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Sheriff Baca, probation chief at odds over parolee supervision

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca blasted the county's probation chief Tuesday for being uncooperative in the county's preparations to take on state parolees.

Baca accused Probation Chief Don Blevins of viewing the sheriff's department "as some sort of threat" even after Baca had backed down in his bid to take sole responsibility for supervising of hundreds of state parolees who will soon be passed from state custody to the county.

Baca's initial proposal was an unprecedented attempt to take the task from county probation officers, who already do that sort of work. No law enforcement agency in the nation handles parole or probation supervision, a task decidedly more oriented toward social work.

But after months of lobbying for the responsibility -- and the funding that comes with it -- Baca suddenly endorsed a hybrid plan this month that would leave his deputies out of rehabilitation casework. Despite that, sheriff's officials said they believed Blevins was attempting to further diminish the role of the sheriff's department.

On Tuesday, the L.A.County Board of Supervisors voted to make the Probation Department the lead agency in parolee supervision, with the hopes that the sheriff's department will offer support, particularly for higher level offenders. However, the details of the plan are still being worked out in a special committee of county officials that includes Baca and Blevins.

"I offered to eliminate any sense of competition," Baca said. "I was willing to say to the chief probation officer 'You go ahead and run the whole program.' "

But Baca, visibly irritated, said Blevins had built a "moat around his department." Baca said that with that kind of attitude Blevins could be "an unreliable partner" in any eventual hybrid arrangement for parolee supervision.

In an interview, Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo said Baca's accusations were in response to a statement Blevins submitted to county board staff arguing for even less involvement from the sheriff's department. "Basically why we should not be involved," Rhambo said.

Blevins told the Times that his concern with the hybrid plan, as it had been sketched out by county staff, was that too much of the funding was going to the sheriff's department, and that at least for high-level parolees the duties of the two agencies seemed blurred.

"Our position all along has been the sheriff’s role should be focused on absconders and people who fail to report," he said, and not on casework.

Blevins acknowledged he should have addressed those concerns with Baca, rather than taking them directly to county staff.

Winning sole responsibility of the state parolees would have allowed Baca to eventually add about 300 new employees during a time when hiring has stopped. In a hybrid plan, sheriff's officials have downgraded that expectation to about 50 deputies.

Baca also seemed to indicate Tuesday that when it came to keeping tabs on the highest level parolees in the county, he's not going to ask for permission.

"I'm not going to ask the chief probation officer," he said. "I'm just going to do it."

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-- Robert Faturechi

Photo: L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

 
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