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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Sheriff Unveils Major Department Reorganization

Law enforcement: Proposal, to be given to supervisors next week, would increase oversight of patrol officers and gang and vice units.

March 10, 2000|KATIE COOPER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — The Sheriff's Department is launching a major reorganization of its field operations to increase oversight of patrol officers, along with gang and vice units that deal with the county's most hardened criminals.

While plans have been in the works for two years, the department announced the proposed changes Thursday to ease any public concerns over the scandal in the Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Some gang officers there are alleged to have shot and framed suspects and lied under oath.

Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks on Tuesday will ask the Board of Supervisors to approve the reorganization, the major element of which is the creation of a Professional Services Unit to conduct surprise inspections of personnel.

"There is a multitude of problems that you can prevent before they become problems," said Brooks in explaining the decision. He cited shoddy police reports and deficient work by detectives.

"That isn't something you want to find out about in court," he said.

He said he is most concerned about crime suppression units, such as gang and vice officers who "do the most dangerous work and deal with the toughest members in the community."

"Those are the units with the highest potential for things to go wrong," he said.

The new unit would be staffed by 40 senior-level personnel and headed by a commander-level administrator, the seventh-highest rank in the department. Besides conducting investigations, the unit would interview crime victims and witnesses about the behavior of deputies in the field, even in cases where no complaints have been filed.

Also included within the reorganization are plans to consolidate the two patrol units in the west and east county into one chain of command, under Chief Bruce McDowell, who would work primarily in Thousand Oaks.

The consolidation would permit supervisors who were chiefly performing administrative tasks in the west county to be redeployed in the field.

Brooks said one of the department's primary weaknesses has been the inadequate number of supervisors available to respond to emergencies on the county's west side.

"We are essentially doubling the supervisors in the west county . . . and getting sworn police officers back out on the streets with the deputy sheriffs," he said.

Civilian personnel have already been hired to perform the administrative tasks previously done by the supervisors assigned to the new unit. The salaries would come from Proposition 172 law enforcement funds, and would require no new spending of tax dollars, Brooks said.

The overall cost of the reorganization is just over $23,000, but would be offset by a reduction in overtime spending, said Harry Hufford, the county's interim chief administrative officer.

proposed reorganization also contains plans for a technical unit to oversee installation of computers in every patrol and detective car, and the hiring of a civilian manager for the records department.

Brooks said he has been planning the restructuring since he took over the department nearly two years ago. He said ordinarily he would not have publicized the changes, but assumed the public would be interested after the revelations in the Rampart scandal.

"I'm sure that people are wondering whether things are different here," he said.

"It's clear from the experience in Los Angeles that all law enforcement agencies need to address the question of internal oversight," Hufford said. "And I'm pleased to see the sheriff was ahead of the curve in addressing this issue."

Approval by the Board of Supervisors is needed because jobs are being reclassified. Supervisor John Flynn has not thoroughly studied Brooks' plan but said it seems like a good idea. "It's being proactive," he said. "Rampart certainly hasn't helped the police image across the country," Flynn said. "Everyone suffers.

"When you have a force as large as the sheriff, you have to have a system in place where accountability is high, because people can make mistakes or do things that aren't compatible with what the public would want."

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Times staff writer Margaret Talev also contributed to this report.

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