A challenger to the reelection of Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block charged this week that the department is suffering from poor morale and that the ailing Block no longer has the capability to "give the job 100% effort."
Morale among deputies in the Sheriff's Department is low, said homicide Detective Gilbert Carrillo, in part because "no one over the rank of sergeant ever seems to get disciplined."
Carrillo is one of three announced rank-and-file candidates against Block's reelection. He and others in the department are particularly concerned, he said, that 19 present or former deputies have been convicted in a federal probe into skimming of drug money in the Sheriff's Department, and several other deputies are facing trial, but that no one over the rank of sergeant has ever been charged in the case.
The remarks of Carrillo, a co-chief of the 1985 task force that investigated the Night Stalker serial murder cases and a well-known figure within the department, recalled statements made in April by former sheriff's Sgt. Robert R. Sobel, who cooperated with federal prosecutors.
Sobel, after receiving only a six-month sentence and a $10,000 fine, declared that higher-ranking sheriff's officers were also involved in the scandal, which he said included $60 million in illegal confiscations by the department under drug forfeiture laws. At the time, both Block and federal prosecutors denounced his assertions.
Carrillo, 43, announced his candidacy for sheriff earlier this month. The other announced candidates are patrol Sgt. John R. Stites II, 40, and Deputy Alex Villanueva, 30.
All have cited low morale within the department as a reason for running against Block, but Carrillo is the first to strongly allege unequal discipline within the department. "Why is it that no one above the rank of sergeant ever gets in trouble?" he asked.
Villanueva, in a statement last week, generally asserted there were "inconsistencies" in discipline of sheriff's deputies.
Block's chief spokesman in the Sheriff's Information Bureau, Capt. Dan Burt, disputed Carrillo.
"Over the years I've seen quite a lot of people above the rank of sergeant bite the bullet," Burt declared. "We hold supervisors, quite frankly, to a little higher standard than the rank and file, and quite frequently things will go a little tougher with them. The deputies are the last ones in the world who would want to believe that, but that is a fact."
Carrillo also said it is his opinion that Block, 69, who has been undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, a form of cancer, since July, should not be elected to a new four-year term.
"I have the utmost respect for him," he said. "As for why he is continuing to run, I cannot answer."
Block relayed word that he would not comment on Carrillo's remarks on his work capability. Last Friday, however, he reported that his treatments are going well and that his health is satisfactory enough for him to stand for reelection.
The campaign leads to a June primary, and--if no candidate gets a majority--a November, 1994, runoff.
Villanueva said last week that morale within the Sheriff's Department "is at rock bottom."
He said part of the reason has to do with application of the rules for days off, written reprimands and other procedures. But part of it has to do with the department's inability to cope with rising crime in Los Angeles County, he declared.
"I would not want to suggest to Sheriff Block what he ought to do (about running for reelection)," Villanueva said. "But I think he's been there for awhile now, and he's created this system.
"What we're doing is not coping with the problem of crime. We have to head in a new direction. . . . We need to depart from incident-driven random policing to problem solving and community-oriented policing."
None of the challengers to Block has so far raised substantial campaign money, but all are planning or have already held fund-raisers.