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Patt Morrison Asks

Sandra Hutchens: Cleanup duty

November 13, 2010|Patt Morrison

And oh my goodness, it became a gun rights issue, and gun rights advocates are single-focus. I would go to a meeting and [hear], "You're trying to take our guns out of the house." That's not the case. [Carona predecessor] Brad Gates at most had, like, 400 [permits]. Mike Carona had nearly 1,200. I [now] have about 850 or so.

There's a law in California about carrying a concealed weapon. The gun rights advocates say, "If I ask for one, I should just get one." If that was the case, why would we have a law against it?

You had one clear adversary on the Board of Supervisors, Chris Norby, but now he's in the Assembly.

I know he was very disappointed that I was selected. He wasn't very helpful, I'll put it that way, but my relationship with the board right now is much better. I think they needed to learn a little bit about me and I about them.

At one point, the board accused your deputies of monitoring their note-taking with video cameras and of sending unflattering text messages.

Somebody noticed some command staff and others sitting there texting away. We were given a public records request for the contents. That created shock waves; nobody knew people could make public record act requests for your e-mail. It created some embarrassment for us, and I apologized to the board members and we got past it.

You've had to rely on the board for general fund money.

It's difficult. Money is tight. I made $53 million in cuts last year, and we're looking at additional cuts.

I laid off half my command staff because I didn't want to cut at the bottom. I laid off some non-sworn positions. We've frozen a lot of positions. I created a civilian [employee] classification in the jails, so ultimately 35% of our jail positions will be positions that can be manned by someone other than a full deputy sheriff, which will save us $10 million a year, which will prevent me from having to lay off more people.

We've also got a contract with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house detainees waiting for deportation proceedings.] We have about 500 ICE detainees. We're lucky; our county jail population's been down, so it's given us bed space for the contract [which could ultimately net $18 million]. It helps us bridge our budget gap.

Empty jail space? Ordinarily crime goes up in a bad economy.

I said the same thing.

I think with three strikes -- under the theory that the same small percentage [of people] commits most of the crimes -- [offenders] are not getting [out]. I think the other thing that makes a difference is our collaborative courts programs -- veterans' court, drug court, where people are diverted into programs. It's a carrot-and-stick approach. If you don't stick with the program, you go to jail. Most comply, and I think that's keeping them out of jail.

Those programs, and your "Great Escape" program for people cleaning up their acts -- can you argue they're conservative because they conserve money?

One thing I [tell] groups is how much it costs to keep somebody in jail -- $80 to $100 a day. When you hit 'em in the pocketbook, that gets people's attention. If [offenders in the programs] have a job on the outside, and they're not a violent threat, why not have them on an ankle bracelet instead of costing all these taxpayer dollars?

Thirty years ago, when you were a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, you and your partner shot and killed a man. The department found it to be "in policy," but a civil jury concluded otherwise. Does that go some way toward the rank and file's understanding that you know what their jobs are like?

I understand what they're going through, how the public perception of the shooting impacts you. Some of the roughest, toughest cops have the worst time with those kind of incidents. When I got involved in the shooting, we didn't have someone checking to see if you're OK. I've gotten to see that progress. I know I did the right thing, I felt my life was in danger, but you've taken somebody's life. And you live with that.

Are people already asking you about running for reelection?

I said I'll run a second time and I'll see after that. If there's somebody inside the organization who decides at some point they want to be sheriff and they're qualified, I'd love to help them get there. Hopefully the next sheriff can come from within the department.

You began in L.A. as a secretary, before you became a deputy. Now you're one of only three female sheriffs in California. Here in Orange County, someone thought it was clever to call you the "she-riff."

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