During his last few years in office, John Duffy proudly pointed to the department’s national accreditation as one of his top accomplishments during his 20 years as sheriff.
After less than a day in office, Sheriff Jim Roache decided the department would no longer spend $200,000 to $250,000 a year in staff time and membership costs it needed to try and stay accredited.
Roache ended the department’s participation in the program less than a week before a team from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a nonprofit corporation, was supposed to visit San Diego from its Virginia headquarters.
“We had to make a budgetary decision, and it essentially came down to a priority between public safety and continuing an expensive, bureaucratic luxury,” Roache said. “In these lean economic times, we have to determine our priorities.”
Duffy, who retired Monday after two decades as head of the 2,275-member department, is still a member of the accreditation commission’s executive board and once served as its chairman.
For a law enforcement agency to be accredited, it must comply with standards set by the commission in hundreds of categories, ranging from how it dispenses benefits and compensation to how well it works with other law enforcement agencies in the county.
Only two other agencies in California--police departments in Garden Grove and Berkeley--are nationally accredited. Throughout the country, 157 agencies are accredited, including the police departments of Phoenix, Houston and Tampa.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department had been accredited since 1986 and was about to face a review this week that would have decided whether the agency would be sanctioned for another five years.
Duffy long had maintained that accreditation was necessary because it forced the department to meet the highest standards in law enforcement.
During his first day as sheriff Monday, Roache said he gathered his management team--five commanders, three assistant sheriffs, an undersheriff and a civilian commander--and asked whether the benefits outweighed the costs of keeping up with accreditation.
One commander who worked nonstop for the past two weeks on greeting the accreditation team abstained from voting. Everyone else said the department should pull out of the program.
Accreditation “has its value,” Roache said. “The self-assessment and maintenance of high professional standards of competency are important, but we are required to do that anyway.”
The $200,000 to $250,000 a year Roache says he will save in staff time and membership costs related to accreditation will be better used to keep sheriff’s deputies on the streets or correctional deputies in the jails, he said.
Roache said he is putting together specifics of his new budget and might have to cut costs in a number of areas. The costs associated with accreditation will be the first to go, he said.
For Cmdr. Robert De Steunder, who has worked the past two weeks getting the department ready for the accreditation team, all his labors have been lost.
“After all this time, we’re four days away (from the accreditation team’s visit) and everything is culminating, and, all of a sudden, it’s all gone,” De Steunder said. “But it’s a decision that was supported by every member of the management team except myself.”
De Steunder abstained from voting on the matter, he said, given all the work he had done.