Sheriff candidates weigh in on controversial field deputy program


Interim Sheriff John Scott suspended the program last week after seeing our report, but the next sheriff could bring it back. So we wanted to know: What will the next elected sheriff do?

These so-called "field deputies" were not fighting crime or patrolling the streets. They are civilians who were supposed to be doing various forms of community outreach. But our investigation showed at least one of them, Michael Yamaki, spent work days at the Riviera Country Club.

And so far, the sheriff's department has been unable to provide Eyewitness News with any formal evidence of any actual work he did for the sheriff's department in his nine years on the job. Yamaki, a close friend of retired Sheriff Baca, made $171,000 a year.

Former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca came up with the field deputy program several years ago. Four civilians chosen by the sheriff were provided with county cars. Most were paid six-figure salaries, although their job duties aren't exactly clear.

Interim Sheriff John Scott suspended the program last week after two Eyewitness News investigations revealed several potential irregularities.

And with a crowded field of candidates hoping to become the next sheriff of L.A. County, some think the program should be eliminated, while others do not.

"Your stories on Channel 7 certainly brought to light the fact that these positions were misused," said former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Tanaka spent 30 years with the department and was second in command under Baca.

He believes in the field deputy program, but admits that it needs some tweaking.

"I believe the positions are vital. They just need to be staffed with the right people doing the right thing, and they have to be held accountable," said Tanaka.

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell is a former assistant chief with the LAPD who announced his candidacy for sheriff shortly after Baca resigned last week. McDonnell says the field deputy program needs to be reviewed, but stops short of calling for is elimination.

"Various departments have community outreach workers, different titles, different job descriptions. I think what's key here is that we do a thoughtful assessment of the program and then make a decision down the road as to whether or not that program remains intact or is modified," said McDonnell.

That's the same kind of answer you'll get from Assistant L.A. County Sheriff Jim Hellmold, a 25-year veteran of the department.

"It's a matter of just determining which positions are prudent and necessary, similar to running a business, making sure that each position is smart to have, and that it makes sense," said Hellmold.

But at least three other candidates are eager to see the program go.

"There's no need to have those particular positions," said Bob Olmsted, a retired commander with the sheriff's department. He says the program was political payback and a waste of taxpayer money.

"Add the salary, add the gas, add the car, add the cellphone. That's a ton of money. I would imagine that it's probably close to a million dollars a year between the four," said Olmsted.

Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers, a 29-year veteran of the department, also believes in doing away with the controversial program.

"The field deputy program has been a head-scratcher for a lot of people for a long time, because nobody really knew what they all did," said Rogers. "And very few of us saw all of them around the headquarters building or around the department, so it was kind of a mystery to most of us."

Patrick Gomez retired as a lieutenant from the department in 2012. He says the money could be better spent elsewhere.

"I'm going to re-divert all that, and that money that we're going to save is going to be used to hire doctors, nurses, psychiatrists for the jails," said Gomez.

Eyewitness News has tried repeatedly to reach Michael Yamaki, and we continue to do so. So far he has not responded to our requests for an interview or comment.

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