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O.C. Sheriff's Department grilled over sending 6 officials to help with Jackson funeral

July 14, 2009 |  6:51 pm

Turns out it's not just Los Angeles officials who are dealing with the fallout from the Michael Jackson memorial. Orange County Sheriff's Department officials were also criticized on various local blogs for attending the pop star's funeral last week.

Six sheriff's officials attended the funeral to provide mutual aid and to observe planning and operations, according to an after-action report. At Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Chris Norby said the incident did not seem to fit his understanding of mutual aid.

"Being the neighbor to the entertainment capital of the world, these mutual aid agreements have to be two ways, and if they expect help in future high profile celebrity funerals, I think we have going to have to take them on a case by case basis, and realize that in the case of this one, the need was not there,” he said.

Sheriff's spokesman John McDonald said mutual aid is not limited to natural disasters and was defined by the state. "Mutual aid is the voluntary sharing of personnel and resources when an agency cannot deploy, sufficiently, its own resources to respond to an unusual occurrence," he said.

Following the funeral, County Executive Officer Tom Mauk requested the after-action report and information on the Sheriff Department’s costs. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens responded with an eight-page report and summary from the six department officials at the event -- all of whom were on duty and were not paid overtime. "These personnel were assigned at my direction and in support of our mutual aid responsibility," she wrote in her cover letter to Mauk.

According to the report, the Orange County Sheriff's Department was contacted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Emergency Operations Bureau on July 2 to request mutual aid for the event. In addition to those who attended, 80 officers and 20 supervisors were on standby to be deployed to the region, said Sheriff's Lt. Mike Betzler.

At Tuesday's meeting, the supervisors grilled Betzler about the event, which was the largest regional law enforcement deployment (3,400 LAPD officers) for an event since the 1984 Olympics. But in the end, it was Mauk who came to the Sheriff's Department rescue.

"I'm a little troubled by the comments," he said. "The mutual aid system that [Betzler] is referring to is a vital part of regional law enforcement throughout all of California, and the way we will be paid is that when we have an event they'll be down here and without compensation. And it's very important, I think, for the county to have a presence there both to learn, and to have a presence for mutual aid…. The payback is when we need them they'll be here."

Los Angeles County Sheriff's officials were deployed to help out in Orange County during last year's Freeway Complex fire. 

--Tami Abdollah