We recently saw the active shooter incident of former L.A. Police officer Christopher Dorner play out in a very public manner. The one thing about the case I want you to note is that at no time were officers called off or told to stand down — that the shooter had left the area. The hunt continued and it traveled, but at all times, police were actively strategizing, moving and working to stop Dorner as a proven threat to the public.
Now I take you back to 2011, when Sheriff Laurie Smith — a leader with virtually zero experience in active shooter incidents over her career, no experience on a special operations SERT team, a complete lack of understanding of incident command — took full charge of all decisions in the incident where Shareef Allman killed co-workers and went on the run, heavily armed, in our community. Our elected sheriff decided that she would ignore the advise of those with more experience and training and understanding of these types of incidents in favor of one of her favorite election-time mantras — I’ve kept the budget low.
The deputies involved, as always, provided outstanding service to the best of their ability and to the best that was allowed by an administration again determined to hobble them, this time in a critical incident where lives were literally already lost and more at stake.
The part I want to focus on is Laurie’s decision making and lack of leadership during a time when it was most needed. There were ultimately two tactical teams deployed on the border of Sunnyvale and Cupertino. These two teams included SERT and Sunnyvale SWAT team. The tactics used were staggering simultaneously searches yard to yard in search of Shareef.
Shareef was last seen running northbound across Homestead Road and disappeared in the adjacent neighborhood to the north. An extensive perimeter was established and the area was locked down. US Marshall’s assisted in conducting surveillance on known family and friends in the area in case Shareef attempted to get picked up.
An important fact is the murders occurred during the early morning and the tactical teams were called out during the day. In the early evening the incumbent announced to her teams, all evidence shows he has left the area and she cleared all tactical teams and stripped the command post to one sgt and two non patrol trained courts deputies. She also had another non patrol trained deputy in his personal vehicle blocking the road up to the quarry so no one entered the crime scene. It was mind blowing she had three non patrol trained deputies running security for a critical, deadly event that was continuing into the night. But the worst part of it, there were no experienced or expert
personnel that agreed Allman had left the area — many were concerned they had an armed murderer hiding in the neighborhood and no one had any idea what he intended next.
Even as the Sheriff told the public the search was continuing through the night, a number of the members of the Santa Clara SERT team and members of Sunnyvale SWAT were very upset the search was actually being called off. Some of the members said they would sleep at the command post if needed and they were ordered home by the Sheriff. Members of the tactical teams not only felt they should not be sent home, but that there should be an active, continuing search going on at that time for Allman.
If all evidence shows he had left the area, as Sheriff Smith was trying to claim to her personnel, why would she keep regular deputies on roving patrols in the area and keep a command post present at all, even at bare minimum? The answer is the sheriff didn’t want to pay for overtime for two tactical teams to work into the night so she chose put everyone who lived in that neighborhood at risk of being murdered or being a potential hostage. She left a spree killer armed, in the neighborhood, over night with bare bones staffing to maintain a public appearance of continued activity and the only reason people didn’t die was because Shareef Allman decided he did not want to kill more people.
Allman was spotted by someone who’s dog started barking and drew attention to him. The citizen attracted the attention of patrol vehicle in the neighborhood and the incident ended shortly thereafter, with the only further fatality being Allman, himself.
Through sheer luck Shareef did not take hostages, nor did he kill anyone else before he was caught. The incumbent sheriff got lucky, one more time, that a few good people were there to deal with a violent threat to the community — not through her efforts, but by virtue of whatever power you believe in overcoming horrible incident command policies and leadership all around.
We need new leadership at the Sheriff’s office. Like Kevin Jensen, who understands that while budget is an important part of the sheriff’s job, it should not always be the first and/or only consideration in law enforcement. We need leadership that accepts and processes the experience and expertise of others when they do not themselves have that particular skill set. Law enforcement is a team effort, with a broad range of knowledge spread over many people. To push aside those whom you feel make you look bad because they are more knowledgable on a specific subject — to do so in a manner that endangers the public unnecessarily — is beyond bad leadership. Some of us wouldn’t even qualify such actions as falling under the term, leadership.
Vote for a Sheriff that will protect our communities, vote for Kevin Jensen on June 3rd for Santa Clara County Sheriff.