There’s an old term at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department called “20/20” retirement. That’s when 20 minutes after your 20th year you put in for your pension. But Sheriff Leroy D. Baca is in his 34th year and is still picking up steam.
Baca addressed the Malibu Bar Association meeting last week at Duke’s. “I’d like to see the return of the Malibu Sheriff’s Station,” he said. “It would localize and personalize law enforcement in the community. I’m not suggesting that Lost Hills isn’t handling the job effectively, I’m just saying Lost Hills isn’t Malibu, and Malibu isn’t Lost Hills.”
Making the world’s largest Sheriff’s Department feel and work like a small-town precinct appears to be his primary goal. “When people pick up that phone, I want them to know who they’re talking to.”
Dressed in a deputy’s uniform rather than an Armani suit, Baca quickly explained, “I wear the uniform several times a week to show respect for the deputies in my command.” On occasion, he makes an arrest, “backed up by real deputies, of course. I’m not crazy.”
Born and raised in East Los Angeles, and with a doctorate in public administration from USC, he heads the largest sheriff’s department in the world, with nearly 14,000 sworn and civilian personnel.
Among his many plans is a project that sends inmates to remove graffiti and plant flowers along freeways and in city parks. “I’m not saying I don’t believe in punishment,” said Baca. “I do. But if a person’s spending time in the county jail system, they should be doing something productive with that time.”
As for the cost of these programs? From inmates’ telephone use and from sales at prison stores, Baca has generated $30 million so far. “What could make more sense for the county then to have a person pay for his own rehabilitation?”
“I try hard to instill that sense of leadership in every deputy,” he said. “I may be the guy in charge, but each and every person in the department is expected to be a leader. To be fair, to follow a set of core values, to do the right thing.”
Baca stated the vast majority of his employees are right on track, and for that very small percentage who, for whatever reason, choose a path of defiance, “they will be weeded out and replaced. There are too many good people waiting in line for their jobs. I will not tolerate racism, sexism, bigotry and anti-Semitism in my department.”
Our new sheriff plans to “bird dog” violent gang members wherever they go. “Just like in Littleton, when that deputy started firing back, the boys retreated. Same with the gangs. They don’t shoot at us, they run. They know we’re better shots than they are.”
As for guns in schools, the sheriff said, “You bring a gun to school, we arrest you. We’ll do what we can to help you get a diploma, but you’ll never go back to that school.”
Speaking about the shooting in Littleton, Colo., he said, “What the press rarely reports is that there was a deputy at the school. When the shooting began, the deputy was able to fire back, causing the perpetrators to hide in the library. I believe if it weren’t for that deputy, perhaps twice as many people might have been killed.”
Baca plans to have a deputy in every school. Thanks to the reserve deputy program, it’s imminent. “It involves 160 hours of training, but becoming a reserve deputy is a real asset to the community. We get requests every day, some from people such as Steven Seagal and Jay Leno.”
To celebrate the department’s 150th anniversary, Baca said, “We need a float in the Rose Parade. A huge, magnificent float. We’ll call it ‘The Kids Are Our Future.'” He’s got an award-winning designer working on it.
Apparently, no one ever told Baca becoming sheriff was no bed of roses.