Sheriff Your House is on Fire! Pay Attention!

It’s interesting how the story of a Sheriff’s Deputy has gone so public with so much vocal activity from the office administration when in the past DUI cases at the sheriff’s office were essentially handled with silence.

Several people have contacted me upset at what appears to be at least several captains walking around telling DSA members that the DSA broke the story about the incident and how the DSA would throw any one of them under the bus for anything just to get the sheriff. It’s almost like they don’t realize the information is public and mostly likely released, either by request or a usual process by Santa Clara Police Department.  They’re more interested in engaging in what they probably think are brilliant psy-ops against the DSA board whom they’ve been repeatedly proven unwilling to work with than making sure they’re doing their jobs as administrators.

That got me to thinking. I know I have held back several stories from my blog, to include this current story about the Deputy. There was no purpose in making a bad situation worse for a deputy who may have already burned his own house down. There was no benefit to my cause to get people to understand just how badly the sheriff runs the office. Self serving?  A bit, yes, I admit that.  At the same time, I have a stated goal and I generally try to stick to it. What the deputy did realistically had done nothing DIRECTLY tied to how the sheriff’s office is run.  However given how contentious the sheriff and her captains have made this, I did discover… this story about a deputy’s issues does have a tie to the office that can be addressed.

But I must thank the captains for repeating such claims so adamantly as to make deputies suspicious that the administration was yet again trying to undermine the credibility of the DSA among it’s members.  I have to thank whoever the architect is of this maneuver for the poor logic applied, especially given the subject matter of the recent Blue Ribbon Commission regarding the Early Warning System (EWS).

Let’s address this claim that they’re spreading first. The DSA releasing the information on the deputy and the incident only serves to give the sheriff an opportunity to pretend she does her job. It allows her the opportunity to say “look at me, they’re lying that I don’t hold deputies accountable!” Again, if this had been a certain lieutenant, captain, or even ass. sheriff, this would have never received media verification from the administration had it broken loose — it would have disappeared in the same smoke a certain captain’s solicitation of a prostitute case disappeared in or in the back seat of a vehicle where a highly placed administrator was driven away from a DUI by another member of the administration.

No, there is no way the DSA released this latest incident, no matter how you put it, it served no one in the DSA as it, again, didn’t DIRECTLY impact how the sheriff runs her office. That is until enough captains started running their mouths and I started connecting a few threads — How could  this deputy’s situation potentially been impacted by the EWS program that Captain Sepuveda, Undersheriff Hirokawa, and whoever that poor SOB is that they have forced to work with the Sheriff’s Office from County Counsel were implying could identify potential issues like alcoholism or other stress related problems and address them early, allowing deputies access to programs and care to mitigate the problem and prevent incidents like this?

I started digging. You know what I found? The Early Warning System is nothing like they so carefully implied during the last meeting of the BRC. You can view the video of the meeting here. You have to fast forward past the incredibly critical to safety operations discussion about shoes and underwear at the commissary.  Oh yeah, and watch the public speakers at least up through Kevin Jensen. You’ll need it after listening to any portion of the rest.

I assumed the EWS was a system where supervisors (who are theoretically endowed with the authority to take certain actions to address issues according to the presentation given by Captain Sepulveda) were trained to identify potential issues and push them through a system that would address everything from use of force to issues of racism, stress, substance abuse early, before they became an issue. The idea, in my mind, was to protect expensive resources by identifying, addressing and following through to ensure improvement.  What I found, sergeants have no training of this type. Neither are they allowed to be or trained to be mentors.

The BRC should make the administration prove what they say exists and that it’s actually implemented and used.  Make them prove everything they say, because as I’ve sat here over the years I’ve learned the information given is too often only half-truths. Even if a program exists on paper, it is more often than not, not implemented.

