Days after the Los Angeles Times received a straight-forward defense from L.A. County law enforcement officials about the department’s hiring program called “Friends of the Sheriff,” the program was eliminated.
“The sheriff doesn't believe it's appropriate anymore. He's also worried about the message. . . . There's going to be allegations we give favoritism,” Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told the newspaper.
He’s probably right.
The program was more appropriate before the scandal du jour two weeks ago over the department hiring dozens of officers with questionable backgrounds after absorbing the disbanded Office of Public Safety (OPS) four years ago. Or last week’s arrest of 18 current and former deputies by the FBI over excessive use of force and obstruction of justice.
Back in February, when it became known that Sheriff Lee Baca’s nephew, Deputy Justin Bravo, had been fast-tracked into the department, he was under investigation for alleged abuse of an inmate. Officials knew Bravo’s history of fighting with San Diego police, theft and arrests for suspicion of burglary when they hired him.
The Friends of the Sheriff got a shout-out in a Times story at the time, which noted the program got a clean bill of health from the department’s Office of Independent Review, The office did recommended a change of name, however, because the sheriff knew few people on the list, and suggested, “Applicants Who Know Someone on the Sheriff's Department.”
The Times used internal employment records to help trace the existence of Sheriff Baca’s list of preferential hires back eight years. Department spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed, before the program was disbanded, that, “They do get fast-tracked . . . because they've got a tradition and history with the department.”
The preferential treatment involved a range of people that included relatives and friends of high officials, and candidates with spotty records. Whitmore said Baca knew of its existence. The applicants were screened by a separate group of veteran investigators. Although no precise numbers were available, the Times said 270 candidates were screened by the process from 2005-2007.
Baca, who is campaigning for re-election to a fifth term next year, and his department have been the subject of federal investigations, lawsuits, adverse court decisions and lousy press for quite a while. The National Sheriffs’ Association’s Sheriff of the Year has been under fire, in particular, by those who blame a culture of brutality in county jails on a system developed and cultivated by top officials.