Over the past few months, we have seen numerous promotions at all ranks in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. We congratulate those promoted and hope they will help turn the Department around in regards to leadership. Lately, we have seen far too many Department executives focused on how to fly under the radar and how to manage their responsibilities without drawing attention to themselves. What we need are Department executives willing to recognize problems and offer solutions (in other words, lead). Saying “there is no morale problem” over and over doesn’t mean there isn’t a morale problem. Telling the Sheriff “there isn’t a morale problem” and “things are great under your leadership” may help you get promoted, but it doesn’t address the problems in the Department. For Sheriff McDonnell (or any sheriff, for that matter) to be successful, he needs executives who tell him the truth, face difficult situations head on and offer solutions.
One area that has had the biggest negative impact on morale is the excessive overtime and CARPing, both the result of understaffing and a lack of effective hiring and retention plans. For many years, PPOA has been telling this Sheriff and the sheriffs before him that the Department needs to make recruitment and retention a top priority. We recommended the creation of a recruitment task force to address the problem. Our concerns fell on deaf ears until last year, when Sheriff McDonnell announced he would make recruitment a top priority. Shortly thereafter, the Department created a recruitment and retention task force. We are grateful that McDonnell created the task force, but we are less than impressed with its progress. In eight months of meetings and discussions, we have yet to see a clear assessment of the problem, a task or goal or a date to accomplish whatever its goals may be. The only thing we are aware of is that Personnel just hired 20 more recruiters from around the Department. Although this is a step in the right direction, the Department will never fix the problem if it keeps moving at a snail’s pace. Case in point: Last year, the Department claimed to hire deputies at the fastest rate possible. How did it do? By the end of the year, the Department’s sworn personnel had decreased by 100! In addition, there are record numbers of employees relieved of duty (ROD), folks going off work due to injuries (IOD) and retiring early. Is the Department touting this as a success? I would call it an epic failure!
Recruitment is only part of the problem. Retention is the other. We have seen a sharp rise in folks retiring early (before age 55). Many are retiring after the 25-year mark so they get the medical coverage in retirement. Many have said they are unhappy with the Sheriff’s Department or unhappy with the negativity associated with the job because of negative media coverage and anti-police sentiment. Some say they are fed up with the favoritism, excessive discipline and overall (mis)treatment of the employees. It is unfortunate that we are losing experienced employees unnecessarily. The Sheriff needs to look into solutions to the retention and recruitment problems so that he can keep his experienced employees around to help the younger employees.
Once again, let me outline just a few things the Sheriff’s Department could implement immediately that would improve recruitment and retention:
- Expedite the deputy hiring for our nonsworn who are current employees with good work histories (e.g., custody assistants and security officers/assistants). Expedite does not mean to cut corners or to circumvent the background process. It simply rewards those who already work with the Department by putting them first, before nonemployees. Eliminate the polygraph for current employees who already took the polygraph when they were hired.
- Use the polygraph process “for cause” or as a tool to assist background investigators. It should not be pass/fail or the catch-all disqualification for “using deceptive measures” without additional proof. We did not do this in the past when I worked backgrounds. We worked the cases based on the information the polygraph examiner gave us. We didn’t just DQ them.
- Work with the Office of Health Programs to update our medical examination process for candidates. We are losing great candidates to other police departments far too often because of a DQ for medical reasons by OHP.
- Use recruiters who have commonalities with the folks we are recruiting. For example, send deputies from Louisiana to Louisiana to recruit out-of-staters, use former military (or current military reserves) to recruit from the military, ask department members of a particular race, gender and sexual orientation to help recruit from that population of the public. But wouldn’t that require a massive recruitment unit? No. The unit has specially trained recruiters knowledgeable in the hiring process. They would partner with the employees who have the characteristics needed to recruit for specific groups.
- Expand the academy training staff and the use of other facilities for training purposes. Move classroom training or advanced officer training to other locations such as the community colleges. A common complaint I hear is the inability to get time for our EVOC training at Pomona Fairgrounds. But when the Board of Supervisors checked with Pomona Fairgrounds, the fairgrounds had plenty of time available for the Department to do EVOC training. Also, Irwindale Speedway offered their facilities for EVOC training. Enough excuses, folks. Let’s make it happen!
- Create a “Legacy Program” whereby family members of current and retired employees are expedited through the process ahead of “off the street” candidates. Who would know better than current and former employees whether someone is suited for this career?
Each day and each month the Department wastes before it implements real solutions, the bigger the problem becomes. My greatest fear is an employee will be killed falling asleep on the job because of excessive overtime. This fear should exist in every Department executive and motivate them to fix the problem! Let’s not wait until that day comes. It is incumbent on all of us to find solutions, join forces, put egos aside and move forward, not backward (and to not even stand still). We can do it, but not if the Department buries its head in the sand and ignores the problem. It’s time for leaders to step up and lead! It’s time for others to get out of the way. We cannot afford to be stagnant any longer. I hope Sheriff McDonnell will demand from his management team real solutions and a time frame to accomplish them. It is time for him to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is time for leaders to emerge and lead. I would rather see Department executives take a chance at something and fail than see them sit on their hands for fear of failing.