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Baca halts training of new recruits

The sheriff takes action after a state report uncovers violations at the department academy.

May 14, 2008|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has ordered his academy to stop training new recruits until it addresses problems exposed by state inspectors, including the revelation that one instructor gave recruits the answers to their tests.

The shortcomings in the sheriff's training program included trainees graduating without taking the required number of physical conditioning classes and recruits who failed training courses being allowed to repeatedly retest until they passed, according to the state report obtained Tuesday by The Times.

The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which certifies police academies, inspected the sheriff's program last summer and identified a number of violations of state training regulations that the commission said required immediate corrective action.

When inspectors returned to the academy earlier this year, many of the same deficiencies remained, sheriff's officials acknowledged. In response to the state's findings, Baca said the training for new recruits would be postponed until the problems were fixed. The department expects the program --based in Whittier -- to be fully operating in about 30 days.

"We welcome the report. We welcome the advice. We welcome the criticism," Baca said in an interview Tuesday. "I don't see it as systemic problem."

The problems facing the program come at a time when the Sheriff's Department is trying to significantly boost the number of recruits. Baca said his academy is "the best in the nation. . . . We are training more people than any other in the western United States." Sheriff's officials said the program is sufficiently rigorous, noting that about 20% of recruits wash out.

The sheriff was so proud of his training program that last year he allowed it to be featured on a Fox TV reality show called "The Academy."

But sheriff's officials said they were taking the state's findings seriously.

Baca said he's ordered an internal audit of the department's instruction and testing programs. And, he said, instructors would be retrained on the peace officer commission's standards.

"We can always do better and we will do better," Baca said.

Steve Whitmore, a department spokesman, said Baca was bringing in new managers to help address deficiencies in the program. And, he said, recruits who didn't meet the state standards would receive additional training.

Michael Gennaco, head of the sheriff's watchdog agency, said he would investigate the state's findings, which he said suggested a larger problem with the program and the training staff.

"We will be examining what was allowed and permitted," he said.

The commission's report challenged the sheriff's testing system, alleging that instructors inappropriately gave recruits access to test questions and, in one case, provided them with answers for exams.

Commission inspectors also reported that the firearms and emergency vehicle training was not up to state standards, in part because recruits were allowed to repeatedly take "skills tests" after failing.

Under state requirements a trainee can have only one retest. Some recruits, sheriff's officials said, took up to five.

Sheriff's Chief Roberta Abner, head of leadership and training, downplayed the problem. She said an examination by the department found that 12 out of 2,500 trainees since 2005 had taken multiple tests.

The state's report also noted that some of the sheriff's training facilities were substandard. "An area of significant concern," state inspectors said, was the armory at Pitchess Firearms Training Facility, which is a small block building with a wooden door. The building contains a large number of shotguns and AR-15s, and is secured by a padlock but no alarm in an area that is poorly secured and accessible to jail inmate trustees.

Additionally, state regulators criticized the department's record-keeping, saying it was "disorganized," and course documents and instructor resumes were not on file with the state as required.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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