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Child-Abuse Unit Active, Duffy Tells Grand Jury

Times Staff Writer

Sheriff John Duffy, responding to a San Diego County Grand Jury report critical of the disbanding of the sheriff’s child-abuse unit, denied Tuesday that the unit was ever shut down.

Duffy’s denial came as a surprise to Susan Golding, chairwoman of the county board of supervisors. “If that’s the case, it’s certainly something he could have said a long time ago,” she said, adding that the board was told that the specialized unit had ceased to exist. In a written response released Tuesday, Duffy criticized a grand jury recommendation that the county allocate money specifically for the child-abuse unit, saying it would “hamstring” his effectiveness as sheriff. However, Golding said the board of supervisors is likely to honor the grand jury’s request in its upcoming budget deliberations.

The grand jury, in a report released April 20 that addressed the dismal state of the county’s system for dealing with abused children, recommended that the Sheriff’s Department immediately re-establish the child-abuse unit Duffy said he would disband after a series of volatile disputes last summer with the board of supervisors over the sheriff’s budget.

During the board’s budget deliberations then, Duffy complained of not receiving enough money to keep his department afloat, and threatened to shut down the child-abuse unit and other specialized units as a result.

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County agencies have 60 days in which to respond to grand jury reports.

They Thought It Was Dead

Both the board of supervisors and the grand jury believed the child abuse unit had been subsequently disbanded. “The information we had received was that it had been disbanded as a unit, even though there were still officers responding to child-abuse calls,” Golding said Tuesday.

But in his written response to the grand jury report, Duffy said that “contrary to popular belief,” the child-abuse unit had never been disbanded, only “decentralized.” Six deputies who had been assigned to the unit were transferred to outlying substations, where they continued to work on child-abuse cases, Duffy said.

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The shuffling of personnel was part of the sheriff’s “emergency redeployment plan,” which took effect Nov. 1, because money for basic services had not been provided by the county, Duffy said. “The potential for adversely affecting officer and citizen safety was becoming increasingly severe. I therefore found it necessary to formulate plans to staff these basic functions on a temporary basis with personnel from other areas of the department,” the sheriff wrote.

The proposed county budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 includes an $18.8-million increase in the sheriff’s budget, which Duffy said will fund “most of the critical vacancies.” All of the “redeployed” personnel are scheduled to return to their original duties July 1, and the child-abuse unit will resume business as usual at its centralized station, according to Duffy.

The grand jury report also suggested that the county specifically allocate money for the child-abuse unit--money which could not be diverted to any other use.

Fought Recommendation

Duffy fought the recommendation by citing the County Charter, which gives him authority to organize the sheriff’s department. “I must be allowed the administrative flexibility to address internal resource allocation needs,” Duffy wrote, adding that to do otherwise might threaten the public safety.

Though the county has traditionally permitted the sheriff to decide how to use the money allocated for his department, Golding said it is legally possible for the board to designate the use of certain funds. “I can’t speak for the rest of the board members,” Golding said Tuesday, “but at the moment I would say the likelihood is that we would” allocate money specifically for a child-abuse unit.

The board of supervisors will begin deliberations on the county budget June 26.


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