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An insider bashes Baca

Allegations by a former top aide to the L.A. County sheriff show the need for independent oversight.

May 02, 2013
  • Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was accused of pushing deputies to be aggressive and discouraging discipline against jailers. Once a powerful figure thought to be next-in-line to run the agency, Tanaka has had his reputation marred and his power within the agency diminished amid the ongoing jail abuse scandal.
Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was accused of pushing deputies… (Los Angeles Times )

Paul Tanaka was once a trusted aide to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and, in the view of many department critics, the real power behind the badge. But earlier this year, Tanaka was forced out of his job, and now, in a jaw-dropping interview with The Times' Robert Faturechi, he has accused Baca of a variety of misdeeds, including nepotism, fostering a culture of abuse and putting politics (and foreign travel) ahead of public safety.

Whether those charges are accurate or merely the angry allegations of your typical disgruntled former employee is not yet clear. After all, Tanaka himself has been repeatedly accused of encouraging misconduct and abuse; he's got plenty of incentive to try to shift the blame.

But for this: The picture Tanaka painted of Baca is not an unfamiliar one. Erratic, confused — these are recognizable traits to those who have met with the mild-mannered sheriff. So is his apparent failure to effectively manage the people who work for him or to adequately control the vast department he is supposed to oversee.

Last year, the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence lambasted Baca's management of the jails, going so far as to suggest that he probably would have been fired for incompetence had he been working in the private sector. The commission faulted him for failing to pay attention to what was happening around him and for a lack of "genuine concern" about the severity of the problems in the jails.

The real take-away from Tanaka's interview isn't that the department is in serious trouble and plagued by a serious level of dysfunction. We already knew that. And certainly, Tanaka's claims should be thoroughly investigated by federal authorities to determine if Baca or anyone else in the department improperly hired friends and relatives, or attempted to obstruct justice in the case of an FBI informant who was working in the jails. A Baca spokesman called Tanaka's allegations false and "motivated apparently by his personal disappointment and ambition."

This most recent chapter (which we strongly suspect will not be the last) should serve as a catalyst to speed along the Board of Supervisors in hiring an independent inspector general to oversee the department, as the jails commission recommended. We hope the process is open and transparent. The Sheriff's Department is in need of reform, including civilian oversight that can hold those in charge accountable.

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