Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa isn't the only local politician leaving his municipal duties in the dust, these days, in pursuit of a higher political calling.
A records request run by diligent county-watcher Eric Preven earlier this summer shows that L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca -- who we like to call the "Teflon" sheriff, for his superhero ability to wick off bad press -- was overwhelmingly absent during the first half of 2012.
... Baca apparently split town as much as his travel budget would allow, making himself into some kind of international ambassador for feel-good cop philosophies like "public trust policing" and "education-based incarceration." (Although we're really not sure how anyone takes him seriously on those issues, considering that the level of mistrust between his department and the Los Angeles public is at an all-time high.)
Baca's travel record shows that he took a total of 18 trips between January and July, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on flights and hotel rooms so that he could sprinkle his L.A. Sheriff's wisdoms all across the globe.
The time he spent outside Los Angeles adds up to over a month. Here, his five strangest/silliest appearances in 2012 so far:
- Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.: Meeting with Foreign Minister of Turkey
- April 13-14 in Seattle, Washington: The Pacific Institute Spirit Board Meeting
- April 21-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada: Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay
- May 18-22 in Doha, Qatar: Doha Forum
- June 22 in Washington, D.C.: Keynote Speaker at American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Conference
So instead of handling jail atrocities here at home, where we elected Baca to keep our streets and citizens safe, he was making Sin City cameos on behalf of the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club and cuddling up to the international Muslim community (who helps get him elected every cycle, and often comes out to local inmate-abuse protests in defense of Baca).
"Why does he have to fly to Washington to meet with foreign minister of Turkey?" asks Preven.
The county activist wonders whether some of the sheriff's 2012 excursions might have been political favors. However, "since this is a guy who has a donor list as long as the Ventura Freeway, how are we ever going to be able to track what Qatar has done for Sheriff Baca?" asks Preven.
Meanwhile, in recent months, the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence has accused Baca of turning a blind eye while his executive staff, including creepy Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, encourages "gray area" policing and allows a culture of corruption to fester throughout the L.A. jail system.
The commission's investigation, reported the Los Angeles Times last week, paints Baca as "a disengaged and uninformed manager who failed to prevent abuse of inmates by jail deputies."
Baca's unchecked vacation habits line up perfectly with this characterization. Without the head sheriff here to keep watch, we're left with Tanaka -- the rogue, under-qualified mayor of Gardena -- to run America's largest sheriff's department.
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Preven speculates over email that Baca may be "taking precious time out from his mismanagement on numerous fronts, to potentially lay groundwork for lucrative security consulting" -- much like LAPD Chief William Bratton before him, now a law-enforcement celebrity tapped during high-profile police disasters like the London Riots and the UC Davis pepper-spraying.
"He should be grounded," Preven says of the sheriff. "Let him set up a little bunk desk with Mr. Tanaka in the jail."
At least that way, Baca couldn't hop on any more jets before staring his monster of a jail scandal straight in the eye -- instead of just shrugging it off as an inevitable chapter in L.A. history.