Tim Whyte | Just Listen to ‘Just a Deputy’

Tim Whyte

The letter is signed, “Just a Deputy.” 

It’s gotten a bit of media attention since it started circulating in the law enforcement community about a week ago, not long after four people associated with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department committed suicide on Nov. 6 and 7.

They were Greg Hovland, a retired sergeant in the Antelope Valley, and three current LASD employees: Cmdr. Darren Harris, formerly a deputy at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, who killed himself at his SCV home, and two custody assistants who worked at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic. One of those two suicides happened at the employee’s home in Stevenson Ranch, and the other was reported in Pomona.

The letter from “Just a Deputy” says this brings the total number of suicides connected to the county Sheriff’s Department this year to nine. In fact, when you add in the suicide of a deputy at a local bar earlier this year, three of those nine suicides have occurred here in the SCV.

“The law enforcement suicide awareness group ‘Blue H.E.L.P.’ reports that 86 officers across the country have taken their own lives this year,” the letter says. “This means LASD suicides alone account for 10% of known law enforcement suicides in the United States for 2023 so far!”

The deputy’s letter says those four suicides — within 24 hours of one another — are the latest indicators of a department in serious trouble.

Here at The Signal, it is our normal policy to refrain from publishing unsigned commentaries. It’s also our normal standard and practice to avoid, whenever possible, using unnamed sources, and even when we do, we strongly prefer to know who those sources are, so we have a sense of the source’s credibility. 

But, on a rare occasion, other factors can outweigh those normal standards. I believe this is one such occasion. I don’t know who “Just a Deputy” is, but from the material in the letter and a few contextual clues in it, I am certain that it was authentically written by a current employee of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department who works in the Antelope Valley.

And its content is important. So I’m sharing some of it here.

“Recent events have once again compelled me to write about serious issues within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” the letter begins. “Things can not continue the way they are. We work multiple overtime shifts a week, often only getting a couple hours of sleep between continuous double shifts. We are frequently required to work overtime on our days off, and requests for time off to be with family are denied due to lack of staffing, and straining relationships. We frequently see violence and horrors beyond comprehension, like a Lancaster man who recently beat his own children to death.”

The comments from “Just a Deputy” about the lack of staffing ring true: Here in the SCV, our sheriff’s station is at 70% staffing, at a time when many crime categories are on the rise. In fact, last year the station had to turn down additional funding that would have been earmarked for special enforcement teams — not because station leadership didn’t want to undertake the effort, but because the station literally didn’t have the staffing to do it, at a time when deputies were already working a great deal of overtime just to cover the station’s regular duties.

It seems the causes for this are multiple: Lingering anti-law-enforcement sentiment among certain segments of the public — and government — can lead to challenges in both funding and a law enforcement agency’s ability to recruit. Would you encourage your kids to pursue a career in law enforcement right now? 

“The workload and stress alone would be enough to dishearten people, but there is more. Sheriff (Robert) Luna, his command staff, and DA (George) Gascón push for leniency toward criminals,” the letter says. “But when it comes to us, they seek maximum punishment toward deputies, potentially including termination and criminal charges, for even the smallest violations of department policy. This has created hesitancy for many to perform their duties.”

Again, especially regarding Gascón, it rings true. He fires off a proud press release every time charges are filed against an officer. With a district attorney whose sympathies clearly lie more with criminals than with victims, it must be ever-increasingly frustrating for deputies who continually arrest the bad guys — often the same ones, over and over again — only to know that they will soon be turned loose back onto the streets due to lax bail policies and often non-existent prosecution.

“Just a Deputy,” as you may have surmised, also brought up the recent fire in a shooting range trailer at Pitchess, in which two deputies suffered severe burns, and the death of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer, an SCV resident who served at the Palmdale station — and Gascón’s subsequent decision to not pursue the death penalty in the cold-blooded murder.

“The fact that our leadership sides with criminals and their advocates, while condemning its own understaffed and overworked deputies, has come into painful focus in the last few months,” the deputy wrote. “On Sept. 16, Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer was murdered right outside his station. Luna didn’t attempt to argue with the mercenary DA Gascón for maximum punishment.”

The deputy finishes the letter with a call to action, asking readers to contact their city councils, L.A. County representatives and legislators: “For the most part, the Sheriff’s Department response to all of these tragedies and travesties has been generic emails with bromides about seeking help and listing a few hotline phone numbers,” the deputy wrote. “The lack of awareness in the upper echelon of LASD is truly astounding. They seemingly don’t understand or care that their actions, and inactions, are causing people to leave the department in droves; or worse, pushing people past their breaking point.”

The deputy added: “Changes must be made. As your first responders, we tend to shy away from showing our vulnerabilities to the people we’re supposed to help, but I’m asking on behalf of my partners. I believe a show of public support for LASD deputies can help us now. We need your voices.”

When we need help, we call first responders — law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics. It’s pretty uncommon for them to ask US for help. 

“Just a Deputy” — whoever he or she is — is asking for our help. We should listen.

You can view the full text of the letter from “Just a Deputy” at tinyurl.com/3b42txay.

Tim Whyte is the editor of The Signal. 

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