ORANGE COUNTY, CA Hundreds of Orange County deputies and investigators will grade their bosses at the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Offices, then publicly share those opinions in the union’s monthly newsletter.
The process, which union leaders say is intended to be civil and informative, sets up a potential battleground that could pit rank-and-file deputies against management.
The first reviews, in which deputies and investigators rate their bosses on a 1-to-5 scale and offer comments on issues such as trustworthiness and communication, have been sent out to about 2,000 deputies and investigator union members. The results are expected to be published in the January edition of the Courier, the deputies’ monthly newsletter.
Union members say the reviews offer their first chance to rate management, a group that includes about 100 lieutenants, captains, commanders, directors and assistant sheriffs who oversee law enforcement operations for much of the county.
For managers, it’s an opportunity to learn what the rank and file think of their job performance and how they resonate as leaders and public safety officials, union leaders said.
But at least some in management say the public, anonymous nature of the reviews reduces their value as a learning tool.
“It’s not a scientific process,” said Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who added that although she is not opposed to the surveys, she has aired concerns to the union. “We have (other) methods of evaluating our personnel.
“When people can be anonymous, sometimes they say things they wouldn’t normally say,” Hutchens added. “It shouldn’t become personal. It should be done professionally.”
Sheriff Hutchens is one of four leaders at the two departments who will not be subject to the public reviews. Union officials said Hutchens as well as Under Sheriff John Scott, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Bureau Chief of Investigations Craig Hunter are being excluded from the reviews so the public won’t perceive any criticism as a vote of no confidence in the departments.
The surveys are being distributed and tallied by a private firm hired by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, which represents deputies and investigators in the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office.
Though the surveys will not be used as formal evaluations, union leaders hope the information will help department leaders self-assess and improve their performance.
“I want our managers to really look at the data and, if there are areas they can improve in, I hope they do,” said Deputy Tom Dominguez, president of the union.
The idea isn’t new. The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs has run a similar public evaluation process of captains for more than a decade, printing numerical grades and comments in the union newsletter.
Within the agency, the comments – negative and positive – have gained the status of a must-read.
“Doesn’t just look at today, but looks forward to tomorrow, next week, next month and next year,” reads one captain’s review in the 2014 evaluations.
“Allows deputies to do their job without micromanaging,” reads another.
Yet some comments aren’t as positive.
“Plays favorites,” one deputy wrote.
“Couldn’t even manage a McDonalds,” another shared.
Instead of a review, one deputy shared this: “I hope we get a new captain soon.”
Hutchens, a former division chief in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department before becoming Orange County sheriff, was the subject of reviews while there.
She said the newsletters are widely shared but played no role in how decisions were made within the department.
“We all read it. Everybody wants to see what other people think about them and say about them. You read about your peers and how they’re rated,” she said.
“But, beyond that, there was really no surprise.”
The union and the county signed a labor deal in July. Dominguez said the union waited to start the public reviews until after that deal was cut specifically so the process wouldn’t be interpreted as a tool to influence talks with management.
“The stress level around the Sheriff’s Department is low at this time,” Dominguez said.
The move to go public with personnel evaluations – even informal ones – runs counter to the union’s longstanding opposition to revealing to the public the personnel records and reviews of rank-and-file deputies and investigators. The California Peace Officer Bill of Rights – championed by police unions across the state – makes personnel records such as job reviews confidential.
Dominguez argues the two scenarios are not similar.
“We’re not the employer. We’re not the employing agency. It’s definitely not the same.”
Hutchens said she’s confident her staff will rate well.
“We have the best management staff this department has seen in a long time,” she said.
“Cops have tough skin,” she added. “They have to.”