Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Securing the homeland in a 16-hour day

L.A. County Sheriff Leroy Baca keeps frenetic pace to fight terrorist threat.

(Page 2 of 2)

Answer: "Is the harbor wide open for attack, you better believe it is ... We could have 10,000 more officers and some areas would still be vulnerable," he says.

Skip to next paragraph

One problem here, and elsewhere, is the increased demand for personnel and equipment nationwide. Though he's able to spell out the number of laptops available for emergencies and boast that 1,700 protective suits are in hand, his department's order of 8,600 gas masks will not be filled for days yet.

Interagency relationships

Partly because of such shortages, the post-9/11 buzzword in homeland security has become "mutual aid" - new arrangements for sharing information, personnel, equipment, and tactical planning. Those include new relationships with the FBI, CIA, port authorities, fire departments, and "hazmat" (hazardous material) personnel. "We were stodgy, selfish bureaucracies who only shared begrudgingly," says the sheriff. "Now we know how to help each other in ways that were only dreamed of before."

Mr. Baca should know. As chief law enforcement officer of the nation's largest county he has to keep track of 15,000 personnel - including those belonging to the nation's second-largest city. With a PhD in public administration, the county's top cop has a reputation for progressive ideas.

"One of the best things I have found on my four months here is this guy, Lee Baca," says William Bratton, newly appointed LAPD chief of police. "He is philosophically very progressive and has an uncommonly broad range of skills in making things happen in every area of police work."

Since Sept. 11, the sheriff has chaired the state's antiterrorism information center - a network of California's 350 police departments. It also means helping to administer a national association of police departments set on countering terrorism. Both roles paved the way for a recent tour of Israel which provided important context for terror readiness.

"They have 700 incidents a year," he says. The whole society has developed a mental toughness that we will likely have to develop here as well."

Whether or not southern Californians are mentally prepared, Baca feels they are ready tactically and strategically. At the end of a day of press conferences, high-level meetings, and media appearances, he drives 20 miles into the San Fernando Valley for a symposium on "law and order" that will be televised regionwide.

Keep 'em peeled

Here he emphasizes another key theme. "Many times in recent weeks and months, it is citizens who have given the tips that have led to the capture of leading terrorists and criminals," Baca says to a packed crowd at the Skirball Cultural Center. "That participation is a crucial element in containing domestic terror."

At the end of an exhausting shift punctuated by war news, there's barely time for the sheriff to reflect on it all.

The next day, though, Baca finds a moment in his corner office, showing off memorabilia given to him by Buck Owens (a country music guitar) to Sen. John McCain (a signed autobiography). "People ask me if this an inhuman sprint for me now that war with Iraq has started," says Baca. "I tell them this has been a marathon since 9/11 and we are just hitting stride."