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Sheriff Is Target of Burglars and Others in San Diego County : Law enforcement: Since replacing John Duffy in 1990, Jim Roache has been the target of criticism over his leadership.

April 21, 1993|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — These are not the best of times for San Diego County Sheriff Jim Roache.

Elected in 1990 as a reformer after 20 years of ironfisted rule by his predecessor, Roache has endured continual controversy over personnel decisions, an embarrassing no-confidence vote by the Deputy Sheriffs Assn., media criticism over his management style, and sniping by an in-house publication called Silver Star.

Adding insult to his situation, the sheriff's home in the upscale Scripps Ranch neighborhood of San Diego was burglarized last week.

Thieves broke the garage door, stole Roache's daughter's term papers, a VCR, and a home computer and files used by Roache's wife, a political consultant dedicated to conservative candidates and causes.

"When you're on a roll, nothing should surprise you," sighed Roache's wife, Jeanette, about the couple's recent woes. "But there's got to be a bottom and you have to start going back up eventually."

The Roaches are not willing to suggest that the burglary had political motives. "This is not Watergate," said Roache, who took the unusual step of having his own deputies assist San Diego police by lifting fingerprints at the house.

The daylight burglary is just the latest public aggravation for Roache, 48, who was a San Diego school board member and a sheriff's captain with 19 years experience when he defeated Assistant Sheriff Jack Drown in November, 1990.

John Duffy, whose 20 years as sheriff were marked by feuding with journalists and liberal politicians, had declined to run against Roache and endorsed Drown, as did the Deputy Sheriffs Assn. Roache ran as a reformer and blasted Drown as a Duffy clone.

After Roache was elected, he promoted officers who supported him and transferred some who opposed him, beginning a chain of events that led the deputies association to take the unprecedented step in February of adopting a no-confidence motion by a 92% majority.

Tom Drake, a board member of the association, which represents 1,400 deputies, said the no-confidence vote was prompted by Roache's propensity to promote his allies and punish his foes, his attempt to eliminate the coveted rank of commander and a personal style that is often angry and aloof.

Other things sticking in the collective craw of the rank and file have been the purchase of two helicopters and construction of a new headquarters, with money deputies say might better be spent elsewhere.

"There is a general feeling of frustration among deputies," Drake said. "A feeling of: 'What else can we do? How do we get the message through?' There just is no communication up and down the chain of command."

There have been other embarrassments too: An aide hired by Roache was caught giving women inmates joy rides in a helicopter, an audit criticized spending for office furniture and a jail inmate escaped in downtown San Diego and allegedly killed a man in a carjacking.

Drake said Roache has a tendency to become angry at differing opinions, to insulate himself from street cops and to listen only to a few handpicked advisers. Such criticism is nearly identical to what Roache used to dethrone Duffy.

Roache responds that much of the deputies' anger stems from the county's budget crisis, which has led to skimpy pay raises.

"They need somebody to blame and I happen to be the leader," Roache said. The public, he said, believes that the deputies are being "childish, immature and selfish."

After succeeding Duffy, who had labeled Roache as unfit to be sheriff, Roache took several steps to cleanse the department of Duffy's influence. No longer would patrol cars be Kelly green and no longer would the sheriff's training academy be called Duffy's Town.

Duffy died last month at age 62, but even in death he has managed to bedevil Roache. Now there is a move to return Duffy's name to the training academy, strenuously opposed by Roache but supported by many officers.

"The Sheriff's Department seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis," said an editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

As the 1994 political season looms, there are rumors that one or more high-ranking sheriff's officers will challenge Roache, attacking him from within the organization, as Roache did to Duffy.

Ann Shanahan-Walsh, a political consultant who has not taken sides in the sheriff's dispute, said it is all a question of deputies not understanding the significance of Roache's victory. He was elected in the wake of intense controversy about Duffy's idiosyncrasies, such as spending considerable time away from the job, and a rash of allegations about jailhouse brutality by deputies.

"Jim Roache's mandate was change," Shanahan-Walsh said. "He raised less money than Jack Drown but won by a substantial margin. What we see now is the (deputies association) trying to hold on to things as they were."

Drake, a 12-year veteran, said that is bunk. "That's a horse that's been beaten to death," he said. "The fact that there is resentment out there is not the reason people are lashing out at Roache. We want leadership."

Meanwhile, the Roaches are looking for silver linings in the increasingly dark clouds around them. Roache says he is having fun as sheriff.

"If this job was mundane and routine, I wouldn't like it all," he said.

Jeanette Roache is just glad the burglars did not let loose the family's pets. A stronger lock has been put on the garage door.

"It just infuriates you," she said, "that people violate what doesn't belong to them."

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