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Baca Tells Valley Deputies He'll Press County for Funds

Politics: The sheriff-elect promises to demand $100 million for more personnel and equipment, vowing to 'raise hell' if rejected.

November 25, 1998|SOLOMON MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CALABASAS — There's a new sheriff in town and he arrived with political guns blazing.

In his first meeting with San Fernando Valley deputies, Los Angeles County Sheriff-elect Lee Baca promised to demand $100 million from the county Board of Supervisors for more personnel, new equipment and new training programs and would "raise hell" if the board refused.

"Either we're going to have to [cut back] our operations or we're going to have to add personnel," Baca said during the meeting at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station. "We're going to have to roll up our sleeves and fight for the bodies."

Baca was elected Nov. 3 after incumbent Sheriff Sherman Block died during the campaign, much to the chagrin of the Board of Supervisors, who backed Block even beyond the grave. Had Block won the election posthumously, it would have been up to the supervisors to choose a successor.

The sheriff-elect showed no signs during his talk of wanting to make peace with supervisors.

"This is a democracy," Baca said. "And thank God for that. The board wanted to bend that a little bit. They're going to have to pay for that. I didn't pick on them, they picked on me."

Baca also renewed his campaign promise to unify the 14,000-member department, and he addressed problems ranging from overcrowded jails to poor communication between rank and file members and top officers.

"I'm going to open up those doors," said Baca, pledging an open-door policy. "I'm not worried about security, I welcome someone to come in and try to shoot me. I'll be wearing my gun. They might just get shot before I get it."

The meeting began with deputies reading responses from a questionnaire sent out by Baca's transition team. Their answers evinced a department plagued by low morale, bogged down by paperwork and stymied by funding shortfalls. In the questionnaire, sergeants said they felt expendable, exposed to political pressures from above, and complained that "the department manages by fear."

Lieutenants said upper-level commanders suffered from "ivory tower syndrome" and complained their bosses were more concerned with political and public image than with law enforcement matters.

In response to a question on what the department needed, respondents came up with a wish list that included new training programs, cellular phones, computer systems and vehicles.

Baca said he would measure all requests against present budgetary constraints. Of course, that budget comes from the Board of Supervisors.

"I think the new sheriff is starting out on the right foot by coming to all the stations and commands that he has and seeing what our concerns are," Sgt. Cally Barrier said. "That's laudable, but I'm realistic enough to know that money is hard to come by."

Deputies, including some who attended the meeting on their own time, said they were heartened by their new leader's comments.

"It's a tall order giving each unit everything it wants," said Capt. Bill McSweeney, the station commander. "But he did raise our optimism."

Not known for his fiery oratory, Baca spoke nervously at first, inadvertently kicking the podium during his presentation to about 60 reporters and deputies gathered in an assembly room at the station.

Fielding questions, Baca defended the department's ban on hot pursuits. "We're the only major law enforcement organization in the state that for the past four years has not experienced a death . . . because of a wild pursuit in the streets," Baca said.

To a question on his proposal to hire an inspector general who would oversee deputies' work, Baca said he would limit the position's purview to the jail system. By making the department's deficiencies public, Baca said, the inspector general could help secure county funds.

Near the end of his talk, Baca told the deputies that because he was not supported by supervisors during the campaign, he was not beholden to them.

"I don't owe anyone anything," he said. "If I've got to raise hell to get money for this department then let's get this hell-raising started right now."

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