Reporters caught up with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca at the Fire Department's Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center Thursday, where Baca joined other L.A. leaders in announcing a large new Homeland Security grant for Southern California.
Naturally, questions turned to the impending release Friday of the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence report, which is the culmination of several of investigations into claims of inmate abuse in Los Angeles County jails. Baca gave a bit of insight as to his thoughts on revelations of jail violence.
Baca on the commission:
"The commission was part of my planning with the board of supervisors. This is something I asked for. I have found that certain people testified about certain things and then when I asked others about the same thing, they had a different version of what occurred. So we've got some issues in that regard. But overall, I think the recommendations are designed to improve what we do."
On reforms he has already made this year to reduce use of force by 40 percent:
"I instituted some very strong initiatives. The commander's task force, which is outside of the chain of command, which reports directly to me has been very effective in helping reduce force. An active commander in the jails helping the deputies understand how to deal with conflict without force. A force prevention policy was developed as supervision was put in. And obviously, more training has been provided to the deputies. My belief is the punitive environment of being incarcerated, period, without force, is very oppressive to the average human being, including a criminal. What the answer? The answer is simple: provide education to the inmate so they can have a better life."
Baca's response to new reports of widespread head injuries in county jails via an ACLU report issued Wednesday:
"What's going on here is that the ACLU hears complaints from the inmates. At the same time, the deputies have their own version of what occurred. What I have is a policy that says you cannot use force on somebody's head unless there's an extraordinary reason for it. And that means that you yourself are being vicitmized by an inmate to the degree that you have to defend yourself."
On allegations that he is "out of touch" with what's happening in the jails, relegating their running to underlings:
"Anyone can say whatever they want to say, and I respect that. But if I were to comment on the ACLU, they're out of touch with me. All they needed to say was, 'hey, we want to come in and talk to you about concerns.' But that's not been their style. They tend to go after information from inmates and send correspondences and then we respond to them. I think my service to the county is established. We have civil rights as a culture in the sheriff's department. Our core values are reflective of human rights. And the community is gracious to me wherever I see them."
On discipline for deputies with records of abuse:
"If there's any scintilla of abuse by a deputy, that person doesn't belong in the job. And if the fault of the abuse was an honest mistake and not maliciousness, then we'll take that into some consideration. But if all the aggravation that the ACLU has created for me, and it's not much, results in us finding out about one out of control deputy who uses excessive force, then it's all worth it to me to get rid of that deputy."
In anticipation of Friday's final Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence report, Baca said he'll fully investigate any claims made in the report and issue a thorough response within a few months.