It’s time to say “thanks” to Sheriff Baca

There is a question: Is it better to be a has-been or a never-was? I’ve never been able to answer that question…sometimes it’s one and sometimes it’s another. I do know I’ve been both places.

And so it goes again. I spent the last 14-plus years serving one of the great minds in law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca. By the way, he will always be Sheriff Baca. Just like former presidents are always President Clinton, Sheriff Baca will always be Sheriff Baca.

And, if you’ve not been living in a cave, you will know he has retired – suddenly, you might say, but most assuredly retired. I have been his spokesman for 14 years and by extension, the department spokesman for the same amount of time. That is done. Gone. Over and out. I am grateful that Sheriff Baca gave me the opportunity to serve him and by extension Los Angeles County. I have been honored and humbled for this opportunity. But that is not what this is about. It is about gratitude for a job-well done. Certainly, not by me, but by the Sheriff.

That’s why I chose to visit with you today because I have not heard too many people, especially those elected folk, thank Sheriff Baca for his public service to the department and Los Angeles County.

The Sheriff served with distinction – yes, that’s right – with distinction for 48 years. He was Sheriff for 15, elected in 1998. And, also, – this is a side note for sure, but this ill-informed chatter the Sheriff wouldn’t have won if Sheriff Sherman Block – God, rest his soul – hadn’t passed days prior to the election is utter nonsense. Sheriff Baca was way ahead in all the polls and would’ve won outright, regardless. And, another thing, think about this for a sec: During the 1998 campaign Sheriff Baca refused to refer to Sheriff Block by any other title than Sheriff. “He is my Sheriff and will always be my Sheriff,” Sheriff Baca would say to me many times. This used to drive his political consultants crazy. They used to say, “You give him credibility when you refer to him as sheriff. Call him Mr. Block or Sherm,” they would say. Sheriff Baca was adamant, “The voters gave him that title and he deserves it. We just have a different vision for the department.”

Sheriff Baca went on to win in a landslide. Then, there’s the list of what he’s done as sheriff: One of the first things he suggested when he took over was to recommend an Inspector General for the jails. That was back in 1998. The Board of Supervisors would have none of it. What do we have now: an Inspector General for the jails. The Sheriff pushed for oversight by civil rights attorneys. The board resisted again but the Sheriff got that. The Board now wants a civilian review board with no real power. The Sheriff pushed for education in our jails. They resisted. He got that. The Sheriff pushed for stronger core values, stating exactly how deputies should do their jobs. He got that. He added three new sheriff stations. He got that. He opened up the Sheriff’s Department to all through his advisory committees; everybody, he believed, deserved a seat at the table and a voice to go along with it. Resistance again. He got that.

After 9/11 and Muslims were unjustly being violently targeted, he put together a 30-minute news video featuring all the news anchors at the time, discussing the important heritage of American Muslims in our community. The program aired and has been commended for easing tensions after the horrendous attack that took 3,000 of our brave citizens. This video cost nothing. Everybody volunteered their time. Try to get a news anchor in today’s market to do anything for free. Sheriff Baca did that.

I haven’t mentioned the state-of-the-art crime lab at CalState L.A. that Baca single-handedly brought to fruition – yes, there were others, always are, but the Sheriff drove that bus – and it doubles as a classroom for college students. Sheriff Baca did that. There isn’t enough room to mention the commitment to the mentally ill; the homeless; budget cuts without layoffs; Measure A, transgender helicopter pilot, growth spurt from 13,000 to 18,000 employees, 40-plus contract cities, courts, community colleges and the fight to preserve the downtown hall of justice; a  landmark that preserves LA’s architectural history.

I will be coming back with more. Perhaps less serious matters involving certain celebrities and what happened behind closed doors. But for today, I want to thank Sheriff Lee Baca for a job well-done. Whoever takes over will discover the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is in remarkable good shape. They will be gratified to find that yet again public reports are over-stated, and just not true. This is due to the men and women – both past and present – of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and their leader for the past 15 years – Sheriff Leroy David Baca.

And finally, there is a Mark Twain quote – interestingly enough it’s actually a misquote that has found its way into American mythology perpetrated by the press. Regardless, take note. It may prove prophetic: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Talk soon,


















About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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