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Sheriff Baca's bad badge policy

Baca should have years ago quashed the practice of handing out official-looking Sheriff's Dept. badges to non-department personnel.

July 12, 2012
  • This photo of a woman wearing the Sheriff's Department badge of Cudahy Councilman Osvaldo Conde was released by the U.S. attorney's office.
This photo of a woman wearing the Sheriff's Department badge of Cudahy… (unknown )

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," they used to say on the late Andy Griffith's eponymous 1960s TV show. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose folksy straight-man earnestness reminds us a bit of Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor, has actually been fooled three times when it comes to the issuance of official-looking badges or ID cards to non-department personnel.

So here's a review: In 1999, Baca set up a special reserve program intended to allow celebrities and other notables to receive a badge and a gun in the name of boosting community relations. It flopped after one of its participants, Zacky Farms scion Scott Zacky, was discovered to have a past criminal charge of brandishing a weapon. Baca suspended the program, but the idea, unfortunately, didn't go away.

Next, a scandal erupted in 2006 over Baca's "Homeland Security Support Unit," a group of campaign donors and volunteers who were issued department photo IDs and official name tags. These too were revoked shortly after the Board of Supervisors ordered an investigation. It didn't end there; when problems with official-looking badges arose in other jurisdictions, then-Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown issued a ruling that handing out such emblems could violate state law by helping civilians pose as peace officers.

Fast forward to the present. After three officials with the city of Cudahy were arrested by the FBI on bribery charges, the bureau released a photo showing a young woman in a bar packing a couple of pistols while wearing what looked suspiciously like a sheriff's badge. Apparently it's a long-standing practice for the Sheriff's Department to issue badges to council members and city managers in cities that contract for services with the sheriff, and she obtained it from a Cudahy councilman. The Sheriff's Department has recently decided to recall about 200 such badges, in timing that has raised questions. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore says the recall decision was made in January in response to Brown's order but, because of bureaucracy, hadn't yet been implemented. Yet an anonymous command-level official told The Times that the decision was made more recently in response to events in Cudahy.

Either way, why weren't the badges recalled in 2007, when the attorney general ordered it? "That's a good question," Whitmore said.

Yes, we think so too.

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