Douglas deputies call for Mirgon’s ouster
August 2, 2008
An organization that represents Douglas County sheriff’s deputies, investigators and sergeants is calling for the ouster of emergency communications Director Dick Mirgon, citing safety concerns over the department’s failure to provide adequate equipment for officers in life-and-death situations.
In a letter dated Wednesday to interim County Manager T. Michael Brown, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Protection Association demanded Mirgon be fired immediately.
The letter comes one week after Mirgon was taken to task by the Douglas County grand jury for failing to address safety issues that were brought up years ago.
“It has been clearly demonstrated that Director Mirgon has no motivation to correct the shortcomings of the system,” the letter said. “His actions not only endanger our membership, he exposes the county to tremendous financial liability should a first responder’s injury or death be linked to the inability to communicate. Director Mirgon has squandered precious county resources to attend lavish training conferences with no documented benefit to the county. His long-term arrogance and derision towards our personnel is completely unacceptable.”
Mirgon, who was attending the annual conference of the Association of Public-safety Communications Officials in Kansas City, said the accusations included in the deputy’s letter contained several inaccuracies.
“There are a number of fundamental inaccuracies in their perspective and position,” he said. “The things I do include the work I do for ABCO that has been supported by both the current and previous county managers. No taxpayer money is spent to send me here and the benefit Douglas County has seen includes two recent grants of about $1.6 million for public safety communications equipment, which directly benefits first responders in Douglas County.”
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Mirgon, who is first vice-president of the organization, said that the prior grand jury called for additional training of deputies in the use of the radio system.
“That training has not occurred,” he said. “A number of work tickets we have found that the problems were operator error. These are things that are documented.”
Mirgon said the communications department installed in-vehicle repeaters to boost the signal of the deputies’ hand-held radios.
“We’ve demonstrated to the deputies that wearing them on the hip reduces the power by 90 percent,” he said. “They have to get them away from their body.”
Mirgon said he does attend one or two conferences a year, but that those conferences have earned him insights that allowed him to successfully compete for the equipment grants.
“My intent is not to get into any kind of feud with the deputies,” he said. “Their association representatives are welcome to have a meeting with me or my staff to discuss these issues.”
In a grand jury complaint filed last September, the association’s board of directors cited several instances when deputies’ communication equipment failed to perform in the field.
The complaint also criticized former Douglas County Manager Dan Holler for failing to resolve “supervisory shortcomings” addressed in the 2000-2001 grand jury findings.
Holler resigned in March to become city administrator in Grass Valley, Calif.
“The principal complaint is the failure of the (911/Emergency Management/Technology Services) division to address the gross inadequacy of the radio communications equipment used for transmissions of law enforcement, principally the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. The system failures also effect the operations of (Washoe) Tribal police officers, Animal Control officers, after-hours Alpine County Sheriff’s Office, and periodic use by the Nevada Highway Patrol. The failures of the radio system promote an environment of extreme officer-safety perils in an era of limited personnel and increasingly violent criminal activities. The statistical probability of an officer injury or death increases daily. The county faces a tremendous liability in the event of an officer injury or death, contributed by the failure of communications equipment,” the complaint said.
The protective association cited seven incidents dating to 2004 when officers’ communications equipment failed.
In one case, deputies struggled for 10 minutes with a naked man destroying a Lake Tahoe residence. Officers repeatedly tried to call dispatch for help, finally calling for neighbors to contact 911 on their personal phones. Due to limited staffing, assistance came from South Lake Tahoe police and El Dorado County sheriff’s office.
In a 2004 incident, a deputy accompanied by a civilian observer contacted two suspects in a traffic stop. The deputy was unable to contact dispatch for assistance using his hand-held radio. A struggle ensued and the civilian observer contacted dispatch through the car radio.
Several grand jury members observed the failure of hand-held radios during an “active gunman” training exercise at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle school last summer.
“There is no place in county government for someone who ignores grand jury recommendations to the imminent peril of law enforcement and fire personnel. Any member of our association would have been terminated immediately if we conducted ourselves in this manner,” the letter to Brown said.
Deputy Kevin Schaller, a member of the board of directors, said Thursday the association knows the sheriff’s administration has made efforts to rectify the situation.
“But the sheriff’s office has no authority over the agency. It’s under the direction of the county manager and because of the former county manager (Holler) it didn’t get done. There’s no doubt in our mind the sheriff’s administration has put in a lot of effort,” Schaller said. “We know the sheriff’s administration and the new county manager desire to be part of the solution. Our ultimate goal? We need to be safe.”
The association membership includes 80 deputies, sergeants and investigators.