Last week, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca lashed out at the FBI investigation into allegations of inmate abuse and deputy misconduct in the county jails and insisted that his department was capable of policing itself. This week, Baca is taking a different and decidedly more conciliatory tone, declaring his willingness to work with federal investigators and promising to conduct a top-to-bottom review, including opening old cases.
The sheriff's abrupt shift is welcome, but he has not yet proposed anything sufficient to address the problems. Not given the disturbing accounts by deputies, including allegations by a rookie who said his supervisor forced him to beat a mentally disabled inmate. Not given reports by the American Civil Liberties Union that include more than 70 signed affidavits from inmates, chaplains and a monitor who said they either witnessed or were victims of abuse. Not given that the jails have remained under federal oversight for 30 years. And not given the long history of riots and killings by inmates, and the cliques of deputies in some substations, such as the Lynwood Vikings, which a judge described as a "neo-Nazi" gang.
The culture of the Sheriff's Department needs nothing short of a drastic overhaul. Holding town hall meetings with inmates, as Baca has already begun doing, and inviting reporters to sit in seems more like a publicity stunt than a commitment to meaningful change. And though he has formed two task forces to review allegations, both are fatally compromised by the fact that they are made up of department insiders, including some who may have failed to detect problems despite complaints from civil rights attorneys and inmates' lawsuits. As L.A. County Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky said when they called for an independent investigator, Baca's internal monitors, including the Office of Independent Review, "may be very much a part of the problem."