The video of a Hillsborough County jail deputy dumping a quadriplegic from his wheelchair was so shocking that only a strong and immediate response could begin to rebuild public confidence in the Sheriff's Office. But that is happening thanks to the outside commission brought in to look for ways to prevent such a deplorable act from occurring again. The panel and Sheriff David Gee's office are both working hard, fast and in good faith to explore how to train deputies to better deal with disabled inmates and the pressures of working in a jail environment. The real test will be the sheriff's response to any recommendations. But so far the effort is on course.
Gee called for an independent review earlier this year after at least four inmates alleged that guards beat or mishandled them as they were booked into jail. Yet the commission is taking a broader look at jail operations — everything from conduct and discipline to the training and oversight of employees.
Stepping back gives the panel a firmer perspective on the culture and practices that could lead a guard to the breaking point. Beyond discussing the use of force and training, the panel has explored how deputies are screened and hired and such psychological aspects to the job as stress, long hours and burnout. The Sheriff's Office has acknowledged some weaknesses in training. The commission has also homed in on the importance of deputies having interpersonal skills and of holding midlevel supervisors accountable. The panel expects to issue an interim report by May 9 and any final recommendations in the fall.
Beyond tackling the relevant issues, the commission is going about its work the right way. Its members seem engaged. The jail commander, Col. David M. Parrish, has been open and supportive. The panel has reached out for public comment. The Sheriff's Office posts meeting transcripts on its Web site, www.hcso.tampa.fl.us. The allegations of inmate abuse are serious, but this looks like an effort to learn from mistakes and make the jail environment safer for all involved.