Lack of details from Orange County Sheriff’s Department frustrates Rossmoor

Rossmoor Board of Directors express concern. Courtesy photo

pressed frustration at its monthly February meeting when the Orange County Sheriff’s Department refused to provide details regarding their deputies responding to the community.

Rossmoor, an unincorporated community, has no police force of its own and therefore must rely on a complicated arrangement. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office provides crime enforcement while the California Highway Patrol provides for traffic enforcement within Rossmoor, a community of approximately 10,000 people.

Slow response times have nagged the community during several incidents in the past couple of years, and directors seemed equally frustrated at their February meeting following Capt. Gary Knutson’s regularly scheduled crime report.

Knutson told the directors no crime stats were available because the Department of Justice was transitioning to a new computer system entitled the National Incident Reporting System.

“The whole purpose is to get better information reported nationally,” he told the Directors, noting that the new system “allows for a little more finite reporting so it breaks things down into smaller categories.”

He continued to explain “the DOJ has not validated our statistics, so we are not releasing any statistics until that happens.”

Nevertheless, Knutson did provide some data to the Directors based on calls for service and, in doing so, acknowledged that residential break-ins had ticked up significantly in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Knutson said, however, that residential break-ins had increased across the board, blaming the rise in a flawed justice system that releases offenders almost as fast as their law enforcement officers could bring them in.

Moreover, he said catalytic converter thefts account for most of the thefts reported in the community.

During the discussion, the board brought up an incident on Feb. 13, the night before the meeting, when a Rossmoor homeowner apparently came home to find someone in their house. The intruder fled when the homeowner returned, yet the discussion sparked a series of questions.

The Directors thanked Knutson for the strong response to the incident, including a helicopter, but were befuddled when Knutson said he had no way of knowing whether a deputy was in the community or nearby when the call for service went out.

“Could you query like 911 calls to see how many come out of Rossmoor,” asked DeMarco?
“That’s kind of hard to do,” said Knutson, “without finalized stats, all I can say is, anecdotally, again, the same trends and things we’re seeing here are happening in not only this area. All of our contract cities in south Orange County are experiencing the same issues.”

DeMarco persisted.

“In that incident last night, was there a deputy in Rossmoor,” he asked Knutson?

“You know, I don’t know,” said Knutson.

“On December 15, when all those catalytic converters were stolen, did we have a deputy in Rossmoor?” he further asked Knutson.

“I don’t know if we had one,” again answered Knutson.

“Again, to go back to what we’ve talked about before, Rossmoor is only one of the patrol beats staffed by a deputy. Whether or not they were in Rossmoor, at any given moment in time, or on another call for service somewhere else, I don’t know off the top of my head,” said Knutson.

The Directors then asked Knutson why the department’s computer system was not able to do basic sorting of calls to determine who was where when calls for service are logged.
Director Dr. Jeffrey Barke asked Knutson whether or not there was a specific reason that maybe the information is not being disclosed.

“Is there a reason specifically, maybe because we don’t want to get that granular for the public to know how long it takes for a deputy to get to a particular area in a particular city,” he asked. “Maybe that’s not publicly disclosed or is it just statistically it’s all in one so we can break it down,” Barke wondered.

“I don’t know the answer your question,” he told Barke.

“Specifically,” said Knutson, “I know that we break these down by contract city and then by the unincorporated division,” volunteered Knutson, “so you have a southeast unincorporated in South Orange County. So, anything that’s unincorporated falls in that district, for lack of a better term, and then the north. It’s just the way the system was designed,” he said. “It is just the way it is.”

Barke said “we love our police and the department,” but again asked about the data.
Again pressed about the data, Knutson said “you’d probably have to go through each record by hand in order to do that.”

“Could that be done?” asked Barke, a reserve deputy sheriff, who offered to go into the department and personally pull the data.

“I suppose anything’s possible,” said Knutson, but then said “It sounds like a public records request, what you’re asking for.”

DeMarco thanked Knutson for providing law enforcement service to the community and for coming to the meeting with an update on calls for service.

He also reminded Knutson that Rossmoor has set up a mini substation at Rush Park for patrolling deputies, all of whom now have keys and can stop in for coffee or to refresh themselves while on duty in the community.

General Manager Joe Mendoza had earlier set up the mini substation hoping to attract more deputies to patrol the Rossmoor neighborhoods.

Still frustrated by the end of the meeting, however, DeMarco and Barke both again expressed their frustration about not being able to retrieve what seems to be very simple data from the Sheriff’s Department.

During their individual Director reports, Demarco and Barke again commented on the Rossmoor law enforcement predicament in their closing remarks.

“If the Los Al Police Department was patrolling Rossmoor,” said Barke, “we would know where they (deputies) were and when they were here.”

As an unincorporated area, Rossmoor is not allowed to utilize the department next door, rather must depend on the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement. Knutson has explained many times in the past that the department has only a certain number of deputies to patrol all of the county’s unincorporated areas.

DeMarco incredulously expressed frustration about not being able to get the simple data.
“We should be able to gather that information as a board, and as a general manager,” he said. “It’s not me asking them (OCSD),” said DeMarco, “but I feel like I’m representing the community when I read this stuff on NextDoor and other social media.”

DeMarco said he is alarmed when he reads messages from Rossmoor residents saying that ‘I just got broken into and there’s someone in my house’ and he believes the community has a right to the information they seek on the community’s security.
“We just want to feel safe,” said DeMarco.