Fulfilling the Santa Clara Co. Sheriff’s Policy of Failure

We don’t know what happened the other night on the 6th floor of the Santa Clara County Main Jail that resulted in an inmate’s death. I wasn’t there. I can only speculate on what was ultimately behind the events that night. It doesn’t look promising looking at what has managed to make it to the media — and what I know that hasn’t yet. I hope these reports I’m getting internally are inaccurate, but if they are not, I hope this office has the fortitude to do what is right, down to the last person.  And yes, that includes, perhaps most importantly for the time being, the sheriff taking responsibility and showing leadership during this crisis.  If ever we needed a strong leader, it is right now.  Does anyone know if she’s even in town?

I hope the sheriff has the sense, whatever happened, to give us and the public the fair and transparent investigation that will not condemn us all as trying to hide things, which is what is starting to be said. We have a relatively good relationship with our community, we’ve worked hard for it, despite the sheriff’s commonly internally-known lack of concern about how our jobs are done. While I have no problem with her own actions, or lack thereof, taking her down, the last thing any one of us wants, regardless of how we serve this department, is to become a target for media, or worse, someone with bad intentions, because she has no idea what to do and our “leader” hides behind us as everyone starts taking aim.

I’m not going to speculate on the how, what or why of what happened resulting in the death of an inmate, but what I will do is address some of the situations that exist in the environment that put our safety at risk and leave our integrity open for questioning. There are some very disconcerting things about our jails, that should bother all of us.

When enforcement sergeants were there, there were 16 sergeants. They easily could have used an additional 2 to 3 sergeants to ensure full coverage and the ability to do their jobs. 2 to 3 sergeants short is a tolerable, if not irritating situation. But several things have happened since the sheriff managed to boot the Department of Correction. When enforcement was removed, rather than a body for body change, when 16 sergeants left, only 12 sergeants took over their roles. This makes a tolerable shortage into a significant shortage of 6 to 7 people in these roles now.  Failing to provide training, clear and concise policies and the necessary number of personnel — it’s like she wanted them to fail.  Or she is so short-sighted she doesn’t see the stresses these actions create.  Or maybe she just doesn’t care. Given her history of commentary on staffing minimums, I’m unfortunately betting the latter, not that either of the former give anyone a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Then add her cost saving “no OT” rules that have fluctuated in their severity — if you’re down a couple of sergeants, you are likely not allowed to call some one in for coverage. This policy not only applies to sergeants but the rest of the staff as well. In a job that relies on having enough eyes to see everything going on in order to stay on top of an incarcerated criminal element, this is a problem for everyone — imagine a bout of flu going around and how that can quickly decimate any workforce. What does that result in here?  It’s my understanding there was 1 sergeant available for all 8 floors of the Main Jail, North on the shift the inmate died. Considering the many items sergeants can be responsible for doing and overseeing, this is outrageous.

Another part of this that has been jaw dropping to me is that the incident resulting in the death of an inmate occurred in the PC unit, protective custody. There are different types of protective custody, but the one thing that you should keep in mind here is that this is generally where people pose some type of a high risk — whether they are at-risk mental health/special needs inmates or someone at risk because they are witness to another criminal act or because the type of crime they committed. All jails have units like this, nothing unusual. But what is unusual is that apparently there may be no video cameras on this unit according to sources. There are few video cameras at all for that matter, beyond those in Intake, throughout the jails. No matter what happens, who is at fault in an incident, if a deputy is attacked, an inmate killed by another inmate — there is a relatively small possibility of it being picked up on a video camera in the Santa Clara County jails.

A stunning revelation when you look at what recently happened in the Sandra Bland case where family accusations of murder were easily refuted by releasing 3 hours worth of video prior to her being found dead to show there was no foul play on the part of any staff. Could the sheriff provide the same level of protection for her personnel in the face of false accusations? Could she take the word of one murderer over another if two gang members decided to try to kill each other?  We really wouldn’t have a choice now would we, because she can’t even find a way to afford cameras — half a million dollars for cell tracker technology, sure, cameras?  That’s a lot to ask.

