Leroy Baca's views on Police Misconduct
The question is ... after reading the speech, "What's your
take on police misconduct?"
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:
Forum on Police Misconduct
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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Thank you very much.
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).
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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,
LA Community Policing