Sheriff Baca faces LA County Board of Supervisors on jail violence

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Sheriff Lee Baca holds a press conference regarding the Paris Hilton case at the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department June 8, 2007 in Monterey Park, California.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is scheduled to appear before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to discuss violence inside Men's Central Jail and other county lockups. The FBI has launched an investigation into dozens of allegations of inmate abuse by sheriff’s deputies. The board, in response, has created a Commission on Jail Violence.

“I think it’s a good idea. We’re really better when society is looking at things and I welcome it,” Baca told KPCC.

Baca initially resisted any outside investigation. He indicated he still views reforms proposed by Supervisor Gloria Molina and approved by the board as a formality.

“We’ve been working on it as it stands, and I think she just put it in one package so that the public could understand the importance of these reforms,” Baca said.

The board said it wanted to impress upon the sheriff the importance of reforming his jails. Voters elect the sheriff, and he is not beholden to the Board of Supervisors. But at least one supervisor has threatened to cut off funding to the sheriff if he fails to enact jail reforms.

The Los Angeles Times reports his command staff was raising concerns about abuse nearly two years ago. While he now acknowledges some abuse has occurred, Baca, who has been sheriff for more than a decade, said allegations of inmate abuse are exaggerated.

“When it gets right down to it, there are a large number that are not provable," Baca said. "I don’t know if this is a strategy on the part of inmates to be housed in a different place when they don’t want to be in the Central Jail.”

The allegations don’t come just from inmates, but from a jail chaplain, a tutor who works at Men's Central and a former sheriff’s deputy who told the Times that he was ordered by supervisors to beat up a mentally ill inmate.

Baca said he is moving to stop any abuse with a new force prevention policy at the jail.

"Avoid making physical contact with inmates. Use a communication skill that decelerates anxiety and whatever stresses inmates have," Baca said he has told deputies. The inmates "all have depression, stress and anxiety as it stands. But when we are too aggressive with them in minor incidents, it can lead to force.”

Baca said his policy has resulted in fewer inmate complaints.

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