"The very first time I met (former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca), he had just been elected, and it was during the Montrose Christmas parade. I was in it as the publisher of the LaCanada Valley Sun, as was he, being the newly elected sheriff. I was told ... that he really wanted somebody to come work for him that knew more about the media than he did ... I didn't think I could do the job."
But he could do the job. For about 13 years, Steve Whitmore was the public face of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. But with Baca retired and replaced by Orange County Undersheriff John Scott, Whitmore has, in turn, been replaced by Captain Mike Parker. Baca announced his departure a few weeks ago, and left office under a cloud: Claims of political favoritism, bad management, and severe inmate abuse at the jails.
But when he spoke with KPCC's Frank Stoltze Wednesday, one day before his boss's official last day, Whitmore would have none of it.
"I think he was good manager. I think what happened was it that there was some miscommunications. Does he trust people? yes. Has he said has he trusted maybe the wrong people? Maybe so. But when you run an organization of 18,000 people, and maybe this is what people don't understand, you have got to delegate."
Not only was Whitmore a journalist for two decades, giving him an appreciation of the reporter's job, but he also has perspective on the cop's job.
Over 40 years, ago, when I was a young punk, I had an interesting arrangement with alcohol. And that landed me sometimes in jail, sometimes in the LA County jail. So, if there be an example of redemption, and the fact that the sheriff of Los Angeles County believes in redemption, I'm grateful for it. And Sheriff Baca understands that life is not static; there is no life that's wasted.
Whitmore defends Baca to the end. "Could have I have done better?" he asked. "Oh, God, yes. Maybe if I had done better, my sheriff would be doing better."
Whitmore, 63, and son of late actor James Whitmore, says he's still with the department, and is taking a couple weeks off to figure out his next steps.