The Creation of a Blue Ribbon Committee

(Note:  You’re probably going to want to make sure you have a lot of time, or read this in parts. Sorry for the length, but there was a lot to say. If you wish to view the video yourself, you can find it here, there is a “video” link. You’ll have to use an older version of IE or Chrome or Firefox as the county’s program is a bit archaic and hasn’t kept up with browser upgrades for some time.)

I’m going to start with asking you all to remember, the issues that we face go all the way up to the top — it does not begin and end with 3 deputies. It was helped by willful negligence on the part of the sheriff, and lack of questioning planning and implementation efforts by the Board of Supervisors.

While it’s easy for us to focus the blame on three deputies, who may or may not be guilty, we can’t allow that. The BoS and Sheriff have had repeated opportunities to make a difference here. From the meeting, it appears the sheriff has had more opportunity than we knew to understand the problems and begin to address them. From anecdotal evidence that I received, it appears there are members of the BoS that *still* don’t understand how disengaged from the office and the deputies the sheriff has become.

I think the unfortunate truth is that the effort by the supervisors and the sheriff for a “quick fix” to the loss of ICE money has resulted in an unmitigated disaster. It’s time to recognize that quick fixes and thin veneers do not cost less and can actually present a danger to people. The sheriff has proven she can’t be trusted to compose an effective and comprehensive plan, and that the supervisors need to stop pretending, in all areas, that she will suddenly start doing so.

Now we’ve had our meeting to start the process. I honestly expected at least a little shock and horror at how this was allowed to happen. I was shocked and horrified for certain, but by repeated praise of the ‘leader’ who oversaw this collapse. It took all of about 4 minutes for President Dave Cortese to praise the sheriff. Praise that was carried out throughout the meeting by a number of people. The only reason the sheriff is leading this effort and being “cooperative” and “collaborative” now is because she is desperate to hide the reality — that is the last thing the sheriff is when it comes to day to day efforts. It’s notable the immediate steps she took in contacting certain entities indicates her first thought was to find a way to keep the DoJ at a distance and herself out from under their spotlight.

Anyway, let’s review a bit of what happened at this meeting; take a deep breath, get ready to sit for bit, it was a long meeting so this will be a long post. Here we go, down the rabbit hole:

Let’s start with the clear statement by Dave Cortese that this effort was brought to the Board by Chavez, Cortese and Sheriff Smith. Three people who were also deeply involved in the process to cut money with not even a moments concern if there was a comprehensive plan to implement, not when they handed it all to the sheriff, not when they okayed her pulling enforcement with literally no transfer plan, nor any time in between — not until they became liable for someone’s death. Praising yourselves for bringing the effort to fix what you all so seriously broke is just in bad taste.

I don’t know about you, but I would have hoped our elected officials would be far more responsive. They were too busy thinking that everyone talking just “hated” the sheriff to look at the ground crumbling under their feet. The deputies are professional. They want a professional environment. They don’t have to like their leader, but they do have to trust their leader is capable. I wish that came message through before this happened. I wish the supervisors had shown a modicum of interest before someone ended up dead.

I was surprised no supervisors had any questions for the sheriff and the end result of her efforts. I hope they’re simply saving it for a more appropriate time. Today we need to look forward to beginning to create solutions; tomorrow we will need to look back to learn what the problems were and understand how they happened, so that useful solutions can be crafted.

It’s interesting that there was so little discussion about supervisory models or the breakdown of the training system within the jails — both which are critical in identifying red flags and early intervention. If those alone had been allowed to continue to function, this may have prevented a death. Cameras of course were a primary issue — after the fact when we found out we couldn’t really know what happened. Any discussion of training focused mostly around body cameras. There was little to no conversation about immediately resolving critically low staffing and supervisory needs. Both simple, initial needs that could make an immediate value-added impact — but cost money. I expected at least some minimum action to try to ensure we can limp along without leaving all the circumstances in place that allowed an inmate to be attacked. Particularly after the sheriff reported that inmate witnesses were being harassed. It seemed like a common sense action.

Let’s be honest here though about the thought process we’ve been dealing with. We have a sheriff who just won her 5th term in office, has spent 10 years as an Assistant Sheriff, and 16 years as a deputy. Some portion of her career (stories seem to vary) in the jails. Forty-two years of experience and we’re overwhelmed right down to the minutiae she has neglected. She has failed at every level at this point, her “co-leading” the effort to reform what she has proven she either doesn’t care about or know how to do should verge on criminal in and of itself. Seriously. It took all of 4 minutes for the BoS, who should be outraged that this happened under her watch, to start complimenting the leadership of this fatal disaster. Common sense solutions have yet to really play a role in what should be a Greek tragedy about the sheriff, but instead has become a very unfunny comedy of errors.

