I once had a military instructor who was fond of saying, “All consequences have antecedents.” In other words, every crisis, disaster, bad outcome, or catastrophe could be analyzed to find what caused it.
Of course, ‘Monday-Morning-Quarterbacking’ is nothing new, but his point was simple. Throughout history there are lessons to be learned, and good leaders develop an ability to absorb those lessons and avoid the mistakes others have made.
In the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, there is a disastrous consequence of failed leadership: high attrition. It is a crisis of such magnitude, that it has already placed the public safety at grave risk and it has abused the taxpayer’s trust.
Analysis of Attrition Rates in the Sheriff’s Office
During the tenure of the sitting Sheriff, attrition rates have surged to double digits. I know as a seasoned, experienced leader, that a rate increase of this scale is not only a danger signal, it is already a disaster that MUST be turned around. And fast.
The following chart shows the actual attrition rates (percent) in various categories of personnel from 2009 to October 2017:
Sworn (Resign Only)
Civilian (Resign Only)
*2015 to the present reflects the incumbent’s tenure.
When you average the numbers for two blocks of time: the six years preceding the incumbent’s swearing in, and the first two years and ten months of the incumbent’s tenure, this is the picture it paints:
BEFORE Incumbent (’09-’14)
INCUMBENT’s Tenure (’15-pres)
Sworn (Resign Only)
Civilian (Resign Only)
In terms of bodies, an average loss of 12.2% each year in an 800-person organization translates into 96 people annually. In the incumbent’s three and a half years, that’s about 335 people, or nearly half the force.
That is unacceptable, unsustainable, unconscionable, and DANGEROUS.
Note as well that the ‘Resign Only’ numbers do not reflect those who retired or who were fired, so actual numbers and attrition rates are HIGHER than shown.
Interestingly, my Committee and I have interviewed just over 400 people who work at EPSO and we’ve heard anecdotally that anywhere from 250 – 375 people have left the force since the current Sheriff has been in office. The actual numbers appear to be right in that ballpark.
The Reasons: AKA The Antecedents to the Crisis
You’ve heard the expression, “People vote with their feet.” It’s true in business as well. When morale plummets, employees look for other places to work. In our interviews with about half the men and women at EPSO, abysmal morale was the loudest complaint we heard.
The reasons for the low morale almost always came back to leadership and management failures. Some specifics from our interviews (should be no surprise here since we’ve posted about all these issues before):
- Favoritism (perception that a handful of inner circle staff can do no wrong, no matter how egregious their behavior)
- Vendettas (if you don’t curry favor with the Sheriff and Command Staff, your days are numbered)
- Cronyism (see above, but also factor in the perception that a donation to the Sheriff’s election campaign wins you points. That’s one reason I will NOT take donations from employees)
- Sexual Harassment Complaints Mishandled (reports of serial predators who repeatedly harass or even grope female employees go unpunished because of perceived protected status)
- Retaliation (not just for complaining about sexual harassment, but other things like age discrimination. Oftentimes this results in lawsuits against the county)
- Manpower Issues (despite more money for manpower, there are fewer people on patrol and in the jail. Of course, attrition is a major factor, but so are poor management decisions about where people are assigned)
- Bloated Command Staff (nearly unanimous was the concern that the ‘front office’ is top heavy with too many 6-figure positions at a time when more deputies are what’s needed)
- Budget Messes (the troops are well aware that despite having more money via the Public Safety Tax (PST) for manpower, there are fewer people on patrol and in the jail)
- Perception that the Sheriff is a Bully, Unprofessional (cussing, screaming, threatening behavior in public and in private meetings)
- Cynical Leadership (employees were threatened to support a PST extension in the infamous ‘count by threes’ meeting where every person who dealt a ‘three’ was told he’d be fired without the extension)
- Uncaring Attitude Toward Civilians (perception among civilian employees that they are lower class employees than sworn personnel. This is reflected in recent pay raise disparities which disadvantaged civilians (and lower ranking deputies)).
I could go on and on, but you get the point. The troops are NOT happy and they are leaving in droves. By the way, the point about civilians is borne out by the higher attrition rates for them (11.8%) vs. sworn (5.9%) during the incumbent’s rein.
Civilians leave at TWICE the rate as sworn personnel.
I have made it clear in my Messages to the Troops and other posts that I believe in a Total Force Concept. Everyone – civilian and sworn alike – have equal value on my team. Everyone is entitled to a pay raise when there’s pay raise money available. When you pick and choose the winners based upon favoritism, you foster more perceptions of cronyism.
Impact on the Sheriff’s Office
Some of this is obvious; some may not be. I’ve seen high attrition rates in broken Air Force units before, and many of the same risks impact the Sheriff’s Office.
