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A sheriff, not a 'place-holder,' to speed reforms

Good for incoming Los Angeles County Sheriff John L. Scott for making it clear that he has no intention of being a "place-holder" pending the election of a new sheriff. There are 10 months from now to early December, when the next sheriff will take the oath, and that's much too long a time to let the troubled department flounder, and much too short a time to squander a rare opportunity for a leader, unconcerned with elections or politics, to push through crucial reforms.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed Scott on Tuesday to replace outgoing Sheriff Lee Baca, who over his 15-year tenure spoke eloquently about enlightened law enforcement and corrections while either protecting or ignoring a departmental culture that fostered inmate abuse, mismanagement, secrecy and defiance.

Scott served under Baca, but he left the department a decade ago and later became second-in-command to Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. His and Hutchens' job has been to turn around a department racked by corruption and mismanagement, so we can assume he picked up some valuable expertise in identifying problems and re-instilling a sense of pride and integrity. That experience will come in handy as he returns to Los Angeles County.

His best contribution may be to recognize that the Sheriff's Department suffers from systemic problems, and to share that recognition forthrightly and publicly. The county can ill afford a sheriff who sends his troops a message that things may now return to normal. It needs a sheriff who insists on a new normal. Turmoil is rarely good for its own sake, but it should not be shunned if it is the price of rooting out a pervasive and corrupting departmental culture.

Scott should take the opportunity to make any needed changes in the top command staff. His time in the department should have made him enough of an insider to know his way around its cliques and factions, and his time away should have made him — let's hope — enough of an outsider to do what's necessary without regard to personal loyalties. He should make it clear that dishonesty and deception won't be tolerated.

As the department's new inspector general, Max Huntsman, fleshes out his new role, Scott should set a pattern for cooperation and transparency. And he should support the continuing overhaul of the Custody Division, completing a separation of those who deal with inmates in the jails from those who patrol the streets. He should aim to leave the next sheriff a department committed to constitutional policing and jailing.

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