Sheriff Laurie Smith’s Personal Rescue Team

blue ribbonWe brought up the fact that the Sheriff cut the vice team, was refusing to respond to prostitution complaints, had left one of her contract cities until the point business owners were writing letters demanding a response. We pointed out the various problems — to include human trafficking — and how other cities in the Bay Area were working to deal with this problem and the sheriff wasn’t even providing the minimum. She had at one point given a direct order to not pursue prostitution cases, even punishing those who did. I started addressing this in 2013 and mentioned several more times through March and early April 2014.

Suddenly on April 29, 2014, Chavez, Cortese, Wasserman and crew recommend a “Human Trafficking” task force. A committee apparently taken so seriously by the sheriff that, amidst a swirl of rumors, one of her command staff was recently kicked off the task force for “inappropriate behavior.” We’ve been unable to find out specifically what that behavior was, but it certainly seems as if the person involved has suffered no ill effects, like an IA investigation. He is one of the sheriff’s favorites, it’s all but a certainty he will be landing very softly from this “fall”.

Our entire government continues to be reactive to real problems all why pretending to be proactive because no one is really watching closely. That’s just one example of how the Board of Supervisors runs to cover up for the sheriff and shows how grateful the sheriff really is, mocking the task force by hand selecting people from her personal crop of hand-fed individuals with notoriously poor reputations and work ethic.

Tomorrow,  it becomes official, Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese are running once again to bail the sheriff out, this time with a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to address the myriad of failures in the jails. In theory, they’re stating that CPOA will have representatives on this team. I’m immediately left wondering who the sheriff is going to shoulder tap for that sweet gig? You know she’s not putting some one in there with ideas. People with ideas get shoved into dark corners, not heard out regarding solutions to problems. The first problem in overcoming the sheriff’s negligence is taking away any ability for her or her command staff to select who goes on this commission. Without starting there, no deputy in the department will ever trust that the commission is anything more than a farce and another tool the sheriff will use to attack them.

Don’t turn this into a public witch hunt to make the sheriff look good. You’re already on the verge of becoming San Jose with an open wound and the inability to get the best qualified candidates. You’re already suffering the latter, save yourself from facing the former.

I’m glad you’re not directly saying the sheriff is on the commission. She shouldn’t be allowed near it. It’s good that you’re starting with Undersheriff Hirokawa — but it needs to be recognized he is a man she has refused to give any power to in order to make a decision in these jails. Add a couple of bobble headed Yes Men/Women off the Board of Supervisors and her influence remains, unless you address and neutralize these obvious relationships. We watched when the Undersheriff submitted a report to the Board and when he was asked to be more specific, he couldn’t. His only response was “the report speaks for itself.” We also watched as Cortese, Chavez and Wasserman all nearly choked on their tongues questioning the sheriff about the cell tower equipment. Supervisor Simitian seemed to be the only one who wasn’t intimidated — let’s put him on this commission. While he supports the sheriff, he doesn’t appear to support abusing the public in order to support the sheriff.

This commission would be best to focus on outside visions to avoid allowing the same problems to exist — intentionally or accidentally. It should include representation from CA Department of Corrections. Perhaps reaching out to include administrators of other CA jails that have successfully recovered their facilities. To trust this will be done right, we need to eliminate the incestuous political relationships that are becoming a running joke in this process if it will be at all meaningful.

I also hope that this group isn’t littered with people seeking political favors and spotlights. Mental health experts, people who specialize in ensuring jails and prisons meet certain standards, those who help to create internal checks and balances, corrections policies, etc. are all critical to this. While civil and inmate rights activists are important in enlightening the public to problems (though I would love to know where they hell they’ve been prior to someone dying), as participants, their level of knowledge about the justice system needs to extend beyond “because we don’t like it.” People on this panel will be reviewing policy and procedure, they should have an established understanding of what standards are and why, if they are selected for this commission. Perhaps activist positions should remain limited to reviewing draft plans towards finalization. Once we have a minimum standard that meets requirements, bring in civil rights members and apply their ideas were possible and reasonable.

Bringing in retired judges is also good, but please, lets stay away from the Dolores Cordell’s of the bench. Judges generally have a limited knowledge of the day to day practices in jails that need to be addressed here. This commission shouldn’t be about activism, it should be about rock solid policy that doesn’t demean the value of anyone who steps foot in the jails, be they inmate or deputy. I saw nothing that added value to the SJPD by Dolores Cordell. All I was a community and police force further divided, and no actual solutions that were effective in resolving the problems in a manner that didn’t end up harming the community by other measures. This needs to be about making the jails better, not a soap box and not a spotlight for drama.

