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Feature Stories

Baca Retires, Opens Door for McDonnell

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 1

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced in Monterey Park Tuesday morning that he planned to retire at the end of January.

“I will go out on my terms. I’m not going to seek reelection for a fifth term as sheriff, and I will retire at the end of this month,” Baca told assembled reporters. “I thought about it about three days ago. So you can tell this is not something I really had in mind.”

The surprise announcement came amid allegations of abuse and misconduct within the LASD. Baca, 71, has served as sheriff since 1998.

“With Sheriff Lee Baca stepping down, the obvious choice to replace him is Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell,” stated Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert in an email to the Beachcomber.

“I’ve worked closely with Chief McDonnell and seen him do well under pressure. He is the type of leader who can make tough decisions and still retain the respect of his officers. LA County Sheriff is a difficult job, and only someone with Chief McDonnell’s experience and leadership skills could do it well.”

“I know Chief McDonnell announced a few months ago he was not going to pursue the position, but I hope he changes his mind. He has earned our trust and respect here in Long Beach. Our loss will be the county’s gain,” stated Haubert.

NBC news quoted a law enforcement source who said “McDonnell would be open to reconsidering his position, given recent developments.” He earlier decided against it “because amassing the money necessary to take on a longtime incumbent would have been a distraction from his primary job.”

Late Tuesday afternoon McDonnell released the following statement to the media:

“Since Sheriff Baca announced his retirement this morning, I have received many inquiries about my interest in this position. Serving the residents of Los Angeles County as their sheriff would truly be a unique opportunity with both challenges and rewards.”

“For the past year I have had the privilege of being the president of the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs Association. Serving in this capacity has given me an even greater awareness of the needs of the many cities that comprise this county. While each jurisdiction has varying capabilities and resources, our greatest strength is in our ability and willingness to work together to provide world-class service to those who live, work and visit Los Angeles County.”

“I am humbled to have my name mentioned in connection with this position. I will be making a decision about my candidacy in the very near future.”

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka – a candidate for the sheriff’s position – released the following statement prior to the impending resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca:

“Sheriff Baca and I have had our differences regarding the leadership and management of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He’s voiced his opinions publicly as have I. I’ll talk about that during my campaign, but I want to put politics aside for today and applaud him for his dedication to public service. This is a tough job and I want to thank Sheriff Baca for his decades of public service to Los Angeles County.”

Retired LASD Commander Bob Olmsted has also entered the race to become LA County’s next sheriff.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe issued this statement following the retirement announcement of Sheriff Lee Baca:
“Sheriff Baca has dedicated his life to public service, working his way up the department’s ranks to serve as sheriff for nearly 15 years. He has been steadfast in his commitment to the department and his focus on keeping the public safe has led to decreasing rates of violent crime in our county.”

“Over the last few years, the department has been challenged by on-going scrutiny and investigations into the actions of a few, which has cast a cloud across the work of thousands of employees who risk their lives every day to protect our communities. Given these challenges, I think now is an appropriate time for the county to continue its implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, allow our new inspector general to get underway and keep the momentum for reform moving forward.