The History of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) is as old as the State of California. It is also older than the Los Angeles Times newspaper, who began publishing in 1881. LASD began in 1850 in the days of Pio Pico, the states first governor. LASD has had thirty-two Sheriff’s. The tradition of the department was that the incumbent picked their successor upon retirement. That tradition stopped with the death of Sheriff Sherman Block in 1998.
The first Sheriff was George T. Burrill, who served from 1850-1851. LASD has never been led by a woman or minority. To date seven Sheriff’s have been appointed and on average, served approximately three to four years. That changed by 1907.
In 1932, Sheriff William Traeger left the position to run for Congress. The LA County Board of Supervisors appointed his successor, Eugene W. Biscailuz to the position. He would run unopposed for the next six terms. He retired in 1958.
In 1958, Peter J. Pitchess was elected Sheriff and is credited with modernizing the department and making it the largest Sheriff’s department in the nation. He utilized helicopters, created one of the first SWAT teams and allowed small cities to contract with LASD, as opposed to funding their own departments.
He is also known for the court case Pitchess v. Superior Court. This case allows defendants the right to obtain records of public complaints, related to the use of excessive force by officers. Pitchess refused to turn over such documents, stating the records were proprietary and the CA Supreme Court ruled 7-0 they were not. He retired in 1982.
In 1982, Sherman Block became the 29th Sheriff and served until his death in 1998. He died while campaigning and was facing his Chief Deputy Lee Baca. Opponents of Baca wanted the Board of Supervisors to appoint his successor, yet Lee Baca was elected the 30th Sheriff of LA County. Block received one-third of the vote.
Block didn’t give his blessing to Lee Baca to succeed him. During his tenure, Sheriff Block was the highest paid elected official in the United States.
Lee Baca would serve from 1998 to 2014, until he was forced to retire, following the jail scandal, that rocked the nation.
In 2011, a committee was established, to give opinion on the condition of the department, which was led by then Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. The committee’s recommendations were the department was in need of an overhaul.
In 2014, Jim McDonnell was elected the 32nd Sheriff of the department. Quite ironic given he was tasked with putting together a report, that directly contributed to his election.
With Paul Tanaka involved in a court battle, and vowing to never run again, 2 Urban Girls hopes that the department will eventually have a woman at the helm. Who is she?
Jacqueline Seabrooks, the current Chief of Police of Santa Monica and former Chief of Police for the City of Inglewood.