Much of the meeting played out as if the engineers down in the engine room were responsible for the Titanic going so fast that it hit the iceberg, all the while ignoring the negligence of the captain that led to the accident.

Several speakers chose to “applaud” the sheriff for her quick action in the arrests. I found myself wondering why none of these people were curious where the sheriff’s quick response was when everyone was bringing her these issues? Expediency only serves when it serves the sheriff.

Andrew Bigelow, one speaker, seemed to indicate the problems have appeared to be specifically worse in the past 6 mos to a year. Another speaker later also indicated this (I apologize for missing the name). This coincides with the poorly planned transfer of enforcement out of the jails. Newly promoted sergeants had to learn to supervise, report, investigate and more almost completely on their own. If they didn’t know if something was supposed to be done or happen, it wasn’t done or it didn’t happen.

I had what was a somewhat astounding epiphany for me over the course of the meeting; she’s been ignoring everyone, not just us. People mention meetings with Chief Hirokawa. Internally we know, that if Chief Hirokawa was left to his own devices, there is a good possibility he would have better addressed issues brought to him. Not just singularly to get people off the Sheriff’s back, but probably attempted to address the issues themselves. People outside the Sheriff’s Office don’t know, deputies are derisive of how the sheriff has treated Hirokawa; the saying goes she appointed him over laundry and sandwiches. He has no power to make decisions or take action. He is only the face the public sees, deals with, she is the person who decides what changes and when.

Several Speakers talked about meeting with Hirokawa, how he did work to address their specific situations. Because that is all he was allowed to do — shut people up so the sheriff didn’t have to deal with it. Yet praise for the sheriff continued.

I had fresh in my mind, video in which she recites a quote implying she was a “great leader” and her “results” prove that was creating such cognitive dissonance against all the praise, that it’s almost physically painful. It reminds me of right after the election, as we all coped with the realization things were only going to get worse, it was alleged one of her then sergeants, now lieutenants, who had heavily supported her during the election, literally brought a crown to the sheriff in her office after the election. This then-sergeant told her she would “always be the queen.” It’s terrifying how embedded that belief appears to be in her mind as well as far to many of those in her command staff and possibly others in farther reaches.

This woman deserves no credit for doing the right thing now.

Neither does the county. Listening to more speakers — the county was approached about the medical staffing and psychiatric needs. A representative of UAPD stated she approached the county in May requesting to open the MOU regarding concerns in psychiatry staffing — that the workload could no longer be sustained without recruitment and retention issues. They got no response, they and the concerns were ignored.

Overwhelmingly the point is made that many people have tried to address these issues well before this incident and they’ve been ignored time and again. I don’t think these people realize, they were ignored because no one knew what they could do, or were told not to do anything — or worse, when they reached up to the fourth floor for guidance, were flat out ignored. A commonplace occurrence.

One speaker addressed the deputies concern about the sheriff’s new “policy” of assumption of guilt in investigating complaints. While I agree with the speaker that there are two sides (probably more) to every story, and that cameras (body worn or an installed system) no investigation should be started by the assumption that anyone’s statement is more true than anyone elses. Ever. It stands against everything our system demands. If we don’t conduct investigations into outside incidents like that, why would we ever consider doing so internally and expect it to work? If people want law enforcement to stand up when they receive orders to do something that is wrong, then please listen to them when the do stand up. Listen to the deputies. Yes, most of it is anecdotal, but could this much negative anecdote possibly exist if there wasn’t something seriously wrong somewhere in this?

My assumption here is that we’re trying to set a standard through these efforts, and one of those standards is to create an environment that doesn’t work based bias against any certain group. Yet the sheriff seems to have stated, in my opinion, that her objective is simply to create a new bias, one she thinks the public will be more in favor of since it’s biased against law enforcement.

Since the BoS essentially combined the conversation about the jails with the conversation about body cameras, Roger Winslow, Vice President of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association spoke to that issue. He addressed that while the DSA has supported body cameras, they have their issues. Points were made that they can restrict successful out of the box thinking to resolve a situation because the potential misunderstanding of public perception; and a multitude of privacy issues involving everyone. I know there are quite a few members of the DSA that have supported cameras, but the DSA has rightfully been unwilling to have them become part of the standard day to day issue without the sheriff sitting down and creating policy.

