Without conceding there was "failure of leadership," Sheriff Lee Baca on Wednesday accepted blame for deputies abusing inmates in county jails and embraced all of the sweeping reforms recommended by a blue-ribbon committee.
"I don't lead with my ego," Baca said during a rare news conference inside Men's Central Jail, against the backdrop of a chapel cross. "I lead with my intellect."
"I'm a passionate believer in the public's right to be properly treated, whether they're in jail or out of jail," he added. "And I will continue to pursue the improvement of this great organization because I think it's the right thing to do."
Baca supported recommendations by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence to create an Office of Inspector General that would provide independent oversight of the Sheriff's Department and to hire an assistant sheriff who would focus on the jail system, the largest in the country.
He also plans to enhance the training and supervision of deputies - the latter by assigning more sergeants and lieutenants to the jails, by hiring additional Internal Affairs investigators, and by installing video surveillance cameras.
The commission had also called for removing Undersheriff Paul Tanaka from the chain of command that supervises the jail system, saying he made repeated statements that led to "a perception by some deputies that they could use excessive force in the jails and their aggressive behavior would not result in discipline.
Baca complied with the recommendation but continues to rely on Tanaka, a certified public accountant, to manage the department's budget pending the outcome of multiple investigations into his conduct.
"The (Office of Internal Review) and Internal Affairs will have to sort it out for me," Baca said. "I am not a person that acts impulsively or in my own self-interest when it comes to someone else's career."
The sheriff vowed to act decisively to remove abusive deputies.
"Either you follow the core values or get out," he told them. "If you don't have respect for the dignity of all people, you don't belong in this business."
The commission's executive director, Miriam Krinsky, welcomed the sheriff's announcement and recognized his recent efforts. But she said there is still much to do to improve conditions in the jails.
"True change will require structural reforms, a new way of staffing jails, and accountable new leadership over the jail operation," she said. "It's certainly our view that there will need to be vigilant oversight to make sure the sheriff's commitment remains strong for a meaningful process of change."
The commission was appointed last year by the county Board of Supervisors after the American Civil Liberties Union went public with 70 sworn statements from purported eyewitnesses to beatings of inmates by deputies in 2010 and 2011.
After a nine-month investigation, the commission concluded last week: "The problem of excessive and unnecessary force in the Los Angeles County jails was the result of many factors, beginning most fundamentally with a failure of leadership in the department."
It considered recommending the sheriff be stripped of responsibility over the jails but ultimately decided he should be the one to implement sweeping reforms.
Asked during the news conference about whether he agreed there was a failure of leadership, Baca said only that he would "not quibble" over whether some of the commission's findings were "inaccurate" or "unfair."
"I take the blame for whatever is wrong," he said.
Of the commission's 63 recommendations, 20 have already been implemented and 28 more are under way, according to the sheriff. He said reforms implemented since the scandal broke have resulted in a 53 percent decline in significant force over the past 12 months.
The final 15 recommendations, such as installing full body scanners, require funding, but Baca committed to coming up with the money somehow.
"I'm going to do it," he said. "It's that important to me."