I won’t use the Deputy in the latest incident as an example because I don’t know if he had any prior events that might have shown he was dealing with a stress level that might need to be mitigated. So let’s use an entirely theoretical person.  Say they have been exhibiting a short fuse with co-workers, had a bit of a personality change recently.  Maybe come in a little on the hung over side a couple of times in the past month.  A supervisor out of concern talks to the deputy and identifies he’s going through a hard time in his marriage and it’s heading for divorce. The other day they may have had a call where a 5-year-old died adding to increasing stress and guilt. Several other stressors are illuminated during the conversation. The deputy is identified as having several “early warning” signs and is eligible for support, be it counseling, alcoholism, even marriage counseling, to stop the problem and assist the deputy to remain a productive member of the office.  But, again this scenario is an entirely “philosophical” effort, as supervisors are not given this type of recognition training, nor the tools to follow through should they identify problems, regardless of what has been implied to the BRC.

Or another potential scenario — a deputy gets a couple of use of force complaint and a complaint that someone felt the deputy pulled someone over for racist reasons. The deputy’s supervisor is notified through a system to sit down to review each of the events, and none of them reach a level to be of a nature that is so severe it would get the deputy fired or should be turned up to IA, but the supervisor (trained mind you) identifies that there may a training issue in use of force. The supervisor puts in a recommendation through the EWS to ensure the deputy receives sufficient refresher in the necessary areas, defensive tactics, weaponless defense, perhaps training in de-escalation tactics.  Again the supervisors are not given this training, nor are they enabled to address such issues in a pre-emptive fashion.

I should have known better that I was putting to much credit towards the office administration when I thought scenarios like these would be addressed and followed through to their end with every attempt to improve the deputy and save the investment made in them. Reality turns out to be more like none of the above is what happens, the EWS program is nothing but an IA tool.  So if a deputy is exhibiting early warning signs, there is no one who is trained to notice, but assume they do notice, while there may be policy, there is no system for a supervisor to work within to nip an issue in the bud before it flowers into a full-blown problem for everyone.

What the EWS consists of is simply tracking use of force complaints through Internal Affairs. IA just waits for the “magic number” of complaints filed to pop up on the system, has the complaints reviewed to determine severity of the cases, and then simply decide if they’re going to purse an IA investigation to either give the deputy time off or release him. There’s no room for improvement or potential reward for improvement in the punishment system of the Sheriff’s Office.  What about a means to identify if there is a potential issue and have a program to assist in correcting the issue?  I’ve heard talk of a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan), but what I can find out about PIP’s is they are only used for addressing such things as tardiness (not trying to minimize the tool), not trying to identify and assist a deputy who may be entering a downward spiral due to stress or identify someone who may be suffering from PTSD or other potential issues that could be addressed and improved through the much mentioned mentoring or “philosophical” discussions.

There is no real “Early Warning System.”  There is no means to support deputies exhibiting stress, possible substance abuse, or other issues that can easily balloon into problems on the job.

It’s easy enough to say that if deputies can’t handle the stress, they shouldn’t do the job. But I defy the public to find someone who can to the job, corrections or enforcement, for up to 30 years or even more without them and their family being impacted by the job stresses. If we work hard to recruit the best, we shouldn’t throw out our or their effort by failing to support our resources.  You wouldn’t put a machine on an assembly line and not conduct regular maintenance.  You wouldn’t fail to put oil in your car, and keep driving it until it was so trashed to be useless.  You’d follow a maintenance plan to keep things running.  I ask where’s the maintenance for the Sheriff’s Office?

We spend a lot of money to recruit, hire and train our deputies. Why is Sheriff Smith treating them as disposable resources when staffing is already down 18% and she can’t recruit more than 5 or 7 people who can make it through academy and FTO every 6 months?

No, captains, you and I both know the DSA didn’t throw anyone under the bus. This is another poorly thought out scheme to attempt to protect the sheriff from failing to implement what she claims to be her “global knowledge” to have a progressive and successful agency .

I guess my final question to the captains strutting about loudly telling everyone that the DSA “leaked” the incident to the press, how exactly to you leak public information? Or is this ridiculous behavior on your parts just the result of the way public records are handled in our office; such a dysfunctional and manipulated process that as captains, you really don’t understand exactly what is and is not public information?

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