Here in my backyard of sunny (sorry!) Los Angeles, our county sheriff is suffering through the worst performance record in the country outside of noted racist Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona. First, Sheriff Lee Baca had to endure credible allegations of mistreatment of prisoners in county lockups. Now, he has a new scandal on his hands:
Hundreds of people have been wrongly imprisoned inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department jails in recent years, with some spending weeks behind bars before authorities realized those arrested were mistaken for wanted criminals, a Times investigation has found.
The wrongful incarcerations occurred more than 1,480 times in the last five years. They were the result of a variety of factors, including officials’ overlooking fingerprint evidence and working off incomplete records.
The errors are so common that in some years people were jailed because of mistaken identity an average of once a day.
Many of those wrongly held inside the county’s lockups had the same names as criminals or had their identities stolen — problems that took days or weeks for authorities to sort out.
In one case, a mechanic held for nine days in 1989 on a warrant meant for someone else was detained again 20 years later on the same warrant. He was jailed for more than a month the second time before the error was discovered.
The other stories in the article are similarly nightmarish. What emerges is a picture of a county incarceration system just totally unequipped to handle prisoners. And with California transferring many convicts from the state to the county level, this is bound to get worse with the same degree of incompetent leadership. Indeed, this is an indictment of not only the sheriff’s office, but the police department and the court system.
I would add that this is what happens when you chronically underfund the structures of government. You end up with a government that simply doesn’t have the capacity to carry out its basic functions. For all the talk of corruption, sometimes it’s that simple. The effort to defund government over the last 30 years, largely successful in many parts of the country, manifests itself in abominations like this.
Baca is doing damage control, announcing a task force to minimize these errors. But with sheriff an elected position in LA County, I think his career is pretty much over after this spate of scandals.