Sheriff Hopefuls Offer Differing Law Enforcement Philosophieschallenger,

SAN BERNARDINO— The two declared candidates for sheriff in next year’s election faced off October 7 in a forum sponsored by the Safety Employees Benefit Association, the union representing the sheriff’s department’s deputies.

Sheriff Rod Hoops, the incumbent, like his challenger, deputy Mark Averbeck, has never actually faced the voters. Hoops was appointed sheriff by the board of supervisors in January after he was endorsed by former sheriff Gary Penrod, who retired two years into his fourth term as sheriff on February 1.

Thus, Hoops is the flag bearer for the political machine that has controlled the sheriff’s office in San Bernardino County going back to 1954. Penrod, who was first elected in 1994, was endorsed by his predecessor, Dick Williams, who was elected sheriff in 1990 with the endorsement of his predecessor, Floyd Tidwell. Tidwell, who served two terms, was handpicked by Frank Bland, who was first elected in 1954 and was then reelected five times. The same political machine that Bland controlled has now been inherited by Hoops. That machine carries with it tremendous political fund raising capability, such that Hoops already has a several hundred thousand dollar advantage over any challengers in terms of money banked in his campaign war chest.

The filing deadline for sheriff is yet five months off. So far only Hoops and Averbeck have declared an intent to run. Both will ask voters for a four year charter to run a department with a $420 million budget, more than 3,200 employees and patrol and enforcement authority over a 20,000-square mile area, which includes the entirety of the county’s unincorporated land and 14 of the county’s 24 cities which do not have their own police departments and instead contract with the county for law enforcement service. In addition, in San Bernardino County, the sheriff serves as the coroner.

At one point, some 80 people were in attendance at the forum at the Hilton San Bernardino put on by SEBA, the San Bernardino County Safety Employees’ Benefit Association.

Hoops and Averbeck offered some biographical details and then fielded in alternating sequence thirty separate questions put together by SEBA’s executive board. The forum did not repeat the same question to both, but provided a different question contained in sealed envelopes and selected at random.

Averbeck offered his view that deputies working out of the department’s main jail, the West Valley Detention Facility in Rancho Cucamonga are subjected to too great of danger.

“Deputies are being attacked too often,” he said. He said that inmates have grown very creative in the type of mayhem they attempt to perpetrate against their keepers. “They will try to make a weapon out of a shampoo bottle and kill you,” he said. Complaints about the situation forwarded to the department’s higher ups through SEBA and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have fallen on deaf ears, he said. Part of the problem, he opined, is that the racial makeup of the jailers does not reflect that of the increasingly resentful and hostile inmate population.

“At the executive level we have one woman, one Hispanic and no blacks. Of the department’s 29 captains we have two women, two Hispanics and one black. The people against me would like to have you believe that Rod Hoops is the only one qualified to be sheriff. This good old boy system has to change. There is a glass ceiling in the department for women and minorities.”

Averbeck said he would support utilizing solar panels at the jail facilities to offset utility bills.

Hoops said rumors that the department had split the county into desert and valley districts and was apportioning resources to the detriment of one side or the other were “false. We have aggressive plans and as the economy gets better we will move more resources to the desert,” he said. “If we had a better budget, we would see specialized operations.”

In describing what would inform his leadership style, Averbeck said he would “do the right thing at the right time, [encourage] community involvement, travel to the jails to see them, and concentrate on reducing dropout rates.” He cited “overcrowded jails” as one of the biggest problems facing the county and the department. He said that the dropout problem plagued the county and that this was reflected in the consideration that 70 percent to 81 percent of the county’s inmates were dropouts.

Hoops said his number one priority would be to make sure public and elected officials are kept knowledgeable about law enforcement and public safety issues. He said that law enforcement faced a heavy challenge in seeking to gain additional resources at this time because “Everyone is going through the same budget crisis.” Hoops said the state and county funding crisis had resulted in the state taking property tax funds away from the county.

Asked about employing Draconian measures against offenders such as creating a tent city jail like that used in Maricopa County in Arizona, Averbeck called that “a great idea” but said to achieve it would require “a change in the mindset in Sacramento.”

Averbeck said the staffing levels in the jails “could be better” and that the deputies on the job were “doing a good job meeting” the challenges imposed on them. “The jails are antiquated and need to be renovated,” he said.

Hoops bemoaned the closing of courts, saying that the moves to do so made the remainder “very inefficient. People must travel too far to go to court. This is a result of state budget cuts. When money comes back, we want to open the courts again.”

Asked about his position on alternative sentencing, Averbeck said he was insufficiently familiar with the subject but that “It doesn’t sound good. Early release is no good.” An alternative he would go to, he said, was “tent jails in the desert.”

Averbeck said he opposed the concept of changing sentencing laws.

Hoops touted the efficiency of his officers, saying that it takes far fewer sheriff’s deputies to patrol a given area or population than typical police departments. He said that in the county contract cities, sheriff deputies did the job with .78 deputies per 1,000 population while in the cities that have their own police departments, the ratio is 1.2 to 1.5 officers per 1,000 population.

