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McNamara agrees, noting it’s almost a given that the rank and file will be in near revolt.
“The unwritten behavioral code is that you don’t say anything positive about the chief,” says McNamara. “But the world is so much larger and complex than what the sergeants see.”
There are, however, senior officers who claim to have excellent relations with Baca yet are troubled by the course he’s set. While ALADS’s Roy Burns gives Baca credit for being more accessible than Block, he bristles at the idea of inviting civil rights lawyers to second-guess deputies’ work.
“Every society that has not had a warrior class to protect it has perished,” Burns says. “But our officers are ridiculed and called cowboys for making lots of arrests. Something like 40 percent of the complaints we get are not only unfounded but absurd. I’m concerned about the Office of Civilian Review — there’s been far more politically correct training than before.”
Like all revolutions, Baca’s requires money, and these are hardly the days of wine and roses. Yet even without California’s economic downturn and the militarization of federal spending priorities, his department would be hurting, thanks to sexual harassment suits, overtime and worker’s comp payouts, and a conga line of civilians who have sued alleging excessive force and gratuitous strip searches. Last December the department averted federal monitoring and crippling legal costs only by agreeing to provide baseline mental health care in the jails.
On any given day Baca has one reliable ally on the Board of Supervisors in Mike Antonovich – two, if Don Knabe’s in a good mood. None of the supervisors returned the Weekly’s request for interviews about Baca.
“That in itself should tell you something,” said an aide to one board member.
Baca’s detractors accuse him of treating the supervisors with messianic condescension and of blatantly encouraging community groups to fill board meetings to support him in his conflicts with it.
“Baca’s pissed off the supes,” says one sergeant who requested anonymity. “His biggest liability is the emotional component, which leads him to burn bridges. He can get very angry and vindictive.”
“I make no retributive attacks on my critics — no matter who they are,” Baca replies. “This is a democracy — criticize the sheriff for everything and anything you can find but get your facts right.” Baca also flatly denies the bad blood between him and the supes.
“My relationship with the supervisors has never been bad,” he tells me, even after one person close to the board assured me it is toxic.
The LASD, with an annual operating budget of about $1.5 billion, has been running far into the red — but not, according to audits, as much as the $160 million annual shortfalls Baca has told the board LASD has suffered for the most recent two budgets. At best, then, his department doesn’t know how much money it spends or, at worst, the sheriff is deliberately inflating the scope of his budget crisis to get more money from the supes. Baca has countered that the elusive figures for his department are proof that it is understaffed.
“Sheriffs,” David Dotson says, “are elected countywide and feel they should be able to spend their money any damn way they feel.”
That attitude, if anything, explains the board’s antipathy toward Baca, whose visionary programs have cost far more than originally advertised, leading supervisors to grumble that Baca wasn’t being honest with them when he first went to them for funds, and to allege that he’s redirected money earmarked for equipment upgrades into what critics like Stites call “feel-good programs.”
“Whose signature is that?” Sergeant Gomez says, underscoring this point by showing his identification card — signed by Sherman Block. “It’s been five years and he hasn’t updated ID cards or our equipment. He was given money to replace our ID cards but hasn’t.”
“We’re bankrupt!” says one deputy who wished to remain anonymous. “Why do we have these programs of his?”
Scrutiny intensified this past May, when the county’s auditor-controller office released a 10-page report deeply critical of the LASD’s handling of its finances. Within their dry analysis of the department’s accounting practices, the report’s authors signaled a head-scratching bewilderment over policies that have led to wildly erratic billings sent to the 41 contract cities. The investigators found some cities being overcharged, while others received bargain-basement rates for police services, simply because the contracts don’t specify levels of service or even their costs. This suggested that perhaps one of the reasons the LASD was in a budget crunch was simply because it wasn’t collecting as much money as it was owed by the towns that provide the department with 10 percent of its revenue.
Most vexing to the investigators was the department’s refusal to monitor its deputies’ time through the use of timecards, which Baca asserts take up too much time to fill out.
“The Sheriff estimates,” the audit said, “it would take 15 minutes per day per employee to fill out a timecard. Our experience with employees performing multiple tasks has been approximately 30 seconds to one minute.”