Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

County Sheriffs: Law Enforcement Administrators or Influence Peddlers?

The disagreement about whether county sheriffs should be elected or appointed will not likely ever be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. One side will argue that requiring sheriffs to stand for election ensures some accountability to the people in the county. The other side argues, equally effectively, that it often results in political hacks rather than competent public administrators being put in offices that oversee large budgets and make patronage appointments.

This conflict has come to the front in Orange County, California, where Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, depriving the public of the right of honest services of a public official, witness tampering, false statement in bankruptcy, fraudulent concealment of property in bankruptcy, and aiding and abetting.

Reading the grand jury indictment and the series of Los Angeles Times articles, one will quickly see that former Sheriff Carona has been accused of public corruption, selling his office "...for a stream of gifts and money." The articles are all worth reading. In addition to laying out the evidence against the allegedly corrupt sheriff of the second largest county in California, the articles provide snippets of insight into how the federal government investigates allegations of public corruption.

How local politics is insinuated into the Carona case is in today's Los Angeles Times article headlined O.C. sheriff's resignation causes turmoil. Just before resigning, Carona fired one of his assistant sheriffs and appointed Assistant Sheriff Jack Anderson to succeed him. Anderson is an official in the Orange County Republican party.

Every chief law enforcement officer expects to be subjected to political pressure. When they begin to sell their office in return for preferential treatment for donors, they must not only be removed, they must be prosecuted. Some will rationalize their preferential treatment by saying it improves the department's image to have high-profile "special deputies" or "sheriff's posse" or "executive reserve" members in decision-making or -influencing positions in the community. That can be true, but only as long as the sheriff or chief does not sell those pseudo-commissions for political or personal gain. When that happens, the official has betrayed the public's trust and confidence and must be removed.


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