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Sheriff Plans to Retire When Term Ends in ’98

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

After four years as Ventura County sheriff, Larry Carpenter is preparing to turn in his badge at the end of his term in 1998 and is already mobilizing his political resources to push Chief Deputy Robert Brooks as his successor.

Carpenter disclosed his plans publicly in an interview with The Times on Thursday, emphasizing that he has no intentions of leaving office before his term is over, saying he has a four-year commitment to the voters.

“I have no intention of retiring early, period,” he said.

Yet, the 50-year-old sheriff, who grew up on a Palomino horse ranch outside Fillmore, said he wants to leave while he is young enough to enjoy hunting, fishing and maybe even following the rodeo circuit around the country for a while.

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He stressed he has not ruled out running for reelection if it appears that someone might mount a serious election challenge to his hand-picked successor--currently the top Sheriff’s Department official in the east county.

“I don’t want this department to have a hiccup when I’m gone and the new sheriff comes on,” Carpenter said. “If something goes askew, then I’m perfectly willing to throw my hat in the ring.”

Such a challenger is not very likely to emerge from within the Sheriff’s Department, where Brooks, 46, enjoys widespread support from his fellow chief deputies and is popular among the troops, officials said.

Furthermore, conservative political organizations and law enforcement officers are quickly rallying behind Brooks, who was raised in Thousand Oaks and now runs the sheriff’s East County Police Services Division.

“I’m trying real hard to stay out of endorsements in local politics,” Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said. “But I think I would make an exception for Bob Brooks. He would do a terrific job.”

Carpenter’s announcement about his impending retirement came amid widespread discussion in law enforcement circles that he was considering leaving within the next year and handing the reins to Brooks before the 1998 election.

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That was the way Carpenter inherited the top job when former Sheriff John V. Gillespie retired in 1992.

Gillespie brokered a deal at the time to have the Board of Supervisors appoint then-Undersheriff Carpenter to finish the remainder of his term. Carpenter won election in 1994 to another four years in office.

“People have suggested that I should run again, and get elected and then in the next term step down early and hand it to someone else,” Carpenter said. “I don’t want to do that. If I run and I get elected again, I’m contracted to finish the term.”

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Instead, he said he plans to let the voters pick the next sheriff after mustering an intense political campaign to show them that Brooks “is the perfect person to take this county into the 21st century as its chief law enforcement officer.”

That campaign actually began months ago, when Brooks began taking more speaking engagements and becoming more visible in political and law enforcement circles. The support, meanwhile, has been quietly amassing around him.

“Brooks is a tremendous guy,” one official said. “He doesn’t come across as country as Carpenter. But he’s very outgoing. He’s very bright. He works hard. He’s very popular with the troops and with all law enforcement agencies.”

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A new political action committee bankrolled by Camarillo-based religious broadcaster Edward G. Atsinger is keen on Brooks’ candidacy. The PAC, called Citizens for the Preservation of Ventura County, recently invited Brooks to attend a seminar with political professionals on how to develop a winning campaign organization and strategy.

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Members of another pro-law enforcement group, Citizens for a Safe Ventura County, are also behind Brooks. Many of its members are close friends with Brooks.

“He’s terrific and I would support him all of the way,” said Otto Stoll, a member of the citizens’ group that has been the biggest organized booster of law enforcement interests.

“He’s highly skilled at both administrative and law enforcement matters,” Stoll said. “He would be ideal at administering a widespread county agency like the Sheriff’s Department in a new age.”

But most of Brooks’ supporters also said they would rather see Carpenter hang onto his badge.

“I’m going to arm-wrestle with Larry Carpenter about retiring,” Bradbury said. “He has left a little wiggle room and I’d like to see him run one more time. I’ve never worked with anyone in that position that I’ve admired more.”

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Police chiefs from cities across the county also loathe the idea of losing a colleague.

“I’d hate to see him go,” Oxnard Police Chief Harold Hurtt said. “I have the utmost respect for Larry both as a friend and a colleague.”

The Sheriff’s Department, with nearly 1,000 deputies, provides police services for half of Ventura County’s cities and patrols the unincorporated areas of the county. Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Simi Valley and Ventura each have their own independent police departments.

Carpenter said he knows he would have widespread support if he decides to run for reelection. But he said by 1998 he will have spent 32 years as a law enforcement officer, including 16 years as a top administrator in the Sheriff’s Department and six years as sheriff.

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The top job, he said, has required total commitment with tremendous demands of time and energy, particularly in his highly successful battles with the Board of Supervisors to enhance the Sheriff’s Department budget.

After being appointed by the Board of Supervisors, Carpenter teamed with Bradbury to wrest control of law enforcement budgets from the supervisors. The two men not only laid claim to new sales tax money, but also shielded law enforcement agencies from each year’s painful rounds of budget cutting.

Their power over county government spending priorities has created some resentment among other county officials, some of whom have privately criticized supervisors for being too quick in appointing a sheriff who ultimately turned his political powers against them.

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“Eventually, anyone in this kind of position wears down,” Carpenter said Thursday. “Whether I will have this kind of energy four, five or six years in the future is anybody’s guess.”

Also, he said, the responsibility of the job has prevented him from taking long vacations. He said he would like to spend more time at home in Fillmore with his family, to hunt, to fish.

The sheriff, who grew up as a cowboy and is hooked on reading western novels, said he would like to be able to take a month off and travel around the West watching rodeos.

But Carpenter also issued a warning to anyone who attempts to treat him like a lame duck, thinking he has lost his base of power.

“People need to understand that until the day I walk out at 12:01 a.m., Jan. 4, 1999, I’m the sheriff of Ventura County,” he said.

Law enforcement officials have been concerned about a smooth transition with the departure of Carpenter, who has been a popular lawman and forceful leader.

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The Sheriff Department’s second in command, Undersheriff Richard Bryce, 52, said he has no interest in becoming sheriff. He said he wants to retire when he reaches 55, which would be in August 1999--eight months into the next term.

“I’ve spoken to Bob Brooks and he’s willing to have me stay on as his undersheriff,” Bryce said. “I would anticipate staying on for eight months to a year in the next term. If there is a transition, that would smooth things out.”

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Brooks said he would welcome Bryce at his side as he learns the new drill.

“It would make life a lot easier for me,” Brooks said. “We’re good friends.”

Brooks said he has not sought Carpenter’s job in his 23 years in the department. But he stepped up to the challenge to help provide a logical successor.

“We didn’t have anybody in house dying to be sheriff, including me,” Brooks said. “It was a matter of who was willing, rather than who was eager to do it. We all know what sacrifices come with the job.”

He predicted there would be no internal competition for the position. He said he has the full support of the department’s three other top deputies, Richard Rodriguez, Kenneth Kipp and Donald Lanquist.

He said he has yet to hear of any serious competitors from outside the department.

“The goal,” he said, “is to get off to a good start with enough solid support that Larry can go ahead and take his retirement.”

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Times staff writer Carlos V. Lozano and correspondent Scott Hadly contributed to this story.

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