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Sheriff Baca's Speech
Inglewood Forum on Police Misconduct

Bill Murray - 8/23/02


Sheriff Leroy Baca's views on Police Misconduct
The question is ... after reading the speech, "What's your take on police misconduct?"

Los Angeles County's Sheriff Leroy Baca was an invited speaker at the recent Inglewood Forum on Police Misconduct. In his presentation Sheriff Baca spoke about his philosophy on law enforcement officers, his Department's core values, some of the reasons misconduct occurs, and about the need for both constant and independent review.

The Forum Co-Chairs were two members of the US House of Representatives, Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Earl Hilliard (D-AL), and they were joined by fellow House members Bobby Scott (D-VA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA), Elijah Cummings (MD), Danny Davis (D-IL), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI) and Diane E. Watson (D-CA).

NOTE: The full Forum on Police Misconduct, which ran almost 4 hours long, was carried on C-SPAN and can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here:

C-SPAN Forum on Police Misconduct

Finding the portion which included Sheriff Baca was difficult (he appears at 1:23:00 into the file) and he spoke for about 13 minutes. Because C-SPAN does not allow you to copy a file, and because only a few seconds of the speech at a time will buffer into a PC on a modem (like mine), I've taken the time to transcribe the talk for you in it's entirety.

Here is what Sheriff Baca said:

Sheriff Baca's comments
during Forum on Police Misconduct
Monday, August 19th, Inglewood

I'm delighted to be here and having heard some of the opening remarks I'm very very grateful for each and every one of you ... for your leadership and for helping to keep this nation not only the strongest but also the most responsive to the needs of people such as you, and people such as the people who are here today.

I have my comments and I have copies for whomever I can give them to. I also would like to say before I make my remarks that when I got the call from Congresswoman Waters I contemplated what can be said in a very tight format that would allow for the most meaningfulness to occur in a meeting such as this. And Congressmen, I spent the last weekend thinking about this, because it does require a lot of thought. It is a very complex issue, but an issue that a person of my responsibility must always think about.

And I do have the similarity of each of you in that I'm elected, which puts me in a different context of understanding because there are no safeguards for an elected law enforcement official, and you are subject to every scrutiny possible ... which is appropriate.

It's important that the question of police conduct stems from the absolute need to protect human rights, and so I'm going to talk on that point ... that all the laws that our nation has, and all the things that our nation does to ensure that we as people have the ability to survive adequately and even prosper, comes from the fundamental theory of human rights.

Constitutional rights, penal code sections and agency policies all provide guidelines for proper police conduct. Training and supervision, as you know, are key elements in ensuring the appropriate police conduct.

In view of the law and agency safeguards, the question is, "Why does misconduct persist?"

And I will touch on some of your themes. When Congressman Davis remarked about bureaucracy, that's a big issue in law enforcement agencies. Everything seems to have to flow in a certain way. It makes you wonder, "Where did it all go?" when the day ends.

My remarks come from 37 years of experience in the Sheriff's Department. And the following points are issues and points of solution that I've rolled into the culture, and this is a word that I've heard you say, the "culture" of the Sheriff's Department.

First of all, "What is the role of a law enforcement officer?"

The question of what is the role should not be crafted solely by tradition and subjective opinion. In my opinion, law enforcement officers are social workers who specialize in service and conflict resolution techniques when required.

Law enforcement officers are also leaders, and we do not train our law enforcement officials enough in the fundamentals of leadership. Our complex and diverse people require our law enforcement to be leaders in the community that they serve, and police administrators, academies and all police training should incorporate leadership training, and continuously develop these skills for law enforcement officers.

All agency employees that are not even in law enforcement roles should also receive this training. And why? Because people who take on leadership roles do not think subjectively, do not think and act in a manner that is self serving, and certainly do not operate in a context of secrecy.

So, there is something to be gained by everyone when you are operating in a leadership context. The next point is, as you've mentioned, "core values."

"What are the core values of the organization?"

And they are critical because they serve to answer the public question as to what does each officer stand for. And this is why the core values in the Sheriff's Department are what they are, and I'll recite them to you:

As a leader in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, I commit myself to honorably perform my duty with respect for the dignity of all people, integrity to do what is right and fight what is wrong, wisdom to use common sense and fairness in all that I do, and, finally, courage to stand against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and bigotry in all its forms.

This is the key right here to what all law enforcement officers must respond to ... and since the office that I hold, when I took it in 1998, every recruit, every person in the organization, must commit these core values to memory. 3,000 new Deputy Sheriff's absolutely will not graduate from the Sheriff's Academy unless they understand and recite these core values to me.

These core values are not something for the wall. They're not something for my office. They are something that must be ingrained in the thoughts and minds of everybody who carries a badge.

Next is, when you think about social workers who are leaders with clear core values then this becomes the cornerstone of how we are going to approach whatever problem is going to be brought before them.

