You may have heard by now that former Orange County Sheriff, Sandra Hutchens, passed away a few days ago. Hutchens, the third female sheriff in California and the first in Orange County, was 66 at her passing. Current Sheriff Don Barnes wrote an eloquent press release of admiration and respect, calling her a mentor and friend. “She led the department with courage, grace and dignity.”
Sheriff Hutchens took office in a time of strife and crisis in the OCSD. The former sheriff had been tried and convicted of federal charges of witness tampering, stemming from a year long investigation of corruption in the department. The department, to say the least, was left tattered and worn.
Hutchens was appointed for the remainder of the term and went to work immediately to repair the damage done by her predecessor(s). She made substantial changes to the department that left many conservatives wondering about her ability to lead. She was, after all, a product of a liberal Los Angeles County law enforcement agency. But, she was determined to restore the honor and dignity of the deputies who worked for her.
When the federal courts found in favor of the gun-toting crowd in 2014 (Peruta vs. San Diego), Hutchens complied by relaxing the standards for which a concealed weapons permit would be issued. She gained further favor and respect with the conservative crowds when, after the courts overturned the initial order, she left the looser standards in place.
Hutchens’ instincts helped her give the department direction and purpose again. She made changes to the jails to keep prisoners and deputies safer and more accountable. She brought the department into the 21st century regarding the use of electronic databases for record keeping – records that could not be altered. She withstood attacks from the DA’s office and criticism from the Board of Supervisors. Where there was praise, it went to staff; when there was criticism, she readily took the blame. She had high ethical standards and expected the same for those who worked for her.
I met Sheriff Hutchens when she first took office in 2008. I was a board director of the union that represented the sheriffs special deputies and most civilian employees of the department. I found her to be affable, intelligent and respectful of others. She was genuinely interested in the welfare of her employees and it showed. Her demeanor commanded respect, not fear. I liked her.
Sheriff Hutchens retired in 2019 I think due mostly to her long standing battle with breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2012 and she successfully fought it into remission. She successfully ran for two terms as Sheriff, choosing not to run for a third. Unfortunately, cancer became the ultimate winner and, after a brief relapse, she succumbed to the disease over the weekend.
OC Sheriff Don Barnes said, “She restored our pride, gave us back our dignity and rebuilt trust with the people we serve. She kept her oath, kept her promises, and ended her time in office leaving this agency better than when she started.”
I agree. RIP, Sheriff.