County Can’t Afford an Absentee Sheriff

John Duffy’s work calendars go a long way toward explaining why the sheriff of San Diego County shows so little leadership.

The calendars show that Duffy spent almost a third of the workdays in the first half of this year on trips outside the county. County records also show heavy travel in previous years.

Duffy sees nothing wrong with his frequent absences. In typically arrogant fashion, he justifies them by saying, “If I did nothing but be the sheriff of San Diego County, I’d be bored to death.”

No one is suggesting that Duffy do “nothing but be the sheriff of San Diego County.” But it is not too much to expect him to fully be the sheriff of San Diego County.


The evidence strongly suggests that that is not the case, as do anonymous comments by some the department’s high-ranking officers. “When you say he’s an absentee landlord, that’s an understatement,” a sheriff’s commander said. According to a captain: “He’s unavailable to make major policy decisions. . . . Critical operational policies have to be deferred until he’s returned.”

Apparently his attendance at weekly meetings of the Executive Management Team or the breakfast sessions with the undersheriff and assistant sheriffs is rare. And those under him say he never attends the monthly meetings of captains.

So it is not surprising that the San Diego County Grand Jury found Duffy’s management and supervision of the jails to be lax. While Duffy was off enjoying his role as a “professional volunteer,” the grand jury was finding “routine and systematic” abuse of inmates by some deputies and non-existent or ineffective supervision.

The voters were not bargaining for an absentee landlord when they elected Duffy sheriff. Neither were the nine cities in the county that contract with the Sheriff’s Department for police services.


They have a right to expect a full-time sheriff. But we doubt that they will get that as long as Duffy holds the position. He seems to have lost interest in the job he was elected to perform.

After 18 years in a very demanding job--overseeing jails where prisoners are packed like sardines and police are waiting to bring in more inmates--burnout is probably to be expected.

But the position of sheriff is too important to the county’s system of justice to be filled by someone who would rather be elsewhere much of the time.