This is where we again we meet the root cause of so many of today’s problems. The sheriff has refused for a very long time now to sit down and have this discussion. At some point during the public outcry about Ferguson, she decided to polish her badge a bit and put body cameras on a handful of deputies involved with efforts at Levi’s Stadium. No policy, no standards, no clear understanding of right and wrong use provided to the deputies involved from my understanding. This is the typical knee-jerk, half planned implementation that the sheriff and the supervisors have been party too.

Some of the other issues that should concern tax payers are potentially outrageous costs of storage and responding to broad FOIA requests that are the equivalent of fishing expeditions. Who bears the costs? Hayward, CA has had a lawsuit filed against them for this very issue as we go through this. If it’s the county alone, they’re going to go broke on the SV De/Bug requests alone. People currently have a right to this information, all of it, once it’s part of the system. How do they intend to accommodate costs?

How do they intend to accommodate the privacy of citizens and deputies on body cameras? There is another case right now, involving a shooting. The family does not dispute the findings that the officers were justified. The media wants the video. The family does not want the video released, there are small children involved and they don’t feel the public is entitled if there is no party arguing against the findings. Where does the sheriff find herself if there is a situation like this and she has literally no policy to fall back on?

The Florida state legislature is currently wrestling with the privacy issues of releasing this type footage and are in the midst off a direct clash of privacy rights vs. the public’s right to transparency. 16 Minnesota cities are currently petitioning their state to make most video footage private, a move that will surely create a cry that they’re hiding something. Who is the sheriff to so easily dismiss such concerns when entire states are wrestling with them?

Then you have a whole issue in the jails of increasing the unwillingness of people to come forward. Inmates may carry a lot at risk if they put themselves forward as a witness. Who will knowingly approach a deputy knowing will be recorded and that recording potentially available for public? How will that impact people coming forward? If we’re at all serious about creating a safer environment to witnesses to come forward, this has to be a consideration. There are other special considerations in the jails as well, they should all be examined before slapping body cameras on people indiscriminately.

The board has had the camera issue in their laps now since December 2014, It’s almost October 2015, nearly 10 months have passed. Prior to that the situation probably goes back another year, maybe two in the sheriff’s office. To date, as far as I’ve been made aware, the sheriff has not sat down once with the DSA to address policy and privacy concerns. She apparently even issued a report on body cameras to the county without even considering their input. Let me repeat, the sheriff has not sat down with the DSA to discuss an ongoing issue for at least 2 years, maybe more. Now we’re expanding the issue from the DSA to the CPOA with little to nothing in regards to communication in resolving very valid concerns. Yet Supervisor Simitian tells us that the sheriff has been supportive of cameras in conversations with him, even being the instigator of the conversation. At what point do we see this “leader” is playing both ends against each other?

This is not, by any means, intended as an argument against cameras. Cameras have vindicated many officers around the country — have protected them from false allegations of shooting people in the back to accusations of racism and inappropriate actions based on racism. Cameras can benefit police as much as they can benefit the public when done right. Cameras are beginning to show the job officers in this country face on a day to day basis. From people telling them they would let an officer bleed out on a surgery table, to officers being killed. Maybe people need to see more of that to understand police are facing a very real potential of violence against them every, single day and that needs to be accommodated in real policies and changes. There are people who don’t like what they see when they look at police, but those people often don’t see past a duty belt to understand what the job entails these days either.

The reality is if you’re going to use cameras, in the jail or on the streets, the sheriff and the board need to stop with the half baked planning practices and consider all the aspects that will impact the office, the deputies and the citizens. We don’t need to be sitting here a year or two later going “why didn’t we see this coming?” yet again. It’s really getting old and it is time to learn from our mistakes rather than continue repeating them.

I’m happy that Simitian injected the importance of developing effective policy into the conversation. I’m remain disappointed that he and others as yet continues to refuse to call the sheriff out on her unwillingness to work within her office to begin with. I am disappointed that it’s not been noted how they continue to have to delve further and further into making her office work. Simitian, according to his statements, appears to literally be overseeing the training component of the effort to get enforcement cameras. While his effort is appreciated, why is it that the sheriff is unable to oversee this within her office? It’s a function of her office, not the Board of Supervisors. Is this an indicator that Simitian understands what is going on despite the apparent disbelief of the rest of the board?