With no cameras, is there a policy requiring that someone video cell entries? Video of an entire event tends to protect people from inaccurate accusations should something go wrong or someone make a claim that might be less than true. Again, at the risk of being repetitive — Sandra Bland. I have been told by some, yes there has been such a policy, but I’m told by others that the policy is not necessarily practiced any longer. It wasn’t practiced on the shift that resulted in the death of an inmate according to inside sources. Why? Why would any jails administrator ask their personnel to work within a jail in this day and age without some kind of comprehensive video coverage policy considering the anti-police atmosphere and the very basic protection that video provides showing that sometimes when you do everything right, everything can still go wrong? Does this policy of videoing exist or not — I got different answers from everyone — this is the kind of thing that causes problems.  Cameras are such a simple and inexpensive solution to so many potential situations and problems you would think the sheriff would be all over it — I mean it would probably not cost as much as 10 years salary for the new Asst. Sheriff position she wants (we still can’t figure out what the other two do that’s so overwhelming they need a 3rd). Of course, speaking in general terms, it’s not her well-being, career, or security on the line every time someone else walks into a cell — as some of us have been told loud and clear, the people love her, they hate us, she’ll be just fine, she’s going to win the next election, just you wait and see.

Sources are also indicating that the inmate that died was a “special needs” person with possible mental health issues. I know a number of people get bent every time I say training is needed (for the record if you don’t understand the value and role of training, regardless of your assignment, you shouldn’t be in either job.) — but I’ll do it again, anyway — what training do the personnel dealing with mental health cases have to ensure they know what they’re doing? Is it enough?  Is it perishable?  Is it updated?  Does it ensure they have an understanding of how to better work with people with special needs? To understand when their own stress and frustration levels are unhealthy, and to make sure they have and use a safe and acceptable outlet to acknowledge and cope with such stress after dealing with high stress people for a period of time? This is no different from sending an officer out on high stress call after high stress call — eg, Houston pool party — where is policy to create checks and balances to protect staff and inmates?

As of this morning, the sheriff is still refusing to release information about the inmate, I read in one media source they were told the sheriff is still waiting for the autopsy today, yet another internal source told me they had the meeting with the ME’s office yesterday to discuss the results. Clarity seems to be lacking here, and let’s be honest, we all know allowing the media to start filling in the gaps will do none of us any favors, especially the 3 people who are currently facing potential repercussions.

Bottom line, however the investigation into the inmate’s death turns out, there are a lot of needs, from equipment to training to staffing, that need to be addressed in the jails to get them to where they should be, regardless of who is in what role.  Just like deputies on the street are facing similar needs in many areas.   Sadly a familiar story in all areas of the sheriff’s office, and one that continues to be ignored. How much longer can we do that without further detriment to ourselves, if not the public, inmates or others?

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One thought on “Fulfilling the Santa Clara Co. Sheriff’s Policy of Failure

  1. While nobody really likes controversy and scrutiny, I think that shining a light on developments such as this can only make for a better department. Without a doubt, there are many dedicated and sincere deputies and correctional officers doing their job. We don’t usually hear a lot about those officers, however, if conditions continue as they are, we will be faced with more of the same. A department lacking fundamental training, leadership and direction is like a rudderless boat. I comment not on the line officers but top management positions many of whom never had a basic foundation in enforcement positions as deputies or supervisory positions as they promoted.

    Do I blame them? Absolutely not. It used to be that personnel were promoted based numerous factors, such as merit, experience, divisional assignments, time on department, etc. It does everyone a dis-service when promotions are based on other factors. Sure, there are “oral boards” (which I believe are not completely balanced) for promotions. Written tests that are abolished and promotions that are seemingly based on a “good ol boy/girl” system.

    What I have witnessed over the years is a declining department that used to lead instead of the department that seems more concerned about politics, p.r., payback and in some cases, retaliation.

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