A new union representing the deputy sheriffs in the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department is being formed, based — at least according to the County CEO’s office — on the fact they are unhappy having a custody deputy serving as president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA), the longtime bargaining unit that represents not only deputy sheriffs, but also other classifications within the department.

Over the past month in two separate meetings, a group of deputies has met, and members ultimately decided that they were interested in creating a new association made up solely of peace officers, as defined in the government code. Under the code, custody deputies have peace officer powers only while on duty, while deputy sheriffs have peace officer status at all times. The name of the new group is the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Deputies Association (SDA).

The California Organization of Police and Sheriffs (COPS) on October 13 submitted a request — as representatives of the SDA — to become registered as an employee organization. “It’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just different,” said Mike DiCesare, executive director of COPS.

But the move comes at an interesting time. It was only a few months ago when custody deputy Todd Johnson challenged — and defeated by less than 10 votes — incumbent DSA president Chris Corbett, a deputy sheriff, in an election. Corbett then ran for vice president and was defeated by correction’s Sgt. Brenda Maynard. Organizational issues led to the turnover, as several reports indicated there was little accounting for the financial status of the board and a lack of communication from those at the top. Johnson said Wednesday that communication was an issue and the group’s bylaws weren’t being met.

It is believed to be the first time a sworn sheriff’s deputy wasn’t in either of the top two positions. Corbett hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

While the changeover ruffled some feathers at the time, all had seemingly been quiet for several months, until earlier this month when COPS got involved. Johnson said last week he had heard of the movement, but didn’t know how strong it was. “There’s a rumor right now,” he said. This Wednesday, however, he said he was concerned about COPS, which has had a somewhat sketchy reputation over the years, moving into town. COPS began representing law enforcement in San Luis Obispo County recently, and has dozens of law enforcement agencies throughout the state under its umbrella.

Beyond the explanation that sheriff’s deputies provided, not much is known about their real motivations, however, and it is impossible to know how large the groundswell is in the organization which has more than 450 members.

A meeting to discuss abandoning the DSA was an invitation-only meeting, Johnson said, adding he has invited those he thought to be behind the movement to talk, but they refused. “You’re always going to have unhappy people,” Johnson said. He wouldn’t reveal their names.

Two straight years of concessions, including one made in May, might have led to some unrest, while the possibility of the passage of Measure S could be weighing in on deputies’ minds. Should Measure S pass, among other things, a new North County jail would be built, which would lead to an increased need for custody deputies. This, in turn, would lead to greater representation in the DSA of custody deputies. But Johnson said that while the number of custody deputies in the DSA has grown over the years, the number of sheriff’s deputies remains larger.

The DSA has represented sheriff’s deputies since the early 1970s. Deputy sheriffs were at one time striking, and custody deputies, despite not being part of the DSA, joined them in that lockout. It was that move that eventually led to county concessions, and not long after that the DSA voted to include custody deputies in the organization. Later, dispatchers and District Attorney investigators also came under the representation of the DSA.

That all could change, however, depending on what happens with the petition to be an organization. COPS and the DSA are still waiting to hear a response from the county after COPS requested to become registered as an employee organization. The county informed COPS last week it would take a couple of weeks to respond.

While a letter from CEO Mike Brown to the Board of Supervisors said there was “an effort underway by Sheriff’s Deputies to decertify the current Santa Barbara Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA) and create a new exclusive representative that would exclude Custody Deputies from representation by that organization,” Johnson said the two groups could coexist. Sheriff’s deputies could choose to be members of either, or neither. He said that in recent weeks he has gotten calls of support from several sheriff’s deputies.

DiCesare, meanwhile, said the new association intends to follow through on its current contract, which runs through February 2013.

 Sheriff Bill Brown said he would have no comment on the issue and to talk to the management from the union.


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