San Luis Obispo County supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to renew the employment contract — and provide a 21.5 percent raise — for the head of the Sheriff’s Office Professional Standards Unit, known in some law enforcement circles as internal affairs.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson believes Cmdr. James Voge should be paid $66 an hour because of his expertise, rank and value to the department. He currently earns $54.30 an hour, including compensation for pre-authorized travel related to the performance of his duties.
Under the proposal, Voge’s contract worth $137,280 annually would be renewed for the 2013-14 fiscal year that starts July 1. As a contract employee, he is not eligible for fringe benefits.
Parkinson hired Voge in February 2011 to oversee the unit, which he started after it had been dismantled by former Sheriff Pat Hedges.
Voge had 33 years of experience with the Los Angeles Police Department, running the department’s Internal Affairs Group before he came out of retirement to take his San Luis Obispo County position with a “wealth of experience,” Parkinson said in a report to the Board of Supervisors, “… particularly in the area of internal discipline.”
Since starting up the Professional Standards Unit in the county, the difference in number of complaints from the public during and after Hedges’ time is stark: 13 complaints were registered in 2008; 23 in 2009; 29 in 2010; 58 in 2011 (after Parkinson was elected and reinstituted the Professional Standards Unit) and 60 cases last year.
But what is behind those numbers is a significant shift within the department toward more thorough reporting, Voge said.
“It’s not that the public is complaining more; it’s that we’re reporting any complaint by the public. We’re being as transparent as legally possible, which makes us most responsive to the public,” he said.
In addition to investigating all public complaints, Voge has instituted new procedures in areas that include use of force, pursuit and traffic collision reports. This information is then tracked through a database, tools for professional standards that the department didn’t have before Voge arrived.
Complaints that land on Voge’s desk are categorized in different ways. For example, if a citizen makes a complaint that a deputy was rude but the complaint can’t be proved after an investigation,
it’s not sustained or listed as unfounded. This could come about when a deputy’s dashboard camera conflicts with allegations of unprofessionalism.
If the complaint is proved through an investigation, it’s sustained and sent to the sheriff or undersheriff for corrective action.
“I’m the objective fact-finder who finds the truth of the matter, not giving an opinion or conclusion,” Voge said.
“The most numerous complaints involve discourtesy,” he added, “not what they said, but how they said it.” Sometimes people don’t want to go to jail, he added, and in the heat of the moment a deputy may let go with some colorful invective.
“It’s understandable at times, not excusable, but understandable,” Voge said.
“We don’t allow bad days,” he added. Although if “the deputy didn’t really do anything that was bad conduct but was a little unprofessional, I tell them, ‘You don’t want to be in this office, and I don’t want to see your face regularly. Improve your human relations.’ ”