Business as usual. My visit with Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky

Hired as an Orange County Deputy Sheriff in January 1984, Jo Ann Galisky followed the advice of friends and mentors to pursue a career in law enforcement. She had been considering entering military service because she wanted a structured work environment that would also offer a variety of opportunities for advancement and personal growth. 

Almost 24 years later, Undersheriff Galisky is one of the highest ranking women in law enforcement in the country. On November 9th, she assumed command of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department when Sheriff Mike Carona took a voluntary 60 day leave of absence to deal with the federal indictments against himself and his wife.

I had the opportunity to spend about an hour with Undersheriff Galisky this past Friday.  At the start of our conversation I asked her if the media spotlight was more than she expected. “Talking to the media places me in a bit of an untenable situation. If I do not speak with reporters and answer their questions, they will suppose that I have something to hide,” she said. “When I answer their questions truthfully, I’m accused of being a shill for Sheriff Carona. But at the end of the day,” she concluded, “I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight from my point of view.”

I asked Galisky about the assertions by Board Chairman Norby and Supervisor Moorlach that she and the other members of the command staff should not be in charge of the department during the Sheriff’s absence. “This is an area where I believe we should follow the law. The law provides for elected officials to take vacations and leaves of absence at will. Unless that elected official vacates their position then they remain in office,” she said. 

In the case of the Sheriff’s department there is an existing chain of command and leadership succession plan. “It is unfortunate that individuals have chosen to politicize the indictment of Sheriff Carona and used his indictment to attack the integrity and capabilities of the hard working men and women of the department,” Galisky said.

Galisky has served as a Deputy Sheriff for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in the jails, as a patrol officer, in the professional standards division, operations division, Assistant Sheriff, and currently as Undersheriff.  I asked if any of her roles in the department were more challenging than others. “All of my positions have been great learning experiences.  They all offered unique opportunities to develop new skills,” she replied. “Since they were all unique, I do not see any as being more challenging than others. Each opportunity provided me with a different perspective on law enforcement. There are tremendous opportunities that can be taken advantage of in the department;” she said.

Galisky was promoted to Assistant Sheriff by Sheriff Carona in March of 2003. Her promotion raised some eyebrows, in part because of her gender but also because she is lesbian. She has been with her partner for 14 years. Relating a blog comment I had read that compared her advancement in the department to a “quota promotion;” I asked if she felt her gender or sexual orientation has played a role in her advancement in the department. 

“When I was promoted the Sheriff and I discussed his reasons for selecting me for promotion. It is clear to me that my gender and sexual orientation played no role in my promotion,” she said. “I believe I was promoted based upon my personal achievement as a member of the department, my commitment to the job, and my desire to do the best job possible to ensure the success of the department in serving the people of Orange County.”

In discussing her position as one of the highest ranking law enforcement officers in California and the nation I asked her; do you feel that you and your female colleagues have broken somewhat of a glass ceiling in the law enforcement profession? “Law enforcement has traditionally been a male dominated profession. But the law enforcement field demands results. In some ways that puts all deputies on a level playing field,” she said. “The public really doesn’t care who responds to their call for assistance. Gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation doesn’t really matter. They just care that we are there when needed, ready and able to protect and serve.”

As Undersheriff, Galisky is the equivalent of a Chief Operating Officer for the department.  She oversees the duties of the other Assistant Sheriff’s and reports directly to Sheriff Carona. Most operational decisions are made within a predetermined command structure. Within that structure there are decisions that require senior management buyoff. 

Whether or not decisions require the Sheriff to weigh in, other than routine decisions most are the result of collaborative discussions that form recommendations to command staff. “Most decisions are vetted through the chain of command. Command staff is rarely involved in routine decisions unless they involve serious matters,” Galisky said.

I asked Galisky if the Sheriff’s current leave of absence has had any effect on the day to day operations of the department. “Not really,” she replied. “The department is structured to operate independently of any one individual. The absence of any one of us at any particular point in time has no effect on the ability of the department to respond to the public safety needs of Orange County residents. Deputies are still being hired, transferred, promoted and disciplined in the Sheriff’s absence,” she said. “I am the Undersheriff; in the Sheriff’s absence I act with his authority. That is not new and has not changed because of his leave of absence. If there is a policy decision that I feel needs the benefit of his wealth of experience and knowledge, it would be unfair to the residents of Orange County for me not to seek his advice during his absence and I would not hesitate to do so,” Galisky added.

Galisky cited the arrest of Deputy Richard Rodriguez on Thursday as an example of how the department still operates and how major decisions are not held up because of the Sheriff’s absence. “We have cooperated with the DA since the allegations against Deputy Rodriguez came to light. We responded immediately to their request that we call Rodriguez to the headquarters for his arrest. We are committed to the administration of justice, even when it involves one of our own,” she said.

As far as the affect on her responsibilities she said; “Other than responding to the media frenzy over the indictment and my position while the Sheriff is on leave, my core duties have not changed. This is still a 24/7 job. I am always conscious that there are hundreds of department personnel on duty at any given point in time.” She continued, “As a department leader I am responsible for the performance of those dedicated employees providing vital public safety services in our community.”

Some reporters and even some elected officials have suggested that Galisky is nothing more than another political appointee of the Sheriff; merely a political hack. I asked her if she considers her position more political or more administrative in nature. “For the most part my job has been about law enforcement. In order to get good policies through you have to be aware of the politics involved. I am focused on the administration of the Sheriff’s Department,” she responded.  “That has been my role since I was appointed Assistant Sheriff. My job has always been focused primarily on department policy and administration.”

I asked Galisky if she planned to attend the Board meeting on Tuesday where the board will discuss rescinding the decision of a prior board regarding the qualifications for Assistant Sheriff’s. “I would hope that the board would allow for review and consideration the standards and qualifications applied in other departments across the state rather than reverting to a standard that is more than 20 years old,” she said. “There is no need to rush; there are currently no vacancies and therefore no need to make any immediate decisions without full evaluation of their impact.”

Galisky is a registered Republican; I asked her why? “I guess it is because my father was. I don’t pay much attention to party affiliation when I vote. I consider myself a moderate,” she said. “More liberal on social issues and conservative on fiscal and law and order issues,” she added.

I asked if she had aspired to her position as Undersheriff. Galisky responded; “I really just want to be a cop. I love the job.  I accepted the challenges and opportunities that came before me and they have led me to where I am today. I never wanted to be Undersheriff but I like the job I am doing and I respect the people I work with.”


  1. How refreshing? You actually did an interview? I have not had the LA Times or the OC Register delivered to my home for some time. Since the indictment (accusation) of Mike Carona, I turned to these newspapers for news. The only thing in their papers was propaganda from the frothing mouth of John Moorlach and Chris Norby. I will just read your articles from now on for some real news.

  2. Thanks for the excellent article. She is quite impressive, competent, articulate, the department will do well with her at the top.

  3. Now that Carona has re-assumed the reins of power, how does Galisky feel about taking directions from a person whose exoneration will signify only that his guilt was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, OJ was acquitted, but a civil court found by a preponderance of the evidence that he caused his wife’s death. Short of securing a finding of innocence, a rarity in the law, does Galisky believe that Carona is fit to lead? Does anyone?

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