If you’re interested but not really sure what that would be like, consider the experience of Detentions Deputy Evdokia Sawada, who has worked at the jail since last spring.
Firm but fair. That is Sawada’s style. She says every day is different and rewarding. From week to week, deputy assignments rotate through the different housing units – those with low-risk inmates and those with high-risk inmates. Deputies also manage worker inmates, inmates with psychological issues and inmates who have to be kept separated from the rest of the population for safety reasons.
“We have to be able to show our command presence (to inmates) and have them take us seriously, but at the same time they are people, too, and we have to have compassion,” says Sawada, 26.
When interacting with inmates in her assigned building, she is kind, funny, professional – and always alert. She says it is real multitasking. One minute you are instructing inmates to do something, the next you are listening to someone’s story of why they ended up in jail, then feeding the inmates or taking one to a jail doctor.
“You have to be ready to switch and adapt to their needs basically,” she says.
While she finds it an advantage to be naturally friendly, she says deputies have to be aware for their own safety and other staff and inmates at all times. Deputies are trained to watch for details including what inmates wear, do or how they act. Sawada says it is important to build a rapport with the inmates to be able to distinguish unusual circumstances and so that the inmates can confide in deputies if something is wrong.
She says she feels very safe in her job. First of all, she makes sure not to put herself in any risky situations, but she knows there’s always a possibility something could go wrong.
“I trust my (deputy) partners will be right there if something does happen because we’re a team,” she says.
All have gone through a four-month academy that Sawada says gives deputies a solid foundation for what to expect on the job. Often she says she didn’t know why they were doing certain exercises, but she just assumed it would be relevant once she started working. Sure enough, since starting at Las Colinas, she has had many moments where she has thought, “OK, that’s why we did this and things start to make sense.”
Sawada says her background is in criminal justice. She earned her bachelor’s degree and has started working on her master’s degree. While in college, she completed an internship with the Department of Justice in Sacramento, where she’s from, but she knew she wanted to work on the enforcement side of the system.
She applied at several agencies in Northern California but a friend who had moved to San Diego County to become a deputy suggested she also apply for the Sheriff’s Department. She went through the written portion and background test and received a conditional offer, pending passing a psychological and medical exam. Once she cleared those tests, she went into the academy. All along the hiring process, Sawada says she felt certain she would be working with a stellar organization.
Sheriff’s Capt. Edna Milloy estimates they have about 850 inmates a day at Las Colinas jail. It used to be that inmates would stay only up to 77 days, but since the passage of the Public Safety Realignment Act, they now get inmates who complete their sentence in county jail instead of prison. Currently, one inmate is projected to remain in custody until July 2020.
Across the street from Las Colinas, originally built in 1967 and converted to a women’s jail in 1979, is the new San Diego County Women’s Detention and Re-Entry Facility, which will have more than 1,200 beds. The first phase of the new facility will be open in the summer.
Milloy says the Sheriff’s Department wants to hire 700 more deputies over the course of the next three to four years. The department welcomes all applicants but there is a specific need to hire female deputies for the new women’s jail because federal and state penal codes require that women deputies manage female inmates. The same is true in men’s jails; they are staffed predominantly by male deputies, she said.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department open recruitment period closes on Wednesday, February 12. To schedule a written exam, go to joinsdsheriff.net.
—County News Center