
Block and continues to serve under Baca, likewise lauds the
new sheriff for his community outreach.
"Sherm had probably a more conservative approach
to many things," Moriarity says. "Lee sees himself as a man
of the people to a greater extent. He is laying the foundation
to be sheriff of Los Angeles County for as long as he is able
to do the job."
The board on which Moriarity sits oversaw
an anti-drug program for young children, but Baca expanded their
role to encompass DARE, the program that covers middle schools
and high schools as well.
"That's Lee Baca," Moriarity says. "Everything
that can be made bigger and better he is doing all at once.
He is working his damnedest, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,
to improve things for the people of the county."
The supervisors meeting has gone on so long
that Baca has missed his lunch appointment. Maxwell drives him
back to the headquarters. Monterey Park is close, especially
when there is no rush-hour traffic, but Baca wants to be back
downtown at the historic, now-vacant, Hall of Justice.
Federal money could finance the whole thing,
he says, as part of a proposed federal courthouse project across
the street from Times Mirror.
1 p.m. Back at headquarters, Baca is pointing
out the Hall of Justice project on one of several "Baca Boards"—white
dry-erase slates on which virtually every project at the Sheriff's
Department is listed and assigned. These boards grace meeting
rooms, and also the offices of top commanders. People must see
directly what they have responsibility for, Baca says.
"Computers are repositories of information,"
the sheriff cautions. "Unless you turn them on, you're not going
to get informed."
A sampling from the Baca Boards includes the
Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives program, a 16-week
course to deal with at-risk youth. There is a day care center
for sheriff's employees, a care program for the children of
female inmates, "town sheriffs" for unincorporated communities.
There are new stations, proposed stations, and re-openings of
All open cases of sexual harassment also get
logged on the Baca Boards.
2:30 p.m. An attorney who wants to be named
to the state criminal justice board visits Baca to seek an endorsement.
Baca says he is impressed. Send a resume, he says, and I'll
see what I can do.
3 p.m. Baca is briefed on an officer-involved
shooting several days earlier. He peppers the investigators
with questions, until he appears satisfied that this was a prima
facie justified use of force.
3:45 p.m. A commander notices the sheriff
walking by and asks him to step in for a moment. There he meets
with a half-dozen or so African American ministers whose input
is being sought for a community outreach program in central
"This is your home," Baca tells the ministers.
"I want you to feel you can come here anytime. We're here for
you. We've got to work together."
4:10 p.m. Back in his office for the first
time since an early morning meeting, Baca consults with one
of his aides over a letter from the wife of an employee who
died of cancer. In the wake of a flap over the huge pension
Sherman Block's widow got after her husband's death was ruled
an on-the-job casualty, this widow wants to know why she is
not being treated the same way.
"There's very little I can do about this,"
Baca tells his aide, adding:
"I understand how she must feel. We have to
be sensitive about these things."
Now, with a short moment to catch a breath,
Baca jokes with his staff. He circulates a box of chocolates,
noting that he has already removed and eaten the peanut clusters.
Then there is a photo session in his office, which is decorated
with a few Asian prints and exudes a serene air.
"There's no way anyone could see this as a
power office," Baca says. "It's not focused on me, particularly."
There are few photos. A glamorous shot of
his wife makes her look like a movie star. On an end table is
a shot of Baca, as a young boy, with the grandparents who raised
in his office in Monterey Park
Baca faces an hour or two at his desk, then,
at 6:30 his day is over—and a new one starts.
"That really starts the second phase of my
day," Baca explains. "I have dinners with groups all over the
county, I have evening meetings. There is really no time off
in this job. There can't be. There is just too much to do."
He will get a respite, he says, the next morning.
At about 5:30 a.m., during his daily eight-mile run.