Securing the homeland in a 16-hour day
L.A. County Sheriff Leroy Baca keeps frenetic pace to fight terrorist threat.
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."
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.