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Sheriff's dispatch takes center stage at forum

February 05, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The husband of an Imperial County Sheriff Office's dispatcher alleged during a candidate forum Monday night between incumbent Sheriff Harold Carter and challenger Chief Deputy Ernie Mendoza that sheriff's dispatchers are asked to work an eight-hour shift without a break.

After the forum he retracted the statement, saying dispatchers are allowed to take breaks during their shifts.

"Dispatchers are currently asked to work an eight-hour shift without a break," Jerry DeVore, of Imperial said when he addressed the candidates.

DeVore's wife, Eleanor, has been a dispatcher with the Sheriff's Office for two weeks.

Later DeVore told a reporter dispatchers are allowed to have breaks during their shifts, but they are supposed to decide their own break times and his wife has had to ask to go on breaks.

The original allegation prompted anger from some members of the audience.

Carter was surprised by DeVore's statement to the candidates.

"No one should have to work eight hours without a break," Carter said.

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Carter said he has a good officer in charge of dispatch but he would look into it first thing in the morning.

Dispatcher Lorena Minor of Calexico addressed the candidates, saying dispatchers need more education and stress management.

"I had an officer down call. I still don't know how to handle that," Minor said. "I almost had to drive him to the hospital myself because no one from administration was there."

She wanted to know what was going to be done to improve her department, which she thinks deserves more attention.

Carter said new equipment was recently installed at the dispatch center. He said he is trying to enhance the center and benefits for employees because dispatching is a stressful occupation.

Mendoza said Carter didn't answer Minor's question and added employees are constantly saying morale is low and no one listens to their concerns.

"If we don't put a stop to this, pretty soon we won't have any employees left," Mendoza said.

Minor would not comment on DeVore's statement that dispatchers have to work eight-hour shifts without breaks.

A question from the United Taxpayers of Imperial County, which hosted the forum at the William Condit Auditorium of the Imperial Irrigation District, asked the candidates to explain the number of jail inmate deaths within the last year.

"If you look at any jail system, you'll find that those kind of things occur," Carter said.

He said the department is addressing the problem by adding $1.8 million in security upgrades to the jails, including digital camera systems, new doors and new locks for the safety of inmates and employees.

Mendoza said there has been one homicide and three suicides in the jail in the last 18 months. He said the county is required to provide a safe holding facility for inmates and thinks the number of deaths is a problem.

Another question from the audience asked Carter why a private jail was coming to the county instead of the county building its own jail.

Carter said the federal government decided to put a private jail in California. He cannot change that but if it is going to be in California, he hopes the jail, and its 350 jobs, will come to Imperial County.

Mendoza said he is against a private jail coming to the county and said the sheriff should not be in the "economic development business."

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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