News Details

Finally, A New Sheriff

Finally, A New Sheriff 

Integrity in Orange County benefits the entire region.

June 12, 2008

Long Beach Press-Telegram's Editorial Staff

After a long, miserable haul with former Sheriff Mike Carona, our neighbors in Orange County have a promising new leader in Sandra Hutchens. What a refreshing change.

Carona had set a new standard for loutishness, crookedness and cronyism, if you believe half of what's said in evidence against him in his indictment by federal prosecutors. And the proven facts are bad enough: He gave guns and badges to campaign contributors; one of his assistants served time for lying to a grand jury and other misdeeds, and another, who got his job because of fat campaign gifts, had to resign because of a mess involving his son's conviction on charges of sexual assault.

The criminal charges against Carona describe an energetic pursuit of cash, gifts and other illegal side benefits. As destructive as all that behavior may be, his operation of the department was worse. A grand jury investigation into the death of a jail inmate, John Derek Chamberlain, found he was beaten to death while guards nearby were busy watching TV or text-messaging friends.

But enough of past messes. Hutchens presents herself as a change agent, and she has the qualifications for the task. She retired as a division chief after 30 years with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, a police force twice the size of the Orange County department, and one with a reputation for principled leadership.

She's the anti-Carona, said Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach, who cast one of the three votes that gave the job to Hutchens. And of course she offers far more than that.

It was a surprise to some that Hutchens beat out Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, whose experience made him one of the top four or five candidates among the 48 recruited nationwide. Walters ran for election to the job in 1998, is respected in law enforcement and has leadership strengths where the Sheriff's Department needs it.

An Orange County Register editorial suggested that politicking by a Republican women's organization made a difference in the Board of Supervisor's decision. But Moorlach, whose vote was decisive, had seen Hutchens as a top contender from the beginning.

Whatever the facts, Hutchens' background seems nearly ideal. The appointment means she will serve out Carona's term, through 2010, then could stand for election.

As Hutchens puts it, the department isn't corrupt; the problems were with its leadership. That said, those problems were serious enough to make not just Orange County residents cringe, but others who want clean and dependable law enforcement throughout the region.

Hutchens' stated goal is to make the Orange County Sheriff's Department a model of integrity and effectiveness. She's got that part exactly right.

As Mark P. Peterson, a political science professor at UC Irvine, told the L.A. Times, "If all the trouble the county had to endure because of Mike Carona produced this, it might be worth it."

Almost.