Sheriff Baca's money saving plan
By Fred ShusterCity News Service
As part of an effort to save $58 million in overtime by deputies, Sheriff Lee Baca will go on uniformed patrol in East Los Angeles on Friday -- "when things are the hottest."
"I know the streets, I know the terrain and I even know the crime problem (in the area)," the sheriff said in an interview with City News Service. "I'll have a deputy as my leader making sure I do things the right way."
Baca, 67, has ordered his sergeants, lieutenants, captains, commanders, chiefs and assistant sheriffs to also cover shifts that would otherwise be handled by deputies on overtime. The Sheriff's Department will save $58 million by the middle of 2011 due to a "zero tolerance" for overtime, according to spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Whitmore said Baca will be taking over deputy shifts that would have otherwise required overtime at least once a month, and other upper staff members will also be participating regularly. He said that after going on patrol from 2 to 10 p.m. Friday, Baca's subsequent schedules will be determined as shifts that would have required overtime open up.
Baca has checked out equipment he will need, including body armor and a ticket book, for his shift in a two-person patrol car, Whitmore said.
In the interview with City News Service, Baca seemed enthused about going back out onto the street.
"I'm going to work on Fridays, when things are hottest" in East Los Angeles, Baca said. "The big picture is, we're part of county government and we have to deal with our share of the cut."
The sheriff said the department's upper staff members do not object to the new program.
"My people are used to managing. They're used to not whining, and they get on with the music as its being played by the taxpayer," he said.
Baca, the county's 30th sheriff, commands the largest sheriff's department in the United States with a total budget of $2.5 billion, although about half that amount is for contract services to cities and other government entities. The department has more than 18,000 budgeted sworn and professional staff.
Baca is nearing the end of his third four-year term in office. He will face no opposition in his bid for a fourth term, since no one filed to run against him by the deadline,
Whitmore said Baca's plan is to save the $58 million from reduced overtime, $26 million from the early release of inmates convicted of misdemeanors -- which has sparked some criticism, even though he said it was the result of direction by the courts -- and $44 million with the elimination of 300 positions. He said those positions had been filled by deputies working only overtime. The total savings of the three efforts is expected to be $128 million.
Two weeks ago, about 200 jail inmates were released early because there were no beds for them.
"There's always a fear element when you let people out of jail," Baca told City News Service. "There's no way one can address fear adequately when you're releasing people who have committed crimes. The only positive side is these are misdemeanor-type offenders who serve an average of 45 days as it stands -- which means you can't keep them in jail indefinitely as it is. They're coming out anyway.
"The question is, what's better -- a 10-day sentence for drunk driving or a 20-day sentence for drunk driving? But I have a court consent decree that says I can't keep more than I have room for."
Baca said local government must operate on a sound fiscal basis if the state is going to overcome its financial woes.
"It's all relative," he said. "You're not going to stabilize the state financially until you've stabilized local government, and that's what this is all about."
The Sheriff's Department and several other county departments have been asked to cut 9 percent from already-stretched budgets in order to make ends meet. Each eight-hour shift covered by an executive saves the county $660 in overtime that would have been paid to a deputy, Whitmore said.
Overtime by sheriff's deputies has been the subject of scrutiny by county officials since an audit found that the department had exceeded its overtime budget by an average of 104 percent for each of the last five years. Some deputies worked more than 900 hours of overtime in a single year.
The department provides law enforcement to 40 cities, 90 unincorporated communities, nine community colleges and hundreds of thousands of daily commuters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Rapid Rail Transit District.
It also protects 58 Superior Courts and 600 bench officers, and manages the nation's largest local jail system, housing more than 20,000 prisoners.
Baca, in the wide-ranging interview with City News Service at his office late Thursday, describes his relationship with the county Board of Supervisors as "excellent."
"It's based on trust," he said. "They know I won't play games with them. Occasionally they might play a few games with me, but that's part of their role. They have to challenge sometimes what the departments are up to. It's all part of the process of democracy.
"They've been kind and good to the Sheriff's Department in good times, and they've also had to do a little cutting in bad times," Baca said. "But there's no sense in crying about it. You just go on with the job and get it done and know that when good times come back, the pattern of the board is to help the department."
As for crime, Baca outlined some of the county's biggest challenges, with gangs at the top of the list. Although the gang murder rate has lessened, there are still problems.
"We have some serious interracial kinds of gang activity, serious gang drug-dealing and some cartel drug problems," he said, adding that Russian, Armenian and Asian organized crime are part of the problem.
One of the primary reasons for gang membership, Baca said, is nonexistent or ineffective parenting. It all stems, he maintains, from broken homes.
"Kids are bombarded -- by ineffective parents, peer groups, bullying," the sheriff said. "They see inappropriate examples of adults and other kids taking drugs, and they don't know how to sort it all out. So, when they go to school, they're not prepared for it. They're struggling with all the dynamics of survival and how to figure out life as a positive experience and not a negative one. The positives are losing out to the negative."
"The school system can't fix these kids," he said. "That's not the job of the teacher. We have to have Saturday school and more after-school (projects). You can't command crime reduction as a solution."
Baca, who says he has no political ambitions beyond his current job, was elected sheriff in December 1998, and was re-elected in June 2006 for his third term in office. He entered the department in 1965, and served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves.
Although it may appear that the Los Angeles Police Department receives more attention in TV shows and movies, Baca says his outfit isn't perturbed.
"The movies are never going to depict what the L.A. County Sheriff's Department is all about because we're into public trust policing, core values, leadership, education and partnering with the community," he said. "It's a matter of us not needing a celebrity series on what the Sheriff's Department is all about. We're not relying on television shows to depict what we do.
"This is not a profit-making business we're in," he said. "It's not how sexy you can be or how outrageous your personal life can become by being a cop. None of that stuff keeps the public safe. What keeps the public safe is what do we do that people don't see or hear about, as well as what they do see and hear about."