An advantage the sheriff’s department has over police departments is that the sheriff’s deputies “don’t have to deal with neighborhood issues” in the cities they patrol. And, Hoops said, the deputies therefore “don’t have the same liability issues.”

Nevertheless, Hoops said, the sheriff’s department is “here to stay” in the county’s contract cities. He said the department stood ready to go into any of the cities that currently have police departments and take over the law enforcement function there “if all on the city council and the city manager agree.”

Asked about maintaining funding for department expansion, Averbeck said that he believed “the money will come.” That funding is crucial, he said. “You can have the best plans in the world… but if you can’t fund it, you can’t build.”

With regard to the increase or decrease in crime, Hoops said that statistics indicated that “for some reason crime has not increased with economic hardship. The experts are stumped that there is no spike in crime. I don’t have an answer for that.”

He said that in the event that trend reverses, “to fight crime, we will put more patrols on the street.”

With regard to his qualifications to be sheriff, Averbeck said he had worked a variety of assignments in his 24 years as a deputy and that he would bring diversity to the organization, improve the canine program, modify off duty employment program and expand the department’s jails.

Hoops said securing SEBA’s endorsement was of paramount importance and that a candidate that “can’t secure this endorsement would have no business getting any other endorsement” and “have no business running for sheriff.” He added, “My ego has never required me to be sheriff.”

Averbeck emphasized that the department had to take steps to ensure that the racial makeup of the deputies reflected the demographics of the community it is serving.

“It’s a problem which needs to be changed.”

Hoops said that in response to a tightening budget, he has instituted policy and operational changes that are appropriate.

“I saw this coming 18 months ago,” he said. “We are pulling resources in, and have identified aspects of our operations that are not necessary. We have cut overtime, curtailed training and the purchase of new equipment. We have already returned $5 million to the the county’s general fund. We have gone from housing 325 to 600 federal inmates. We want to keep the fed inmate population up. We make money from the federal government. Our number one job is to make sure we don’t lose deputy sheriffs. Depending on how strict the budget gets, we would sell helicopters or something before we let go of deputies.”

With regard to illegal immigration, Averbeck said controlling that was a federal government problem and it should be left to federal authorities to enforce immigration laws.

Hoops said he had far more experience running a large organization such as the sheriff’s department than did Averbeck, pointing out that he was currently managing a $400 million operation with 3,200 employees and that he had previously been the captain commanding the Rancho Cucamonga station.

Averbeck said that he believed that the department needed to raise its standards to attract deputies with college educations. “We should be setting an example for ourselves and our children. We want good quality people with good ethics and good education.”

Hoops said the sheriff’s department’s most important responsibility was to ensure public safety and to protect the county’s citizens. He said that if the county were to utilize tent cities as jails it would run the risk of being sued.

Hoops said the government’s highest priority should be public safety and service to its citizens. “If people don’t feel safe, nothing else matters,” he said.

Averbeck, when asked about the importance he put on the sheriff having a good working relationship with SEBA, said he recognized it “as the official representative of the sheriff’s deputies and that he liked the organization. At the same time he said he recognized “We’re not going to agree on everything. We must continue to communicate on a regular basis.”

With regard to the Police Officer Bill of Rights, which grants law enforcement officers rights under the law which are not afforded to regular citizens, Hoops said it was “necessary to protect sworn personnel” so they would “not be improperly interviewed and prosecuted.”

He offered the further opinion that “Too many people sacrifice too much for the Bill of Rights.”

With regard to the death penalty, Averbeck said that as a “Christian, I find it hard to understand” but that “as a law enforcement officer, I strongly believe in it.” He added that the appeals process “should be expedited.”

Hoops indicated he put less stock in the value of education for law enforcement officers than does Averbeck.

Education, he said, was “a personal thing.” He does have a masters in administration, Hoops said, that took him six years to achieve, but he averred, “Education doesn’t make a better or smarter cop. It exposes you to a different culture than law enforcement and makes you more well rounded. More education makes you a better person but not a better cop. It just gives you a different perspective, but the purpose of education is always personal.”

When faced with the prospect of the early release of convicted prisoners, Averbeck said he would prepare for that situation by “talking to the commanders of each station and developing good relations with parole officers and improving the communication between parole agents and street cops.”

At the same time, Averbeck said, “Law enforcement officers need to show a little compassion for inmates. It should be our goal for them to become productive, have families, work and become contributing members of society and taxpayers.”

With regard to reorganizing the command structure, Hoops said he was “not a long range planner” and said that “change has to begin form within and with a purpose.”

Averbeck said that economies could be made in department operations through technical upgrades and the elimination of duplicative processes at the jail and in booking.

SEBA President William Abernathie said he expects to announce the union’s endorsement by the end of the month.

 

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One Response

  1. Is Rod Hoops giving away deputy coroner badges and identification to people giving him $1.500.00 in campaign contributions like Gary Penrod did. This is a very sad fact. Trust me, I can name names.

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