Baca Says Farewell to Compton

Retired Sheriff Lee Baca was always friendly to Compton, except in Eric Perrodin’s view. So it was in the beginning, so it was in the end when he attended the February 3, NAEJA Anti-Crime committee meeting at the request of Royce Esters. Baca had attended lots of NAEJA and other meetings in Compton. Why? The contract Omar Bradley gave LASD helped. Also, he was never afraid. He was always assessable and accessible unlike many of his subordinates, some who seem to view Compton as an lawless outpost where they could get away with murder and did. Baca had to be the most popular politico in Compton including those city officials in the city that were elected by residents.

Baca, at the request of Isaac Asberry of the Teen Intervention Programvisited Hope Academy high school that was once located on Compton Blvd and Spring St. for an anti-bullying campaign. How often does a top police official visit any high school in urban Los Angeles County? Not only did he visit, he engaged the students and staff and they loved it. For most students, that was the first time they’d interacted with law enforcement other than in the back of a patrol car while in custody. Hope Academy is an alternative school for children who frankly can’t be placed anywhere else.

Baca was active with organizations of people of color and of different ethnicities and religions. He formed an interfaith group that included Hindu, Buddhist, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Scientology and other faiths. Quite remarkable. He may have gotten too close to some of the individuals. Close enough to get burned with their questionable ethics involving marijuana dispensaries and other practices.

If Baca was not afraid of a diverse L.A. County community, they were also much less afraid of him than of his deputies in places like Compton. Listen to the comments made about trust by a woman at the end of the February 3, 2014 NAEJA meeting.

Baca talked about the Education Based Incarceration program he pioneered in the county jails and how he believed that “when someone goes to jail, they should come out better, not worse.” With that thinking, he created opportunities for inmates to work toward GEDs, recovery from alcohol and other drug abuse, and to gain life skills. Let’s face it, inmates in jails of L.A. County are not the brightest lights at dusk, and their being in jail points to the failures of other institutions. Jail is the school of last resort but unless you want to give up on these people, why the hell not? Jails are schools because inmates like to talk about their crimes and circumstances while incarcerated. Many don’t have much else to talk about and believe that they can sharpen crime skills there.

I was skeptical of EBI and thought more effort should be made by real schools but many have failed miserably. The other thing to note is that Lee Baca is an educator. He has a PhD from USC and started LASD University for his employees way before EBI.

I know because I received two Master’s Degrees from California State University Long Beach through sheriff department programs. As a manager I also attended many other educational programs offered through CSUN and CSULA over the years that improved my work skills.

The sheriff’s department is in disarray and leaderless thanks in no small part to decisions made by the County Board of Supervisors with their jail commission reports and failure to articulate any clear cut policy, direction, or expectations. They don’t have a vision for policing which is why they don’t say what they expect the jails to look like at the end the trip. They have even less of a vision when it comes to policing in communities and have shown no understanding of community-oriented policing. How often has any Board member commented on officer involved killings? Board policy is retrograde when it comes to modern policing.

Notice too how the conversation about citizen oversight does not include those that interact most everyday with the police, Blacks, Browns, and poor people. Include the jails and the discourse is taking place far from Compton, Watts/Willowbrook, South L.A., Lancaster, and East L.A. and on and on. That’s Board handiwork. Also, note how the Board believed it better to recycle a former LASD sheriff deputy, John Scott as the interim sheriff. He worked for Sandra Hutchinson, sheriff of O.C., also a former LASD deputy. Who expects anything progressive coming from this arrangement? The more things change…

Has the LASD hit bottom yet? The same question might apply to the city of Compton [look at the infrastructure and service level]. My answer is no, there’s still room to drop. A new, clear, and articulated vision is needed that might look quite different from the past.

Can the Board lead such a transition? NOT. None of them are progressive enough or have the courage to push real meaningful change at this watershed moment. What’s needed will not come from commission or task force reports, Board SOP, that’s bull crap. What’s needed is advocacy for and the involvement of people that Lee Baca felt comfortable enough to engage. That starts with a conversation that up until now has not occurred.


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