Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who retired from the department after being criticized by a blue-ribbon panel for failing to crack down on abuse of inmates in county jails, announced Thursday he will challenge incumbent Lee Baca for the sheriff’s job.
He is the second former department official to announce his candidacy in the last two days. Retired Cmdr. Bob Olmstead announced Wednesday that he was entering the race to unseat Baca. The election will be held in June 2014.
Tanaka, who has denied the allegations against him, made his announcement at a Griffith Park news conference with several of his supporters standing behind him.
“After months of thoughtful consideration and the urging of many colleagues, I have decided to declare my candidacy for sheriff of Los Angeles County,” he said, “because community members are long overdue for a new direction from their sheriff.
“In 2002, I was appointed chief and given primary responsibility to manage a department budget that had been overspent by $25 million in the previous fiscal year. I’m proud to say that during the course of the next 11 years, we repaid the $25 million to the taxpayers, operated in a fiscally responsible manner, and never overspent our budget.
“These years of service also led me to conclude that after 15 years of the same leadership, it’s time for a new direction.
“Seventeen thousand men and women provide a wide array of basic and highly specialized law enforcement services, which include providing patrol services to over 100 unique unincorporated cities and 42 contract cities from 23 sheriff’s stations located throughout the county from South Los Angeles to the Antelope Valley, from Avalon to San Gabriel Valley.
“The scope of these services reminds us all that the magnitude of the department’s responsibilities calls for a leader who is engaged in the day-to-day operations and focused on the task at hand, who is experienced in the many facets of the department’s functions, and who has a clear understanding of budgetary matters and practices fiscal responsibility.
“The leader of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department must have a mutually respectful relationship with member of the Board of Supervisors and other county departments, union leaders, and the rank-and-file deputies who serve as the backbone of our department.
“The leader of the department must be willing to accept personal accountability, be appropriately responsive to those who would serve in oversight capacities, and make necessary reforms in a definitive and timely fashion.
“The leader must provide a healthy and positive working environment for all employees, and at the same time hold them accountable for doing the job they are paid to do.
“And finally, the leader of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department must communicate with members of the organization and the public in a manner which is clear, consistent, and sensible.
“As sheriff, I will restore trust and credibility to the department, bring much needed order to the house by putting in place an organizational structure that is clearly defined and sensible, one that is no longer blurry or confusing.
“Next, I will strengthen the hiring practices to ensure that only those who meet the highest standards of conduct and character become deputy sheriffs.
“And finally, as sheriff I will implement an accountability system which will uphold these high standards and a disciplinary system which will be fairly and consistently applied.
“Getting the department’s house in order is a top priority. The result will be improved crime-fighting efforts and public safety services to every community across the county.
“I plan to run a spirited and honest campaign, and I look forward in the months ahead to discussing these and other issues that matter most to the people of Los Angeles County.”
Tanaka’s supporters in the department include one current commander, one retired commander, nine current captains, three retired captains, and one retired division director.
Tanaka, who is also mayor of Gardena, has the backing of other elected officials, including Gardena City Councilmember Tasha Cerda and Inglewood City Councilmember Alex Padilla, along with Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano and Huntingon Park Police Chief Jorge Cisneros.
Beginning his law enforcement career with the El Segundo Police Department in 1980, Tanaka joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1982 and rose through the ranks over the next 30 years. He was elected to the Gardena City Council in 1999 and was elected mayor in 2005, 2009 and earlier this year. He retired as undersheriff effective Aug. 1. A department spokesperson said Tanaka’s departure was not connected to the allegations.
Baca has been county sheriff since 1998. Although he has strong name recognition and a powerful fundraising base, he has come under criticism in recent months over management of the jails, leading to a federal investigation.
A commission appointed by the county Board of Supervisors heavily criticized Baca and his management team for ignoring and even promoting “a persistent pattern of unreasonable force” against inmates.
Baca has conceded that “some terrible things” had been done by deputies in the jails, but he disputed the commission’s characterizations of deputies running rampant in the lockups.
A letter from County Supervisor Gloria Molina was published over the weekend in The Los Angeles Times, blasting Baca and expressing disappointment at the absence of challengers for the sheriff’s post.