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For Baca, a way forward

The sheriff deserves praise for promising to implement recommendations on improving his troubled department. Now he needs to make the changes.

October 05, 2012
  • Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who supervises the largest jail system in the nation, talks to reporters at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who supervises the largest jail system… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca surprised some observers when he pledged this week to implement reforms recommended by a panel created to investigate problems in the jails. Baca's embrace of those proposals is encouraging as well as surprising, given that the commission was highly critical of his leadership and concluded that his failings had allowed the problems to develop.

Baca deserves praise for pledging to fix the problems that occurred on his watch. His promise to implement all 63 of the recommendations made by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence is also heartening, especially given the sheriff's appearance before the seven-member panel earlier this year, when he defiantly told the commissioners that they lacked authority to tell him how to do his job. Baca's lamentable resistance then has given way to a far more accommodating posture today.

But Baca's challenge is not merely to endorse the commission's work. It is to convert the recommendations into actual change — and to dispel any thought that his remarks this week were intended to ameliorate critics rather than to revamp the management and oversight of Los Angeles jails.

FULL COVERAGE: Jails under scrutiny

One way for Baca to address those concerns would be to develop and make public a timeline for adopting reforms. Baca should itemize the department's reform agenda and establish dates by which each proposal can be implemented. That would commit the sheriff to pursuing these reforms and provide a template by which to hold him accountable, in much the same way that the Los Angeles Police Department painstakingly — and sometimes grudgingly — adopted the recommendations of the Christopher Commission.

Yes, there will be instances of legitimate disagreement between Baca and others about whether a particular proposal has been completely enacted, but the prospect of controversy should not inhibit the commitment to progress. If Baca hopes to rebuild the public's trust in his department, he must prove that he is committed to reforms not just in words but also in his deeds.

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