I’ve spent some time on the phone here recently trying to eke out as much fact as I can about a situation that a group of citizens in our county are facing. I’m again amazed that our local media can’t seem to find anyone to talk to about the problems people have with the incumbent sheriff and her administrative personnel.
What I’ve found, talking to the people involved, is that Sheriff Laurie Smith created her own version, albeit much smaller, of Chris Christie’s bridge fiasco, punishing a town for daring to endorse his opponent. Size of the obstruction or severity of the punishment meted out for political revenge should be irrelevant — what is relevant that it happens at all and we have an incumbent sheriff who engages in it.
See the problem for the people I’ve been talking to is that they are already in a situation, created by location, that reduces their easy accessibility to public safety services; they are easily isolated. They have one deputy assigned to a large region and granted, while the area is more sparsely populated, that doesn’t reduce the reality that law enforcement is needed.
A single deputy is assigned for upwards of 100 square miles east of Mount Hamilton. There is no back up for the deputy to call on, citizens and deputy have to rely on each other to ensure safety and response to more serious events.
There is no “replacement” deputy. When a deputy takes a day off, or a week off for vacation, or a month off for training, or two to take care of a family member, this community isn’t important enough in the incumbent’s eyes to assign someone to cover. It wouldn’t matter if she did anyway — she has never bothered to ensure any other deputies have been cross-trained to learn the area well enough to be affective or to deal with the different type of policing required if they were assigned.
Due to the lack of coverage, the long distances to take care of business, the community members may be lucky to see a deputy in a timely manner, or for a period of time necessary to cover all the issues and needs they want to discuss.
Because of their self-reliance, these rural citizens deal with their local issues as an organized group, from roads to events that affect their community, they work together to get things done — they have historically done their best to include their assigned deputy in their planning. Because of this, over time, they have built relationships with the deputies that have worked in their areas. They know when their deputies work, often where they are; deputies are in this area as only a single unit, and they work more closely with the citizens in this area because — for safety, for communication — it’s a different kind of policing.
This group of citizens recently decided, for a variety of reasons, to endorse Kevin Jensen for the next sheriff of Santa Clara County. This was based on several events, including an abrupt departure of a current Sheriff’s captain when he found out that Kevin Jensen was also present at an event.
After this endorsement, the community noticed a significant decrease in the amount they were seeing their assigned deputy. They would call the deputy and he would uncomfortably tell them he had been assigned closer to the office that day, but wouldn’t impart much more information than that.
Through reaching out to a variety of sources, it started to appear as if the Patrol Captain was working against the community interests, possibly based on the fact the community made an endorsement for the opponent, and directing their assigned deputy to patrol other locations.
Because this large, rural region is assigned only one deputy and only for a portion of the week, removing the assigned deputy, left a large area with a law enforcement response time well in excess of one hour at any given time and no regular coverage on which to rely on for their planning purposes.
It also caused problems in communications between the community and law enforcement. One example of this was the AmGen event held on May 13th, just a few weeks ago. This area requires spectators either hike or bike in, parking is at a premium, and let’s face it, people like to party some times when they get together in large groups. And the group is large — tens of thousands of spectators flood into the area to watch.
This community has had a problem with the AmGen event in the past and therefore does their best to work and organize with various groups from fire to yes, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. They have limited access to their homes during this time, they have an overwhelming number of people who aren’t always concerned about others, they have generally had a difficult time with the group. But they have made the effort to work with the local public safety groups to get through the day and make it as painless as possible for everyone and let the cyclists enjoy their event.
Usually, from what was explained to me, this means the Sheriff’s Office, in the past, has provided their usual staffing, extra deputies to help with crowd control, SORE (Sheriff’s Off Road Enforcement) personnel, and other resources to help keep things under control.
This year, despite conversations that the community would again have these resources when AmGen came to town, there was no one from the Sheriff’s Office there. When the community reached out to find out why, they got no answer. There was no warning or communication that there would be no support from the Sheriff’s office. To this point today, the community has received no response to their inquiries as to why this happened.
The people I talked too in the community could not 100% confirm that the reason they were having their funded, assigned deputy and other resources pulled from their community was because they endorse Kevin Jensen, however in their interactions with the Patrol Captain responsible for assignments, they have been given little reason to believe otherwise.
The problem is this deputy is specifically assigned to their rural area. It is their only law enforcement and has been deemed by the Board of Supervisors as important enough to be a funded and outlined position.
The incumbent seems to have at least a basic grasp of the issues facing her rural areas. For all the rural areas there are only 2 deputies assigned total – one to each large region – and she was just 7 days after the AmGen event, sitting in front of the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Justice Committee asking for funding for a 3rd position — a position that will apparently float between the two rural regions?
Sheriff Smith may or may not be fully aware of what her Patrol Captain is doing in response to this community’s endorsement. We have no way to know. What we do know is that either she has directed this, or is so lacking control over her administrative personnel (not enough discipline?) that they believe this is an acceptable way to run public safety under her management.
We’ve discussed retribution against the deputies for daring to speak out. We’ve shown examples. We’ve known about retribution to citizen’s… at least the fear of the possibility. But we could never get people to talk — they were too afraid of losing what public safety support they were being given.
Finally we have a group of citizens who do appear to have faced retaliatory actions for not supporting the incumbent and they are willing to say that, while they made their endorsement to support the deputies they have worked with over the years, they are reinforced in their decision by the behavior they have seen directed at them by the administration of the office.
Yet another example showing the Editorial Board of the Mercury News was right in that people say that the incumbent and her administration are difficult to work with and people don’t dare cross Laurie Smith.