At a ceremony attended by nearly 3,000 supporters and dozens of dignitaries, Lee Baca was sworn in Monday as Los Angeles County's 30th sheriff.
Vowing to work with the Board of Supervisors to fight the "scourge" of gang violence, Baca took over as head of the 14,000-member agency, becoming the county's first new sheriff in more than 16 years.
During those years, the office was held by Sherman Block, who died just days before the Nov. 3 election. Block, who had a history of medical problems, was seeking a fifth term and had indicated to his supporters that no matter what happened to him, he wanted to continue the race. As a result, his name was on the ballot and his supporters kept urging a vote for him even after his death. But Baca--a former division chief in the department--won with 61% of the vote.
Although all five members of the Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and various other officials had supported Block, all turned out on Monday as a show of good will toward Baca.
"We're law enforcement professionals," Parks said in an interview before the ceremony, which was held at the Pasadena Civic Center. "Our departments have had a long history of working together. . . . That will continue."
Baca--appearing in a crisp sheriff's uniform with five stars on the collar--told the admiring crowd that he is ready to do whatever the job entails.
"I'm fit and I'm ready and I'm prepared to work in jails, bailiff courts and go out and arrest suspects," he said.
Former Sheriff Peter Pitchess, who ran the department for 26 years before giving way to Block, pinned the badge on Baca's shirt, with help from the new sheriff's son, Deputy David Baca.
Pitchess, who sat in a wheelchair, gave Baca a few words of advice: "You were elected sheriff," Pitchess said, speaking slowly into a microphone. "You are the sheriff. You and your colleagues will run this department [without] interference from outside."
Despite Pitchess' combative sentiment, Baca made an effort to reach out to the county leaders who attended the ceremony.
"I'm sure collectively we will be able to get our minds together and work in a manner that will allow us to bring this county to the next millennium," Baca said.
Last week, Baca toured 40 sheriff's facilities, where he vowed to get tens of millions of dollars in new funding for equipment upgrades, including cellular telephones and new radio cars. Baca told the troops that he will "raise hell" to get another $100 million from the Board of Supervisors, on top of the department's $1.1-billion budget. Failing that, Baca said, he will seek state or federal help.
During the ceremony, Supervisor Don Knabe joked about Baca's comments. "I thought that I might have a check for $100 million," Knabe said. "I just wanted to share with the good sheriff. The check's in the mail. We love you, man."
There were other light moments during the lengthy ceremony. At one point, Baca asked the crowd to sing "Happy Birthday" to Parks, whose birthday was on Monday. The new sheriff also joked with Fox News anchor Christine Devine, who was mistress of ceremonies.
"[Devine] is the only newscaster where the entire news station was named after her: Fox News," Baca said, prompting laughter in the audience.
Devine responded in kind: "So many cops, so little time."
Baca acknowledged that he's a novice when it comes to politics--something of which his supporters made light.
"Lee Baca can learn to be a good politician," Michael Yamaki, president of the Los Angeles Fire Commission, told the crowd. "But no one has to teach this man how to be a good man."