Some of the most interesting looks at the Orange County’s Sheriff’s Department in recent months continue to come from the outside.
The latest probe from the Orange County Grand Jury and the latest management review from the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS) both offer unique insights, given their mix of outsider perspective and insider access.
And both also raise serious questions about whether Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and her management staff are effectively doing their job.
County supervisors so far have given Hutchens a public pass – since I raised the question of management effectiveness more than a year ago in a column after a trio of convicts escaped from the roof.
Hutchens is calling on county supervisors this week to expand management challenges at the jail by adding the housing of federal immigration detainees at county jail facilities.
Hutchens won’t address the latest managers’ scorecard from AOCDS saying through a spokesman that she doesn’t agree with the tone of the ratings – which are indeed quite frank and raw in some places.
For example, Assistant Sheriff Steve Kea saw his overall rating from his deputies rise to 3.66 (out of a possible 5), up from 3.49 last year.
He was credited with leadership strengths such as “high integrity” and “cares about his troops.” His areas for improvement were listed as “caring about ALL deputies not just patrol” and “work to increase staffing in certain areas.”
Yet under comments, troops took it to Kea.
“Other than Linda Solorza (the lowest ranked Assistant Sheriff, who retired earlier this year), he’s the worst Assistant Sheriff I’ve seen in 20+ years,” was the lead comment. Another anonymous comment noted, “morale is terrible, working conditions are worse, the best employees have given up.”
For the most part, most OCSD managers saw their ratings from their deputies go up.
Indeed, 57 percent of deputies (and 59 percent of DA investigators) believe their agency is headed in the right direction.
DA investigators rated better morale rankings as well as better overall management team performance.
AOCDS President Tom Dominguez acknowledged the raw comments in the report but said the deputies union wanted it that way so “we do everything we can to keep our hands off it. We want it to be an accurate portrayal. That’s why comments are across the board.”
While Hutchens doesn’t like the rawness of the comments, and has said so to Dominguez, he defends the approach.
“The minute we start editing or censoring comments, we are defeating what we are trying to accomplish,” he said.
He said he spoke to Kea about the range of comments in his review and called his reaction “very professional.”
Dominquez said AOCDS was “disappointed” in Hutchens’ refusal to come in and review the ratings.
“That’s her right,” Dominguez said. "I hope she’s reviewed it…it’s got far more positive things than negative.”
He said, “it’s important for us that our members are able to review and consume this information as well as the public. What we’re trying to do here is look at ourselves in the mirror. To really look at where we can improve, where our weaknesses are.”
The report was indeed very useful last year after the jail escape when we were able to look at the reviews (not good) for Chris Wilson, the jail supervisor.
A current AOCDS lawsuit over staffing levels at the jail and instructions from jail managers is still pending.
Yet the grand jury report did call out similar allegations from the lawsuit about managers calling on deputies to not fulfill part of their jobs to save money, things like late night bed counts.
All this goes to show us that the more outside eyes on the Sheriff’s Department, the better – especially since county supervisors, or their oversight agency, the Office of Independent Review - are too politically timid to look into their biggest budget item.