It was the apology heard around the world: Contra Costa Sheriff Warren Rupf’s blunt assessment of his department’s failure to discover kidnap victim Jaycee Lee Dugard sooner, particularly after it received a 2006 911 call that accused kidnapper Phillip Garrido was a psychotic sex addict who was housing children in tents in his back yard.
In a press conference two days after Dugard’s amazing discovery after 18 years in captivity, Rupf also acknowledged that, in 2008, an even larger team of investigators, checking up on sexual predators failed to find the hidden back yard where Phillip and his wife, Nancy, had set up an encampment for Jaycee Dugard and her two daughters with Phillip Garrido.
Rupf’s apology was quoted by news organizations all over the world, including the New York Times , national magazines, and especially newspapers and TV networks in the United Kingdom.
Rupf called a news conference to make his apologies, even as the state parole agency was declaring its pride in helping to break the case. “We are beating ourselves up over this,” Rupf said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m first in line to offer organizational criticism, offer my apologies to the victims and accept responsibility.”
Today, I read in Lisa Vorderbrueggen’s Sunday political column in the Contra Costa Times that Rupf has delayed decision on whether he will seek re-election for Sheriff. His term ends next year, and he intended to make up his mind by Labor Day.
But he and his department “are deeply involved” in the Dugard kidnapping investigation. Vorderbrueggen doesn’t come out and say it. But by noting Rupf’s delay in making his decision, in the context of his department missing the chance to rescue Dugard several years ago–well, it raises the question of whether he’s worried that his career as sheriff is over.
Now, I’ve met Rupf. He’s a nice, friendly guy when you just meet him at some events. I hear different things about him. I don’t agree with everything he has done as sheriff, or with ways his department has handled certain cases. Yeah, members of his department blew it big time with the Dugard case–but then so did other law enforcement agencies.
And Rupf was the only leader of one of these law enforcement agencies with the spine to stand up and say, we blew it.
Do you know how unusual that is? For an elected official to admit a mistake? For the leader of a law enforcement agency to admit a mistake?
It doesn’t happen that often. In fact, it’s pretty rare, in my experience of covering cops or elected officials. They’re never wrong! Actually, lawyers are pretty bad about admitting mistakes, too. And doctors! Are they the worst?
No, you know who is absolutely the worst about admitting errors?
We are the absolute masters of being defensive in the face of criticism, and the art of self-justification. And I love how we hold others in authority–like Warren Rupf–to task for their screw ups or other unprofessional behavior.
Okay, so, back to Rupf. He did something rare. He did something that few of us in our professional lives have the courage to do. He apologized. He took resonsibility. He said, “I’m sorry.”
Whether he runs again or not, whether I’d vote for him or not if he did run, I at least give him tons of credit for this one act: taking responsibility for a big huge error in a big, huge super high-profile criminal case.