Lee Baca has been Los Angeles County sheriff for nearly 16 years, and the last five have brought an extraordinary cascade of scandals that have exposed the dismal state of the department and the jails he runs. As a new election season begins, Baca should make the best of a bad situation and announce that he will not seek reelection in 2014. Instead, he should focus his attention on reforming the department while clearing the field so that candidates will step forward to run for his job.
What possible argument is there for a fifth term for Baca? Evidence that sheriff's deputies regularly beat inmates in the jails is mounting, and a wide-ranging federal investigation has been launched, including an FBI probe into criminal wrongdoing. Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded last month that sheriff's deputies in the Antelope Valley repeatedly violated the civil rights of African Americans and Latinos. Allegations of special treatment for Baca's friends and political donors have been a recurring theme over the years.
Baca has repeatedly claimed to be unaware of the troubling goings-on in the department he's supposed to lead — the violence, the gang-like cliques of deputies, the dearth of meaningful oversight. But lack of knowledge is no excuse. That's why the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence blasted him last year for ignoring multiple warnings and declining to ask probing questions or to implement reforms. The commission called it a failure of leadership and concluded that if the CEO of a private company had been so completely in the dark, his board of directors would probably have replaced him.