I overheard this outside the L.A. County sheriff's headquarters in Monterey Park. "So, how's he doing?"
"He seems good so far. Everybody's just wait and see."
"He" is the interim sheriff, John L. Scott, chosen to replace Lee Baca, who retired as federal indictments were filed on 20 past and present deputies. "He" takes charge of a department widely seen as beset by a see-no-evil culture and favoritism in some of its upper reaches. Scott, who was an L.A. deputy for 36 years, is an insider, an outsider and a short-timer. Here's his to-do list.
Are more indictments coming?
I've asked for a meeting with the federal prosecutor to see whether I can find out.
You have at most 10 months before a new, elected sheriff comes in. What problems need fixing, and why did the Board of Supervisors believe you were the man to do it?
They were looking for an individual who was not going to run for the position, and I had the unique perspective of working both L.A. and Orange County with [some] similar issues: problems in the jail and badges [issued to politicians or supporters].
The image has been tarnished. Things were done that are being investigated that certainly we're accountable for, but the vast majority of deputies are doing a very professional job.
One of my goals is to restore an image but also the confidence of our public. Then we have accountability. Some things that were in place when I left, I want to restore.
We had SCIF, Sheriff's Critical Incident Forum, a quarterly look at all the different factors that go into an operation. We determined if there were spikes or trends, and we analyzed why is this high or why is this low. It's good to take metrics and analyze them and take good ideas and apply them across the board.
Of the 60 reforms recommended by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, how many have been done?
Close to 50.
So the hard parts are left?
It's hard in terms of financing. We have to find funding for some of the last components. Policy change and supervisorial monitoring are things we can do pretty quickly, but when you talk about a culture that exists, that takes more than a couple of years. But that doesn't mean you can't start.
And you've been brought in to do the hard stuff and deliver bad news?
I've done it before and I'm willing to do it again, because it's the right thing to do.
We may elect a sheriff in June, or there may be a runoff in November. How can you work with that timing uncertainty?
My game plan is to push as much through as I can in 10 months. I feel it's highly unlikely that there's going to be a clear [winner] in June. I'm looking at this as a 10-month program, but I'm concentrating heavily on the first four months. I'll [also] be reaching out to each of the candidates about their own plans and goals as we move forward.
In California, elected sheriffs are a constitutional requirement. But should it be an elected or an appointed job?
I truly think that it should be an elected position. That allows for independence within the county workforce.