L.A. Now

Sheriff's Department may revise policy on jail duty for deputies

Like the inmates inside Los Angeles County lockups, many of the jails' deputies are itching to get back out on the streets. But sheriff's officials are betting deputies will become more enthusiastic about jail duty if a new proposal to fast-track promotions inside the lockups is implemented.

Rank-and-file deputies have to get out on street patrol before they can become supervisors. Under the new proposal, obtained by The Times, jailers could be promoted all the way to chief while staying on jail duty.

The plan is part of Sheriff Lee Baca's effort to develop a two-track career system that would achieve a core of veteran, experienced jailers who genuinely want to work in lockups.

Having two sets of deputies — one for jails and another for patrol — was an idea the sheriff had resisted for years but shifted to recently after his jails came under intense scrutiny after allegations of inmate abuse and other deputy misconduct.

If the plan is implemented, sheriff's officials would probably face serious resistance, at least initially.

A recent survey of jail supervisors found that more than 80% would not want to continue working in jails. A great majority of respondents said that they wouldn't change their opinion even if the new promotional track is implemented.

Allowing deputies to earn promotions based on their custody work, sheriff's officials say, would change that attitude.

"Most people in our culture right now, it's been told to all of us, that basically your career starts when you go to patrol," said Cmdr. Joseph Fennell. "Now we're saying your time in custody means something. You can promote, you can move through the department and obtain your goals."

Fennell predicted that many new deputies would opt for the custody route because the jails are a more controlled and predictable environment than patrol. Within 10 years, he said, so many custody-track deputies would be in the jails that new recruits coming from the academy would no longer have to do their first rotations in the jails, as is the practice now.

Another sheriff's report, also obtained by The Times, mentions moving deputies who performed poorly in patrol back to the jails. The report called them "patrol failures."

The department has come under fire before for moving problem deputies back to jails as a form of discipline, with critics saying the transferred deputies could become bad influences for rookies assigned to the lockups.

Fennell said that roughly 15 such deputies have been offered the opportunity to return to jail duty. He said all of the deputies who do return under these circumstances are required to have had excellent performance reviews while they were on custody duty. None, he said, have been labeled failures because of misconduct, but rather because they didn't perform well under complex patrol scenarios.

The dual-track approach has been used in other counties in California. In some places, a caste system developed, according to the report.

Sheriff's officials said parts of the proposal have been opposed by the department's unions. If the plan is implemented, all recruits, no matter what their planned career path, would attend the same academy.

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