Yesterday I was given the opportunity to interview Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. Before getting into how that went, first I must disclose that I have a history of involvement with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department doing community relations andÂ teaching a class at their training academy. During that time I came in contact with people at all levels, some of whom became friends. Sandra Hutchens retired from LASD after 30 years of service. We did not meet until after she was appointed sheriff here in Orange County.
So, I was given an hour with our Sheriff. We covered several topics. The hot button item of Concealed Weapons Permits (CCW) was one. I guess it’s inevitable, given the drama around her decision to review who had been given them. Some background I was not aware of: During his last year as Sheriff, Brad Gates issued 308 permits. In his first year, Mike Carona approved 482 and by 2003, the number had risen to 1228. Presently, under Sheriff Hutchens, there are still more than 800 permits (more than twice the number as Gates and not such a huge reduction from Carona). Also, any police chief can issue a CCW permit and according to the Sheriff, that almost never happens. Could it be that it’s a political hot button and the chiefs would rather let someone else take the heat? Sheriff Hutchens said that some permits, presumably a small number, were issued by Mike Carona to people who don’t even live in Orange County.
Once the review of who had a CCW and why was done, Sheriff HutchensÂ took herself out ofÂ determining who gets one — with rare exceptions. She promulgated a CCW policy and it is being followed by staff. When there is a borderline case of someone applying for a permit and staff feels her input is necessary, staff is instructed to bring the circumstances of the application to her but without the applicant’s name in order that the application can be considered strictly on its merits.
At the time of her appointment, Hutchens was faced with twoÂ extremely large problems: the ghost of Mike Carona and the death of inmate John Chamberlain in 2006, either of which would be enough to discredit the entire department that otherwise pretty much stays out of the news.
Carona, in his 1998 campaign, did say that he would issue lots more CCW Permits. Once could reasonably conclude that this influenced the publicÂ perception of the permits. Carona also gave out a lot of badges. Sheriff Hutchens was careful to say that the problem with permits and badges was notÂ the peopleÂ who received them but rather the process by which they were handed out. There is a law that governs the criteria by which someone is eligible for a CCW and her assessment was that the law was not followed.
Sheriff Hutchens also changed how the jails operate. Paper logs (which can be altered) are out and electronic logs are in. Use of force on an inmate must be reported to supervisory staff. Internet access is restricted. Somehow, I bet sleeping on duty is also no longer tolerated.
The Sheriff was quick to give credit to both the employees of her department and the communities and constituencies (for lack of a better word, and referring to OCTA, the airport, and such) they serve. She stated clearly that it is community input that shapes how OCSD determines priorities beyond simply arresting the bad guys. Even then, particularly in the 20 contract cities (those cities who contract with OCSD to provide law enforcement rather than have their own PD), community input can affect law enforcement priorities such as focusing on traffic enforcement or on property crime. She also said that the department is aware that they are providing a service to customers. The service is law enforcement and the customers are you and me and everyone else.
Another hot topic is the Arizona law. Sheriff Hutchens declined to criticize Arizona choosing instead to focus on Orange County and saying that there are two primary concerns. First, immigration is a federal concern. Second, and more immediate, is the notion of limited resources. The department has for more than three years, been checking immigration status of those who have been brought to a jail. The department does not do immigration enforcement on the street, for example after a traffic stop, because if in such a case, the deputy will be taken off the street for six to eight hours while waiting for ICE, who also has limited resources and is focused on people who have committed crimes, to show up. The checks done at the county jails have resulted in more than 11,000 people being turned over to ICE and there is a 6% recidivism rate among those. To be clear, she did say that the 6% represents those who have returned to a county jail and does not include those who may have ended up incarcerated elsewhere. This, she feels, is a worthwhile investment of resources that would not be the case for doing checks in the field.
When she took office, she walked into a maelstrom. Some of that was the detritus of Mike Carona’s administration and some was external politics that had little to do with Sandra Hutchens the cop or person. All in all, what I found was a person who is not a politicalÂ ideologue. She seemsÂ very committed to running an ethical and honorable operation. Seems more than reasonable to me.