And we know that force is not always the best problem solver. And therefore, because of this concept of social workers who are leaders with core values, the idea of conflict resolution is very very important.

There are issues that get in the way with what I'm saying, so lets talk about that.

One of my greatest concerns is the locker room mentality that goes on in law enforcement. And this is something where the informal part of what people say to each other gets in the way of these core values. It is often antithetical to core values, the rigid stereotyping of people bred from disrespect, prejudice and basic uncaring.

Prejudice that are often bred from isolation and ignorance evolve on occasion from over dependence, and I want to make this point strongly, from over dependence on radio cars as the primary service mechanism. These radio cars are often things that isolate the officers from the very talent they have, and often are the place where these attitudes are able to be bred in a manner that I described earlier.

Radio cars are necessary, there's no doubt about this. We're in a modernized society with neighborhoods that are vast and thousands and millions of people must be served. But at the same time they shouldn't be the only standard by which we protect society.

They have to have an addendum, an addition with a task force ... or to a group of officers who are on bicycles, foot patrols and teams for innovation and prevention, which I've heard some of you mention ... and that there has to be a balance between the modern technology of a sophisticated radio car and the common contact that all humanity requires of law enforcement, where you can look someone in the face and get to know them, and go beyond just what the radio car symbolizes.

In other words, when I talked to Congresswoman Watson years ago about an incident which she expressed to me personally ... I live in a very affluent neighborhood and we love to see radio cars because we know that the radio car's going to keep the riff raff out of town. At the same time, when you live in the neighborhood that I grew up in we'd look at radio cars as though we're the riff raff.

And there's a very big disparity here. When you live in a neighborhood that's at risk with gangs and drugs and all the problems and you look at radio cars and then you think that radio car thinks that you're the riff raff ... there's a very big credibility gap.

And this is the gap that I'm trying to close.

When you look at police misconduct it's either that people who engage in police misconduct are making that choice, or they have temporary incompetence ... one or the other.

When we as police administrators apply all of our energies to insuring police appropriately conduct themselves in all circumstances the question of misconduct still comes up. Clearly, police misconduct is a result, as I mentioned, of a personal choice ... or being over your head.

And I've asked my Deputies, "How many of you have ever been over your head in a situation, where your training, your supervision, your core values and all the things aren't operation the way they're supposed to operate?"

Any experienced police officer on any street of America that will not raise his or her hand is not being credible. There are situations where the officers are at best over their head, and we have to bring that piece into this discussion, especially when a situation is loaded with emotion.

The skill of the officer is going to be put to the ultimate challenge, and most will handle such problems to a satisfactory conclusion. Predictably, some will not. Those who fail to do it right at all times are why Sheriffs and Police Chiefs are constantly exploring best practices.

And so then we fall back to the point of, "When misconduct does occur, what do we do?"

Now, I created an Office of Independent Review. And I'm going to say this, right now. As the Sheriff in Los Angeles County I am the number one advocate of civil rights and human rights.


And my department will not be dragged to the table as to whether or not we are. I'm the boss and we are.


So, to reinforce this point, and bring it further into the culture I hired six civil rights attorneys who have the total responsibility for investigating all acts of misconduct, whether it's a criminal or a policy violation, either one ... because I'm not going to become what Mr. Davis described earlier as a receptacle of complaints and investigations, and you wonder where they are and whether or not they've been fully investigated.

With the independent eyes as well as those of us that have the training for these things, which in my judgment doesn't really give us a leg up ... because if you've got a brain and common sense then you understand to sort out facts, and your opinion and mine shouldn't differ on the subject whenever we're dealing with these investigations.

So ... the Office of Independent Review, headed up by Mr. Mike Gennaco, who was here, and who I hope you receive some testimony from at a later point, is a furtherance of the idea and the requirement as well that we in law enforcement do not have an exclusivity of how we police ourselves.

That it does require independent review with people who are intelligently involved from start to finish, and in fact the Office of Independent Review recommends to me what the appropriate course of action is.

So, I've taken it the whole way.

I am tired of the continual misconduct that goes on in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and as a professional I am tired of it as it goes on in any police department in this country.

Thank you very much.


We wish to include your perspective and some of your ideas, making this article the beginning of a dialogue about what you think about police misconduct, and a true LACP community effort.

We'll be adding to the responses all week long as replies come to us. And next week we'll pick another topic (feel free to suggest a future "Question of the Week).

Our practice is to protect the anonymity of any individual whose opinion we use on the site, so unless you specifically tell us it's OK to use your name, we won't.

But our preference is for participants to give us permission to use their names, the sections of the city they're from, and / or an appropriate title.

Let's see if together we can make a difference!

Yours in service,

Bill Murray
LA Community Policing


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Yours in service,

Bill Murray

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