"I don't blame your guys at all. I blame top level management at DDS."
-Thomas Simms, Retired Police Chief & Former DOJ consultant
Retired police chief and former California Department of Justice (DOJ) consultant Thomas Simms is making it clear, Office of Protective Services (OPS) officers and investigators are not to blame for the current problems at the Sonoma Developmental Center or the continuing problems within the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).
"I don't blame your guys (OPS officers and investigators) at all. I blame top level management at DDS," said Thomas Simms. Simms audited policing in DDS ten years ago and last March was called upon to testify about DDS at a state Senate committee hearing that resulted in legislation to improve DDS.
Simms told the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) which represents OPS officers and investigators, "No one is going to succeed in the current environment there. The proper management structure is not in place."
One of Simms biggest concerns has been the investigation of sexual assaults at DDS board and care facilities which care for severely developmentally disabled patients. Simms has called for outside help in this area suggesting top-notch sex assault investigators should be brought in to work with and train OPS investigators. But he also added, "Even the most experienced investigators wouldn't succeed (under the current management structure.) If you don't have leadership at the top for accountability, none of it is going to work."
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) took enforcement action against DDS on Wednesday issuing citations to the Sonoma Developmental Center's Intermediate Care Facility (ICF). The enforcement action is not related to, but was taken after recent publicity suggesting the DDS police force (OPS) has failed to protect patients and perform complex investigations.
Simms told CSLEA, he is confident OPS officers and investigators can and do handle security functions and low level investigations at a professional level. He has called for better training for current investigators and the hiring of experienced investigators highly trained in handling sexual assaults. Simms said it is not that the current investigators cannot be trained but DDS management has repeatedly failed to implement changes needed to properly train, equip and supervise the investigation of assaults.
Simms also pointed out the need for more autonomy for OPS. He recalled interviews he conducted ten years ago with OPS officers who reported being told, from the hospital director level, not to investigate some cases.
In Simms' 2002 audit, he recommended that DDS create "an executive management position that is vested with the responsibility and authority to manage the Law Enforcement Division, and then recruit and hire a qualified and experienced law enforcement candidate as the executive.”
"It's very clear, DDS has failed miserably in fulfilling this recommendation, along with other recommendations from the 2002 audit," said CSLEA President Alan Barcelona. "The OPS chiefs have not been qualified or experienced in law enforcement, nor have they been provided the authority required to distance themselves from the interests of DDS executive staff."
Several months ago, CSLEA applauded the signing of Senate Bill 1051. SB 1051 is designed to better protect the severely developmentally disabled who live at DDS centers. SB 1051, replaces the OPS chief with the Director of Protective Services, who will directly manage peace officers and investigators at DDS facilities. The legislation states, “The director shall be an experienced law enforcement officer with a Peace Officers Standards and Training Management Certificate or higher, and with extensive management experience directing uniformed peace officer and investigation operations.” It also states, the director shall also be appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Secretary of California Health and Human Services.
"SB 1051 will provide the OPS officers and investigations with much needed leadership and experience to form a command structure that has authority distinct from DDS Management," said Barcelona. " Our officers are desperate for training, policies and equipment that current DDS management has ignored."
The 2002 audit on policing in DDS concluded with 28 recommendations. Ten years later, those recommendations have been either ignored or inadequately implemented by DDS Management, according to Simms.
DDS has a history of hiring expensive consultants. The department hired another consultant just this year.
"It's time DDS stop hiring expensive consultants that DDS management will likely ignore and instead hire highly experienced law enforcement to lead, train and manage OPS officers and investigators," said Barcelona. "We not only want the best for our officers and investigators so they are properly equipped to do their jobs safely and effectively, we never want to lose sight of these vulnerable patients who need to be protected from harm. "