Loss of Institutional Knowledge. An organization is like a long train with connecting cars. Driving it is the senior leadership and the brain trust. At the back are the new employees. They count on the leadership to pull that team along. Mentorship, training, and education are key to their professional development. When the people with institutional knowledge leave early, it there are fewer people to train the new recruits.
Lost Time and Resources Training New People. High attrition drives high recruitment to ensure manpower is kept kept at acceptable levels (we don’t believe even that is occurring with the low numbers on patrol and in the jail). In EPSO’s case, this means more training academies must take place to pump people through the training pipeline and onto the street.
Attrition Rate Outpacing the Replacement Rate? I don’t have the numbers, but it seems unlikely that the Sheriff’s Office is able to keep pace with the losses. If it were, then manpower on patrol and in the jail wouldn’t be at crisis levels like they are now.
Deputy Safety is Jeopardized. Fewer people on patrol means increased response times. If a deputy is in trouble in one end of the county and his nearest backup is dozens of miles away, that deputy’s safety is compromised. Likewise, in the jail, when one deputy is assigned to cover two wards due to low manning, that deputy’s safety is imperiled.
I’ve heard that in the month of March 2018, there were five assaults on jail staff by inmates. That’s unacceptable.
Impact on YOU, the Public
The brain drain in the Sheriff’s Office impacts every citizen of El Paso County in one measure or another. Public safety and your tax dollars are hit the hardest.
Your Safety. Fewer people on patrol means response times are up. What used to be measured in minutes is now measured in hours. Fewer deputies on patrol means the Sheriff’s Office has a reduced, visible deterrent on the streets and county roads. At a time when foreign organized crime, such as gangs like MS-13 and drug cartels have set up operation, we need more deterrence, not less.
Your Pocketbook. Running academies and training new recruits is costing you MILLIONS of dollars that was avoidable had the Sheriff not squandered an opportunity to be a good leader. Every newly-minted deputy who graduates from an academy requires field training time. That means the few experienced deputies who are still on the force must dedicate time to training people while tending to their normal duties.
Given that the high attrition rates are due to poor leadership in the Sheriff’s Office, the immediate fix is to replace the regime with experienced and proven leadership.
This must happen NOW. You have a chance to make the correction in June when you vote in the Republican primary.
We cannot wait four more years for the incumbent to serve a second term. The Sheriff’s Office will be a ghost town by then and public safety will be shattered beyond repair.
Consider something for a moment. The sitting Sheriff of El Paso County was not thoroughly vetted nor elected by the citizens of this county. Rather, he was selected by about 1,200 establishment Republican party insiders at the county general assembly in 2014.
Before he became Sheriff, the incumbent had NEVER ONCE been the Chief Executive Officer of a single law enforcement agency of any size.
‘Selecting’ him to be the CEO of a large law enforcement agency with no serious vetting would be like the Denver Post hiring a new Editor-in-Chief who had never run a smaller paper anywhere, not even a college rag.
The results we have today were predictable. The public safety disaster avoidable.
A Sheriff is first and foremost a leader. If you hire a Sheriff who has never been a leader, then the citizens shouldn’t be surprised when he has no clue what to do when it comes to people, problems, management, inspiration, motivation, and morale.
A Sheriff’s Office is very much like a military organization. It has a definite hierarchy, command structure, rules, discipline, and an enforcement mission. An ideal candidate, especially in a time of crisis, is a former military officer with vast law enforcement leadership experience.
I’ve commanded – been the CEO of – FIVE military law enforcement agencies, and I was properly vetted for each one of these assignments. As a retired Colonel, I was among the senior-most law enforcement officials in the entire Department of Defense upon retirement.
As a Commander of an Office of Special Investigations (OSI) Region, I had to compete at the Air Force-level Wing Commander’s Board to earn the honor of Commanding a Region in the first place. This is important because beyond my OSI peers, I had to prove to a board of General Officers — quite a few stars on their shoulders — that I had the leadership experience and track record to Command a Wing.
Bottom line: I won’t need on-the-job training in leadership or law enforcement other than to learn the nuances of the Sheriff’s Office.
Turning the Sheriff’s Office ship around won’t be easy or fast. High attrition rates take years to correct, but it starts with a fresh, bold change in direction and leadership.
Today, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is a place people want to LEAVE – and in a hurry. I want to transform it into the premiere law enforcement agency in Colorado where people compete for recruitment.
I want EPSO to be a place where professionals WANT to serve, where the line for applications is so long that folks are willing to wait months or even years for an academy class. When we have more applicants to choose from than positions to fill, we can select the very best.
After all, YOU, the people, deserve to be served by the very best.
Help me become your next Sheriff. Together, WE can make the team that provides for your public safety the very best in the state. I’ve Commanded five times before. I can do it again.
Vote in the Republican Primary this June and select me — the only candidate with the ability to correct these serious errors and make EPSO healthy and whole again.
God Bless the men and women of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office – the Total Force. And God Bless the citizens of our great county.