Best Practices in Law Enforcement Administration: El Dorado County Sheriff Leading the Way for Mental Health
Part of the “Best Practices in Administration” being highlighted on LENN
Placerville, CA – El Dorado County is nestled at the base of the mountains on the eastern edge of the Sacramento sprawl. This is where Sheriff John D’Agostini both resides and oversees the deputies that work for him. It is a beautiful place in what has been considered to be an area that does not approve of their law enforcement officers if you are to believe the mainstream media.
However, what I found was breathtaking and staggering from both the aspect of the law enforcement officer and now, a member of the public. A new way of treating mental health within the department crushing the stigma associated with mental health issues that many face in law enforcement.
Sheriff D’Agostini grew up as a contractor in El Dorado County, bringing a private sector influence into the department upon his arrival. He put himself through the academy, graduating as a reserve for Amador county. His ultimate desire, working narcotics. But, like most, he had to endure a litany of jobs before finally getting to his true calling.
Sheriff D’Agostini even spent time as the Chief Deputy coroner before finally becoming a Narcotics detective. As with many departments, promotion required time back on the street, which D’Agostini did before he was finally able to realize his goal, eventually running the agency’s narcotics unit for several years.
In 2003 D’Agostini transferred to the county DA’s office as an investigator. Then, in 2007, he reluctantly transferred to the newly formed ACCNET, Amador County Combined Narcotics Enforcement Team. What began as a 6-month stint became his primary job until 2011 when he won the election and was sworn in as the Sheriff of El Dorado County.
During our interview, the Sheriff gave praise to his wife, Janine, who was the first to raise the issue of a lack of employee assistance programs (EAP’s.) He advised that there were peer programs, chaplain programs, and EAP’s for the employees, but that they saw the families of sworn personnel were struggling. “There was absolutely nothing for them and no one for them to reach out to.” Janine told D’Agostino that he needed to also provide support for the family members of staff. “From an administrative standpoint, a happy employee is a good employee. There is a tradeoff, treat them better for better production,” he stated.
With the Sheriff’s blessing, Janine and some of her associates, Barbara Thompson and Jon Roe began building their program from the ground up that they named the “Thrive with 10-35” program. The 10-35 portion referring to local codes for an officer needing back-up. Far from an LE wives club, it was focused purely on providing support for families within the department and those that serve. “This is all her, not me. She took it and ran with it. I just facilitated it through the department.”
Last year they began a program through Thrive and the Sheriff’s Posse, which is an internal fundraising group, where $10,000 was raised. They then vetted outside counselors as therapy providers. As an officer, all one needs to do is call a number, use their code, and they are scheduled for an appropriate visit within 24 hours. Thrive and the Posse pays for up to a certain number of visits. No names are ever exchanged, and the billing only shows a person was there, with no identifiers showing who it was that sought out help.
After losing Deputy Brian Ishmael last year and the outbreak of COVID, the Sheriff advised that the program is working well. “People are using it. They’re not nervous about reaching out for help and being placed in a fitness for duty situation. It made our families much healthier and made them able to better serve the community.”
I asked the Sheriff, “What does it help you accomplish in your mission?” “It’s the right thing to do. The vision statement states, providing the highest level of service to the community, going that extra mile, at the highest standard, keeping those walls broken down between us and them. Serving the deputies serves the community. The community has paid it back by supporting us. It is cooperative in nature and we help everyone, even our own.” he stated.
I have been to hundreds of departments in my many travels. Each has its own unique way to handle mental health care, yet I have never seen one handle it so efficiently and so discretely. For that, Sheriff D’Agostino deserves great praise as a role model for other departments. The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department model is one that in my opinion should be used as a benchmark for those agencies that have yet to see that mental health treatment is a necessity, not a burden for them to handle. It’s the price of doing business and business is good in Placerville thanks to Sheriff D’Agostini and his commitment to the mental health of his staff and their families.