Part of the shame of all this, in reading the outline, nothing of value to those in the jails happens for at least 6 months. Right now we know we need an immediate policy to ensure sufficient supervision, and to make sure a senior deputy is always assigned to a floor to mentor those with fewer years and experience. We need an immediate review of staffing needs, especially in light of the fact that funding for the camera system may not be immediate if pursued through grants. Instead we’re going to spend time stroking egos to see who we even want on this commission if I’m understanding the process correctly as it was laid out. I hope not.

We need to ensure while the sheriff is placing band aids, like 40 hours critical incident training at the academy, that she’s not cutting other necessary training that no one noticed while cheering her addition of CIT. That is how she generally works, I don’t see any reason for her to change her patterns unless someone is ensuring she does. Creating future problems no one may know about for a couple years to resolve problems she is facing today would be par for the course — let’s not continue that pattern.

Another part of this process needs to examine the administration of these jails and address how these decisions — reduced programming, 35% cut in staffing, failure to train sergeants in investigations and reporting despite that being the primary responsibilities of the positions, and more — were allowed to do so much damage without notice by the sheriff. This commission needs to recognize that if they don’t fix the leadership and command negligence, they are only providing temporary solutions and pushing the next incident down the road when the collapse happens again.

The commission should take the time to review all prior complaints, this should give the a better understanding of some weak points — like there is no tracking of prior complaints and they’re going to have a heck of a time reviewing what doesn’t exist.

The commission needs to include on the agenda an examination of this officer/deputy fiasco created by the sheriff that has cause so many moral issues within the jails — creating bitter divides and employees who are implied to be inferior because they wear a shield rather than a star. They need to ask why the process of backgrounds to convert officers was a) necessary and b) has not been completed after this long. Officers than have been refused to be allowed to go through the process are left with an implied black mark on their record — and that should be intolerable. Causing divisions in your staff, breaking moral, particularly in a jail setting, is never a smart idea, but it seems the sheriff has made a special effort to do so. Moral is a difficult enough issue in this environment without working to make it worse. Poor moral leads to a downward slide in everything.

Policy and procedure is lacking. The first thing that needs to be recognized — deputies are not responsible for creating either. Command staff is responsible for ensuring what policies and procedures are in place, ensuring line management has the knowledge and tools to direct the efforts, and enough staff to make sure they can be implemented without damaging shortcuts. This system is broken from the top down. That means this commission should examine the problems throughout, not just take the opportunity to kick at those on the bottom rungs with the least control of facility wide practices, to make a few politicians and poor leaders look good.

The public deserves answers. Those answers should be provided.  Reports on what the failures are and the cause of their existence and exactly what is being done to fix the failures should be released in a public report.  Those responsible should take public responsibility and undergo ongoing corrective oversight to ensure they don’t backslide into the practices that allowed this to degrade to this point.

When the policies and procedures are in place, this commission needs to be disbanded and another means to continue outside oversight created. We need to select the means and people very carefully. They should include internal personnel, but it should also include outside experts. I am not one for “citizen panels” because citizens to often don’t understand the problem. To include a citizen or two is wise, but to create an entire panel risks losing certain necessary structures, or fighting for them and risking a divide between community and agency that isn’t necessary. At no point should we make the mistake of handing the oversight of our jails to activism.

We all have to admit, every single person who puts on this uniform every day has the ability to make the decision between right and wrong. We need to make those decisions to the best of our abilities at all times. We also have the unfortunate fact that, corrections or enforcement, right and wrong can often be less than clear with only a split second to make that decision. If you are not trained, mentored through your early career, and aren’t provided clear practices and documented policies to fall back on, decision making in many instances can become incredibly difficult. When the sheriff fails to provide the structure to work in, she sets every one of us up for failure.

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2 thoughts on “Sheriff Laurie Smith’s Personal Rescue Team

  1. If Sheriff Laurie Smith is allowed to pick or have any say in who will sit on the “Blue Ribbon Commission” to investigate the jail problems you might as well hand over the jail keys to the inmates…..talking about the hen guarding the hen house. The problem is people outside the agency thinks “she’s is on top of things taking care of business” but folks within that origination knows it’s a classic “Laurie Smith side show” again.

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    • And that is the very thing that we need to find a way to begin to express. That her “concern” and desire for quick action is only born of the interest of protecting her skin.

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