A second Captain position has been implemented as part of a new command structure at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and is part of Sheriff Luna’s strategy to combat deputy gangs at “problem” stations.
In May, as part of a public hearing on Los Angeles County’s proposed $43 billion budget, Sheriff Robert Luna asked for funding to double up on captains at stations with issues related to department subgroups and cliques.
The first of a wave of assignments began in late October, which indicates Luna was reportedly given the green light to proceed with the new command structure.
“A NEW DAY”
On his 103rd day in office, Sheriff Luna appeared at his first Citizen’s Oversight Commission hearing after the Commission’s report on Deputy Gangs was released.
During his appearance Luna’s focus was to clear; appease the Board of Supervisors who adopted the commission’s recommendations to eradicate deputy gangs, sub groups or cliques from the department. The Board of Supervisors proclaimed “a new day” for the department by adopting the recommendations.
At no time during this hearing did Luna or the commission address the debilitating work conditions the rank and file were subjected to due to three previous years of George Floyd related anti-law enforcement environment and the defunding of the department under former Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
The commission’s only concern was to be rid of the “cancer” that needed “to be excised” from the department (as written in the commission’s scathing report) focusing on a small percentage of personnel from a handful of stations rather than address the more critical needs of approximately 9000 overburdened, overworked deputies patrolling the streets on a daily basis. Overall safety was not a concern.
The beleaguered Palmdale and Lancaster stations were two of the first stations to initiate the new two-Captain station model.
In April, shortly after Sheriff Luna promised to “peel back the onion” with respect to deputy gangs at the first COC hearing he attended as Sheriff of L.A. County, one of the first moves made shortly after was the transfer of Palmdale Captain Ron Schaffer, who was quietly relocated to Pitchess Detention Center, widely known throughout the department as a less desirable assignment.
In his farewell email to station personnel, outgoing Palmdale Captain Ronald Shaffer informed them their new captain would be Acting Captain Joseph Fender. However, Fender’s promotion to Acting Captain at Palmdale Station never came to fruition. The command of Palmdale Station was placed in the hands of the station Operations Lieutenant, until Josh Bardon was promoted to Captain in September of this year.
The Palmdale and Lancaster stations have been under the watchful eye of the Department of Justice after a two-year investigation which led to a DOJ Consent Decree in 2015 for the unfair treatment of people of color, particularly those living in low-income subsidized housing.
In July, the Palmdale station came under fire after the resurrection of over an over year-old Use e incident, investigated under former Sheriff Alex Villanueva (who was running for re-election at the time) and current division Chief Dennis Kneer, who was also in the same position under the previous administration at the time the incident occurred. The incident followed a separate Use of Force incident involving Lancaster deputies at WinCo Foods which had gone viral on social media.
In September, after the Palmdale station had been without a permanent Captain for approximately four months and with a high profile UOF incident unearthed from the archives (a seemingly intentional move to prove the “holding deputies accountable” narrative Luna promised the Board of Supervisors and the COC), a seemingly controversial pick for Captain was promoted to command the station.
In 2021, Josh Bardon, a Detective Lieutenant at the time, was engaged in a widely known extramarital affair with a patrol deputy. Sources say Bardon was allegedly working multiple shifts per week as watch commander, effectively putting the patrol deputy he was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with, directly under his direct command.
Ultimately Bardon’s wife became aware of the relationship, ending their marriage, which she announced in her bio on her social media account.
Sources say Bardon took time off from the department on IOD (Injured on Duty) in 2022 and moved to Tennessee with his paramour. He returned this year to the station where the indiscretion occurred – and with a promotion – despite the clear violation of department policy, which continues as, according to sources, the deputy continues to be assigned to the station under Bardon’s command.
Bardon went through the selection process which included Chief Kneer, who allegedly had full knowledge of the inappropriate relationship. It is unknown whether the Palmdale City Manager was aware of the situation and has been contacted for comment.
On October 31st, the L.A. County Human Resources Department sent out the following memorandum to all county employees, including 18000 the sworn and civilian personnel at LASD regarding policy relating to nepotism and personal relationship decorum for county employees.
THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE?
The original two-captain model was instituted under then-Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who had been brought in to oversee Custody Division (jails) and inmate programming.
The concept was to have an “operations” captain and “administrative” captain at the facilities although there were no issues to support the new command structure or the astronomical costs associated with it.
The first wave of two-captain assignments under McDonald went to Men’s Central Jail and other custody facilities.
The average cost of each captain, with salary and employee benefits, runs about $500,000 per year and typically requires their own operations staff, which includes secretaries, clerk typists, Operations Lieutenants, Operations Sergeants, and an Operations Deputy.
“Regarding the implementation of the two-Captain policy for what the Sheriff considers to be ‘problem stations’, how about addressing the real issue instead? Here’s a unique thought, how about replacing the underperforming Captain with one with better leadership skills? It’s a win-win. Not only does the facility/station get a stronger leader, the county save millions of dollars in the process.” said retired Captain Mike Bornman.
With each Captain running approximately $500,000 a year, plus support staff, and a total of 10 Captains either currently in mix or reported to be coming in the near future, the cost could easily add up to$10 million dollars.
Luna asked for funding for 1100 deputies in May, however, according to sources, the department is down more than 1400 deputies and counting with many retiring or leaving early under the crippling conditions existing currently.
Retired and active personnel have made more solid suggestions to alleviate some of the burdens of the rank and file than the top heavy two-Captain command structure.
For instance, adding field sergeants would be more productive helping with issues out in the field where most of the issues occur and provide more support at the rank and file level.
On a similar note, as with any organization, it’s all in who you know. Many promotions are made for reasons other than the actual qualifications of a candidate, rather than their ability to be an effective leader.
For instance, one newly promoted Captain, her first week in, recently told her staff going forward her schedule would be a four 10-hour day schedule effectively giving her Friday, Saturday and Sunday off, with full knowledge of the exhaustive demands of her line staff, the rank and file patrolling the streets of LA County.
Where is the Commander to re-direct and supervise the Captain on her being available for her constituents and her staff Monday through Friday? As a new Captain she should be embracing what it means to be in command of the station, especially with no previous experience. Allowing her to make her own schedule as a probationary Captain leads to lazy and self-serving leadership which ultimately will not be effective at any station, let alone the “problem stations” and it sends an inconsistent message to the rank and file deputies.
Ultimately, doubling down on Captains is costly and counterproductive and exacerbates longstanding issues plaguing the department.