It’s a discouraging pattern that has been uncovered if we care to look at just some of the efforts to fill the gaps the sheriff creates:

  • A Human trafficking task force developed by the county when it became public the sheriff dismantled her vice department years prior and ordered all investigations into prostitution to be stopped;
  • The DAs office developing a cold case unit when it was discovered the Sheriff doesn’t have the capacity to follow up evidence for undisclosed reasons;
  • A blue ribbon committee is now being created when she proves to be a complete failure in managing the jails in just a short 5 years;
  • Now we find out a member of the Board of Supervisors is reaching all the way down to the level of Captain to ensure training policies are developed.

What does the sheriff do these days?

It’s interesting that the first thing Supervisor Cindy Chavez points out is that the sheriff, the chief, Cortese and herself have taken ideas from the community. That’s good, that’s important. But what about ideas from the people who actually work in the jails? The people who see the day to day issues? The people who know what the job is and what it’s supposed to be? They’ve been offering ideas for at least a couple years now. Why haven’t you listened to them.

Are deputies being excluded because they’re perceived as all bad people, being part of the big, evil law enforcement family trying to become an occupying military force? Because there is a belief that they don’t want to do the job right? Or don’t know how the job should be done? They don’t see the need for improvements? Because I know for a flat out fact, that’s not true. Many people are distressed this happened. Many are seriously worried that because of lack of policy, structure, cameras and other elements that if they’re in a situation where they have to use force, they’re next on the dinner menu. While they should never be the only source of ideas, they certainly shouldn’t be excluded. Why have you openly chosen to ignore them for so long, Ms. Chavez?

Oh, I know, you added at the end how we need to remember how so many of the deputies are good, ethical, hard working people, etc., etc.  Problem is your actions have shown you don’t believe that.

If this is to be a partnership, perhaps we should treat everyone like partners. Perhaps we should stop ignoring things we don’t like and just discount them as automatically untrue (no better than automatically assuming they’re true, for the record). That’s been part of the problem with the sheriff — she has refused to form any kind of partnership with the CPOA and DSA. She has repeatedly dismissed ideas and concerns from those not from her select individuals. So have you Ms. Chavez. Perhaps if any one of you hadn’t so casually dismissed what the deputies were trying to say during the election, we would have found ourselves in a different place today. If nothing in this mess good has happened, at least the deputies have been vindicated in that this argument is not about simple dislike. There are real cracks and now we’re seeing one of them open up and swallow us whole. Do we continue until another gives way because we’re too dedicated to appearances and friendships and see how much worse it gets?

In regards to concerns about addressing the mentally ill, why doesn’t the county look at what Seattle has been doing the past 6 months? I remain virtually unchanged in my position on this issue for years now. The mentally ill do not belong in jails. Unless they’ve committed a crime significantly more than petty theft, and maybe not even then, they do not belong in jails.

Law enforcement should be trained in mitigating mental health issues they encounter on the streets only long enough to get that person into a supportive facility. Stop trying to turn law enforcement into psychiatric specialists. They have enough to do. It’s shocking in a city where the Board is so vocal about doing everything for every one, they haven’t even touched on this effort.

I did come away from this feeling good about something. From Simitian’s statements, I think he understands the concerns of deputies — are we going to get slammed with another poorly thought out, quick fix that ends up in even worse problems as we have continued to see from this board and the sheriff? Or are we going to do this right this time? Can we break this down into a series of priorities to address the more immediate needs quickly and not get the stuck in a lengthy process? Are we going to allow real solutions to get bogged down in minutiae? If we get all this done, are we still going to see our leaders take the necessary time to make sure implementation is effective and that means of ongoing sustainability is part of the package? Or are we going to put it all together, pay attention only as long as the public does, and then to allow it to fall apart from lack of ongoing maintenance? I mean we know you have at least 5 years even in a state of total negligence.  You may have all moved on to the state level or leading entire cities by then, so who cares?

I hope, from what I saw in the video, that Simitian is a major player in this process. He seems to be the one person who thinks beyond the façade, more than just how we do get the public off our back now and protect our personal interests. He seems to think things out, find solutions, rather than create what I’ve come to call “Happy Bills” that Chavez and Cortese so love. Always making promises to do glorious things, but when the rubber hits the road, little to nothing changes. But with a “Happy Bill” the voters think there’s a solution, so they move on, until they realize down the road, things are actually worse. And public memory is short, they won’t think to ask ‘hey, what about the Happy Bill? What happened there? No one will question a bunch of empty words that successfully made people happy for a little while.

