"I don't need a driver. There's no threat against me,"… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Further distancing herself from the practices of her indicted predecessor, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said she wouldn't use a team of deputies to protect her -- or even a driver to chauffeur her to public appearances.
Acting against the advice of some colleagues, Hutchens said she intended to drive herself to meetings in a county car, her only protection the Glock 9-millimeter handgun holstered at her waist.
Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona traveled with as many as three deputies, dressed in suits and equipped with microphones and earpieces.
Carona's security detail even had a code name for him: Braveheart.
Officials in Carona's administration said he needed the protection because of unspecified threats to his safety. But some in the department complained privately that the heavy security was the indulgence of a man obsessed with his own importance.
A federal grand jury indicted Carona in October on charges that he sold access to his office for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts.
Hutchens, who shot and killed an armed man as a rookie Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy in 1980, said she didn't believe she needed protection.
"I've been having a lot of people tell me: 'You need a driver. You need a driver.' I don't need a driver. There's no threat against me," said Hutchens, who was appointed by the Board of Supervisors last month to replace Carona.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has used a sergeant to drive him to public appearances for several years. The move allows Baca to work on the road and have an armed guard, said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Hutchens said she uses a hands-free device to make phone calls while driving. Assigning a sergeant to protect her full time would cost more than $150,000 in salary and benefits annually.
"This is a really fiscally conservative county. I don't think it looks right for me to do that," Hutchens said. "People are surprised when I show up places by myself, but they'll get used to it."
Hutchens added that assigning herself a protection team could cause unnecessary concern among the public.
"We live in a safe community in Orange County," she said. "We send the wrong message to the public if we have to have our public officials surrounded by entourages. Then what are we telling them?"
Hutchens said she would use a driver only if there was a credible threat to her safety. The department will still have deputies assigned to protect visiting dignitaries.
Wayne Quint, president of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, said he was impressed with the way Hutchens had handled the job so far -- including the decision to drive herself to public events. "She's a peace officer," Quint said. "She's got a gun on her hip, and she knows how to use it."