One-on-One with Sheriff Leroy (Lee) Baca,
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
With more than 10 years as sheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Lee Baca has worked extensively to involve the community in public safety. He talked about these initiatives and more with Dispatch Associate Editor Amy Schapiro.
CP Dispatch: As someone who has led the largest sheriff’s department for more than a decade, what has been the most successful community policing initiative(s) in Los Angeles County and why?
Sheriff Baca: My organization’s strongest approach to public safety is that we believe in public trust policing. It means that there is public participation in everything we do—youth centers, intervention programs for at-risk-youth, charter high school and junior schools, and a commitment to public participation. We have approximately 4,000 to 5,000 volunteers. The more the public participates, the more trust evolves. As a result of community engagement we have more out-of-the-box solutions to problems in our neighborhoods. For example, we have a robust clergy council with more than 300 clergy, representing multiple religions, involved with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. We also have every ethnic and racial group working with us in a public trust model to share responsibility for safe neighborhoods. The interesting thing about public trust policing is that the community is welcomed into the Sheriff’s Department. It’s not an us-versus-them culture. We encourage building partnerships with the community. Another asset is our crime analysis capability. I’m a believer in strategic policing—putting your resources to work where they are needed most. To help with this effort we have about 60 crime analysts who are regionally assigned in our 24 sheriff stations and in our detective bureaus. The information they provide helps us understand the dynamics of crimes, when they are committed, along with patterns and trends. This information lets us better develop a strategy to address these crime problems.
CP Dispatch: How are you able to involve and sustain community participation?
Sheriff Baca: We train deputy sheriffs to be community organizers and leaders because part of the sheriff’s job is to be a community organizer. The key to sustainment is for members of the public to have an official acknowledgment of their participation. Our volunteers wear uniforms, so when they are given assignments they have a significant presence in the community and are able to provide extra eyes for our deputies. We also provide our clergy with identification cards that allow them to access our facilities and people know who they are. Members of our advisory councils also have volunteer identification cards.
Community engagement is part of the culture. It all falls under public trust—you can’t just expect it, especially in high-crime areas or underserved populations. People appreciate the idea that they can be involved, so they have a great interest in volunteering. They realize that a future of safety involves preventing crime from happening and that everyone can be involved. The key is respecting each other. The core values are very strong in our department, and every employee is committed to a pledge:
As a leader in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, I commit myself to honorably perform my duties with respect for the dignity of all people, integrity to do right and fight wrongs, wisdom to apply common sense and fairness in all I do, and courage to stand against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and bigotry in all its forms.
CP Dispatch: Can you tell me more about the Deputy Sheriff Leadership Institute and how that fits in with your overall community policing philosophy?
Sheriff Baca: I have set forth an environment that encourages everyone to be a leader. Leadership training is done through the Deputy Leadership Institute (DLI) because bureaucracies tend to be self-serving at times and I would rather the bureaucracy serve employees. The DLI is for sworn and nonsworn personnel; there is no separation because the principles are the same. The culture of bureaucracy needs to have respect for leadership and, therefore, the value of solving problems is based on how effective you are in serving the public. Making the organization flexible and solving millions of problems every year requires broad skills and everyone should have the chance to develop those skills. It empowers staff to help solve the problems and allows individuals to lead from wherever they are in an organization. It also encourages everyone to lead in solving problems and encourages more participation with the public. Law enforcement agencies from New York to Los Angeles are all short-handed. America has fewer police per capita than any other nation so we need to use public goodwill to leverage public support and we can’t be bifurcated between sworn versus nonsworn. We need to be willing to open the system of a policing organization to allow for a meaningful role that the public can play. Everyone matters in the fight against crime. Everyone counts.
Sheriff Baca joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on August 23, 1965, and was first elected sheriff of Los Angeles County in December 1998. He was reelected in June 2006 for a third term. He served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves and earned a Ph.D. in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.