By Ryan Gabrielson
State officials hired a former labor negotiator and government manager who lacked basic law enforcement training to oversee investigations at California's institutions for the developmentally disabled, records and interviews show.
For more than a year, during 2007 and 2008, Nancy Irving was the police chief of the Office of Protective Services, which oversees institutions in Los Angeles, Orange, Sonoma, Riverside and Tulare counties. These centers, which house about 1,800 severely disabled men and women, have been the scene of hundreds of abuse cases over the past six years.
Yet California's Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training has no record showing that Irving took legally required coursework that would qualify her as a law enforcement officer, officials there said.
In nearly 36 years at the Department of Developmental Services, Irving worked in labor relations and in various staff and management positions.
Irving's lack of experience in law enforcement highlights a persistent theme at the Office of Protective Services, a little-known police agency that reports to the Department of Developmental Services in Sacramento. The agency has about 90 officers, many with limited training or lacking outside law enforcement experience.
The state attorney general's office, in a 2002 audit, directed the department to "recruit and hire a highly qualified and experienced law enforcement candidate" for police chief. Yet, since the audit, the department has in many cases done just the opposite.
"It really exposed a complete lack of infrastructure and control command and accountability," said former state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, a Mountain View Democrat, who introduced a disability rights bill in 2008 that included provisions requiring the governor's office to choose the developmental centers' police chief.
Lieber's bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee over cost concerns as California's financial woes mounted. The Department of Developmental Services also lobbied hard against the bill, she said, arguing that its police force worked well.
The current police chief, Corey Smith, spent almost all of his 19 years with the Department of Developmental Services as a firefighter at the agency's Sonoma facility. Like his two predecessors, Smith has less law enforcement experience than most of the patrol officers below him.
None of the past three police chiefs at the Office of Protective Services have worked for another law enforcement agency. And two of the force's four police commanders have no experience working on criminal investigations at other police or sheriff's departments, records show.
Terri Delgadillo, director of the Department of Developmental Services, defended the hires, saying the years spent working at the centers are just as crucial as years spent building criminal cases. Most patients - called "consumers" by the state - are emotionally vulnerable and intellectually limited. Their disabilities make it hard to clearly communicate.
"Having familiarity with the consumers that we serve and the population is very important," she said.
Patricia Flannery, who oversees operations at California's developmental centers, said in a written statement that the Office of Protective Services has "undergone routine audits from POST and has not been found in violation of the penal code requirements" in the Irving case.
But records from the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training show their own auditors did not check Irving's certification status, and they have no record of her ever being listed as police chief.
Flannery said Irving was appointed to police chief on an interim basis because of her experience as a professional standards manager in the Sacramento headquarters, where Flannery said she supervised special investigations and internal affairs.
While she was police chief at the Office of Protective Services, "sworn law enforcement supervisors were identified to provide consultation to Ms. Irving as needed," Flannery wrote. Irving, who retired from state service in 2011, did not respond to interview requests.
The current police chief, Smith, ascended to his position after a Tulare County grand jury indicted his predecessor, Jeff Bradley, on embezzlement charges in 2010 for his alleged involvement in an overtime fraud scheme. A judge threw out the charges last year, saying investigators violated his rights under the California Peace Officers' Bill of Rights.
The office of state Attorney General Kamala Harris said it was reviewing the case and considering whether to pursue new charges on the alleged overtime fraud. Meanwhile, Bradley is fighting to be reinstated. He referred questions to his attorney, who did not return several calls and e-mails from California Watch.
Bradley had landed his first developmental center job as a security guard in 1998, and he moved up the ranks at the Porterville Developmental Center in Tulare County until the department moved him to Sacramento to become chief in 2008.
Before Irving took over in mid-2007, the developmental services department borrowed officers from the California Highway Patrol to work as the centers' police chief. Janice Mulanix, an assistant chief for the state patrol, said she spent two years leading the Office of Protective Services, more often handling administrative tasks than criminal investigations.
Phyllis McDonald, an expert in police operations at Johns Hopkins University, said police chiefs need first-hand knowledge of how criminal investigations operate, what can go wrong and the best practices to keep them on track. She said hiring a police chief with no law enforcement training shows a disregard for the police force.
"You just can't walk in off the street and do this," she said. "As a firefighter, you don't have to be so concerned about constitutional rights, and you don't have to be so concerned about state laws or local ordinances."
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said experience doing police work should be a prerequisite for a police chief. Gore was an FBI agent for 32 years before he became sheriff, working in counterterrorism and investigating all manner of violent crimes. Even still, he said, "there are times I wish I had street experience" with a local police department.
Detectives lack experience, qualifications
In the 2002 audit, the California attorney general's office concluded that investigators with the Office of Protective Services "lack the training, experience and proper equipment to competently preserve and collect crime scene evidence."
Crimes at the centers can be more complex to solve than those committed outside. Because of privacy laws, there are no video cameras installed within the institutions. Victims might not be capable of communicating what happened.
Instead of beefing up its force to handle these complex cases, the department employs detectives with little to no qualifications in law enforcement, including nurses and psychiatric technicians.
Like Smith, more than a third of the 91 police personnel at the Office of Protective Services had no prior criminal justice experience before joining the force, according to records from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
The institutions' investigators become certified police officers after finishing a months-long course in basic procedures for conducting an investigation. The curriculum includes 52 hours on report writing and 72 hours on firearms and chemical agents, even though developmental center police do not carry guns.
A dozen additional hours of instruction are devoted to crime scene evidence. Investigating sex offenses receives four hours, a single lecture. The office largely operates without rules governing its criminal justice work - more than half of its law enforcement manual is unwritten.
When the police force has had key command staff openings, it has tended to look to longtime employees serving in other state agencies.
Lindajo Goldstein, a Lanterman Developmental Center detective since 2007, came from the California Department of Social Services, where she worked as an inspector, according to personnel and state certification records. Social services investigations examine regulatory violations and do not build criminal cases.
Fairview Developmental Center's police commander, Michael Jackson, joined the Office of Protective Services a year ago after 18 years as a social services department inspector, personnel records show. Before that, he worked for the California Youth Authority, now known as the California Division of Juvenile Justice.
Smith was moved from his firefighter duties to police commander of the Sonoma Developmental Center in 2005. He worked more than a year in that job without the required training on basic criminal investigations; he was certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training in 2007.
The chief's limited law enforcement experience has troubled the rank and file within the Office of Protective Services.
Some have suggested the department is too insular and draws too frequently from its own ranks. Greg Wardwell, a sergeant at Sonoma for 20 years before he retired in March, said a veteran police chief from an outside department would be more likely to challenge bad practices throughout the force.
He or she "would look at that and say, 'Well, that's crazy. You can't function that way. You've got to do this, this and this to make it better,' " he said.
One of the police union's leading complaints is the department's failure to follow the attorney general's audit report, which detailed major shortcomings in how the police department operated.
A former labor leader questioned why Smith was appointed.
"Why he got there, I have no idea," said Lorenzo Indick, a patrolman at the Lanterman and former president of the Hospital Police Association of California, the union representing developmental center officers. "Why don't they put in somebody from an outside organization with a strong background in law enforcement?"
*WATCH News10 on Friday at 6 p.m. for more about this in-depth investigation*
CIR intern Emily Hartley contributed to this report. This story was edited by Robert Salladay and Mark Katches. It was copy edited by Nikki Frick.
California Watch, the state's largest investigative reporting team, is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. For more, visitwww.californiawatch.org.Gabrielson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.