Sheriff Rod Hoops

10:47 PM PST on Sunday, February 7, 2010

By PAUL LAROCCO
The Press-Enterprise

In his first year as San Bernardino County sheriff, Rod Hoops hasn’t had to lead a department shakeup or champion sweeping policy change.

“The organization was in great shape when I became sheriff,” he said.

But in more subtle ways, Hoops has begun to adapt to the 156-year-old institution.

He said he’s committed to turning over more day-to-day decision-making — as it relates to personnel and budget — to individual stations and divisions that stretch across the nation’s largest geographic county.

“Too often things are done here on this floor,” Hoops said late last month, from his office at San Bernardino headquarters. “I want people to feel a little less stressed.”

He’s cut the overtime budget by more than 50 percent per pay period, allowing the hiring of 25 new deputies. Without the new class of recruits, the department was nearing vacancies in 150 sworn positions.

A Decision on Badges

The moves that have brought Hoops the most attention have been his focus on diversity and education in recent promotions, and his decision to begin adhering to a 2007 state attorney general’s opinion on honorary badges.

That advisory opinion stated law enforcement agencies providing badges to non-sworn peace officers could be breaking the law. It prompted Riverside County officials to quickly start collecting the badges it had handed out to supporters and elected officials.

Under past administrations, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately act. But Hoops said that after consulting with county counsel, he began issuing badge recall letters last month to people with no sheriff’s job connection.

“Although some may not be happy about it, they understand,” Hoops said.

Elected officials and other unsworn individuals will instead receive sheriff’s identification cards, not to be mistaken for badges. Others who work for the department, such as jail cooks and uniformed volunteers, will still retain badges marked with their positions.

“Times change,” said sheriff’s Lt. Rick Ells, who served as Hoops’ public affairs commander until his transfer to Highland this month. “Thirty, forty years ago, the sheriff used to give guns to people.”

Eye on Diversity

Community leaders said Hoops’ positions and visibility has impressed them. Frank Stallworth, an associate pastor at Loveland Church, one of the county’s largest, said he spotted the sheriff seated at one of his services early in his tenure.

Hoops, who was appointed sheriff upon Gary Penrod’s retirement last year, is seeking his first elected term this June. But Stallworth said doesn’t feel Hoops is doing things for political reasons.

“He’s made me feel like he’s chasing down and locking up the bad guys, but at the same time recognizing his responsibility to the community, in terms of outreach,” Stallworth said. “It’s a cocktail that’s well balanced.”

Stallworth and Al Garrett, another leader in the African-American community, noted Hoops’ recent promotion of Ron Cochran, a 25-year veteran, to one of seven deputy chief positions. That makes him the highest-ranking African-American in department’s history.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Garrett, president of San Bernardino’s Westside Action Group. “But now a young deputy graduates from the academy and they walk into the building and see a black guy’s picture near the top of the wall.”

Education Encouraged

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