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April 2019 | Volume 12 | Issue 3

The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Orange County (California) Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) as the April 2019 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features Deputy Sheriff Grumbles during a chance encounter with six year old Liam, who is an amputee. 

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes was sworn into his new role this past January. As the sheriff of the nation’s fifth-largest sheriff’s department, Barnes’s priorities include dealing with the opioid epidemic, the mental health crisis, and homelessness issues in California. Additionally, he is committed to continuing the department’s success internally with employee development, retention, and recruitment.

“Our retention rate is through the roof,” says Sheriff Barnes. “We do the over-under on a regular basis to not over-hire personnel, because we are literally that full with our staff. I am very fortunate to have that problem.” 

An influencing factor on retention rates is hiring the right employees in the first place. Sheriff Barnes explained that the department implemented changes to allow it to observe the foundational qualities of a candidate during the review process. The organization “focuses on the contributions, commitment, and character of the candidate” instead of considering solely those who fit a list of requirements. This approach increased the agency’s hires among underrepresented populations—for example, bringing on board two officers with physical disabilities (one hard of hearing, and one an amputee). “We’ve really broadened our workforce by not being so narrow-minded, and letting people demonstrate their ability to do the job—they have really knocked our socks off.”

Sheriff Barnes also credits the department’s approach to serving and supporting its employees first, instead of the employees serving the department. “We have to give [our employees] the tools to do the job, the training to do the job, and the trust in doing their job. When you have those three ingredients of a recipe, it is pretty simple to have a highly motivated workforce.” Sheriff Barnes said. “They know the administration of the organization believes in them and it gives them what they need to do the job.”

This support was evident to Deputy Sheriff Aaron Grumbles when an accident in 2015 changed his life forever. He was on the way home from work as an Orange County Sheriff’s Academy drill instructor, when he was struck by a distracted driver, causing him to lose his leg.

Within an hour of the accident, “over 30 deputies were in the waiting room helping my family out,” said Grumbles. Throughout his stay at the hospital, the president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs and then-Sheriff Hutchens visited to check on him and assure the deputy that he still had a job.

Sheriff Barnes explains that “the first message [the organization] said to him and his family was, ‘You are coming back, you’ve earned it, and we value you that much that we are going to ensure that we can accommodate you, whatever that might be.’”

“That was a huge peace of mind at the time,” said Grumbles.

Deputy Grumbles spent year recovering before returning to duty as a full-time deputy sheriff. Looking back on his recovery and the support OCSD gave him, he said, “It [was] an incredible experience. It is definitely a brotherhood and, as drill instructors, that is what we teach: honor, integrity and brotherhood. We really do take care of each other.”

During his recovery, Grumbles found that he needed to use his situation to help as many people as possible. He began working with kids, helping amputees suffering with depression, volunteering at the Special Olympics, and joining the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Peer Support Team.

The department’s support group was started in 2013 to help officers deal with stress and trauma on the job and in their personal lives. “Everybody’s got their specific backstory to help others through. We’ve got people who have been to wars, people who have suffered from alcoholism, and my niche has been helping people with devastating trauma,” Deputy Grumbles explained.

He feels that helping others on his team has helped him heal as well, “because you feel that this is the purpose behind why I went through what I went through.”

Grumbles felt the same sentiment when he met Liam, who is pictured in the winning Photo Contest image. “That was just one of the many moments where it was well worth losing the leg,” he explains. “His dad came up to me and said, ‘Liam wants to be a police officer someday,’ . . . and to see somebody actually [being an officer as an amputee] was really important to him and his son.”

Liam is now considered an honorary deputy at the department, and he is looking forward to adorning his next prosthetic leg with OCSD badge stickers. Sheriff Barnes hopes that Liam will “look at Orange County as a place to work if he does end up pursuing a career in law enforcement.”

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