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Securing the homeland in a 16-hour day

L.A. County Sheriff Leroy Baca keeps frenetic pace to fight terrorist threat.

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Although he is 8,000 miles from US troops in the Gulf, Leroy Baca rises before dawn each morning with equal amounts of military precision and patriotic urgency.

At 5:30 a.m., the 60-year-old Mexican-American will run 8 miles (32 laps) around the track of California Polytechnic Institute near his San Marino home. Then he will switch from Nikes and sweatshirt to patent-leather shoes and uniform as chief law enforcement officer of the nation's largest county. For the next 16 hours, he will oversee thousands of "troops" - uniformed street officers, hazardous material experts, medical personnel and others - in a war against an almost intangible foe: domestic terror.

Sheriff to 10.5 million people, Mr. Baca is a leading steward in the crucial mission of maintaining homeland security, a task that has grown in urgency since the war on Iraq started.

For Baca, as with other police chiefs and sheriffs nationwide, that means seven days a week of ratcheted-up readiness. Now that the war is in full bore, officials are hastening to refine playbooks of logistical responses to attacks on targets ranging from petroleum-tank farms to sports palaces.

There's another component of the job, too. Sheriff Baca spends part of his day engaging in a public-relations campaign, soothing frayed nerves with the calm and grace of a skilled clergyman.

"War abroad causes tension in America," he tells local news reporters at a press conference. "Please let your audiences know that we are prepared as humanly possible for anything that can come our way."

U-turns and multitasking

After the press conference in front of the Sheriff Department's Emergency Operation Center, a barbed-wired, Fort Knox-like complex reputed to be impermeable to earthquake, mudslide, flood, and riot - Baca gets into a mobile war room: his patrol car.

As a SWAT-team veteran drives, U-turns and red-curb parking are commonplace - as are half-hour lunches at 3 o'clock.

In the car, Baca works a two-line cellphone from the shotgun seat, arranging meetings with the governor and military officials, often putting one or both on hold - all while being interviewed by a backseat reporter.


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