Cortese and Chavez shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near this commission once it begins it’s work. They’ve proven to be shallow pools in far to many efforts. The sheriff shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near this commission even as it’s being formed. There is almost no one in the sheriff’s office that will trust any committee she is on, or her shills are appointed too being the least of the problem.  Allowing her anywhere near a commission that would allow her to be party to investigating her own mistakes would just be incredibly poor form.

The “appreciation” these two expressed for the sheriff’s leadership in this matter is downright offensive. If the sheriff had any leadership qualities, the jail would not be in this dire state.  The level of willful disregard on the sheriff’s part should be considered criminal, accessory to murder due to gross negligence that allowed the circumstances resulting in Michael Tyree’s death. the Board of Supervisors need to recognize, at least in their actions if not their words, that the sheriff is a liability who has ultimately cost someone their life due to her refusal to address issues that should have been easily identifiable to someone with 42 years of law enforcement experience.

As a last point, in the event someone decided to try to argue it — we can argue that she was “working to get a new jail” because conditions were so poor in the old facilities.  But that doesn’t explain staffing cuts, lack of supervisory capacity, lack of training, lack of a system that closely tracked and closed complaints and investigation, lack of a program that identified new personnel having problems and mitigated that with retraining or even potentially termination.  None of those problems have to do with the facilities.  All of them could have gone toward preventing the death of Michael Tyree.

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One thought on “The Creation of a Blue Ribbon Committee

  1. Great POST. First try to get Kevin Jensen on board and make him the LEADER of the Committee. That will give someone with the first hand knowledge of where the bodies are buried. He can create the environment where the rank and file will feel safe enough to tell the truth. He also understands the role of training. I could go on here.

    Second: Body cameras are band aid of choice these days. There is funding for them so the cost is mitigated. True training and meaningful policy falls to the Department and Country to pay for. You brought up some good points on “HIDDEN COSTS” with the stored data. THAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED PRIOR TO MASS USE. Well thought out methodology to include checks and balances as to what can or will be released needs to be addressed. Additional research into privacy acts and public information needs to be completed. The County may have to craft and pass an act to direct this as it will affect all LE depts from the DA, and SO to Probation and Parole. We could rise to a Nation Model or be another lost ship when the issues mount and the tower falls. We can assign blame or lead the way.

    I can’t help but remember when we received our first restraint chair. A couple of us were sent to a very basic training class. A kind of how things work from the manufacturer. No real world, or policy training. No required supporting paperwork. We had discussed during the “Training Class” how we (AT THE LINE STAFF LEVEL) would put someone into the chair. We practiced on each other with the Manufacturers sample, and developed a method that seemed to get a person into the chair with the least amount of force.

    Cut to first real world use. We has an inmate who was refusing to go to court. This was one of the four most disruptive and aggressive inmates we had at the time. We literally unpacked the chair and used it. The inmate was placed into the chair without significant incident. We engaged the wheels and off we went to Court for his 9 am court date. At the door in the court tunnel that separates the Jail from Courts we were ordered to hand over the chair and inmate to the Court Deputies. I asked if they were trained and wondered out loud if we should just be allowed to go along since this was the first time the chair was in use. The supervisors (who were not provided any training on the chair) agreed there was no need because the inmate was restrained and could not move. We followed the direction of our supervisors and returned to our posts until we were to be summoned to return the inmate to his cell.

    At the end of the day as Court Deputies were clearing out their holding cells, we were gathered to return the inmate to the jails. We met the Court Deputies at the tunnel door. The Court Sergeant had a big smile on his face and said the chair worked like a charm. I looked to the inmate. He appeared worn out and very lethargic. I noticed his unopened and uneaten box lunch on his lap. The Sergeant caught my eye movement and said, “you see we even gave him his lunch.” We just quietly went about the business of moving him back to the jails.

    Once inside the Main Jail South elevator that so many beating had occurred in our dark past, I asked the inmate if he was OK. He struggled to look at me and said, “this chair ain’t no fucking joke. It kicked my ass.” We got to his cell and began to remove him from the chair. A hand held camera was recording the events. Normal restraints were applied as the chair restraints were removed. With everyone in position, we directed him to get up. He said he could not. Wary that he was trying to suck us in and find a way to engage us as he had many times i the past we began to apply control holds that would not allow his to attack us while also directing his body to stand. We quickly felt a distinct difference in the rigidity of his muscles. They were soft. I looked down and he was crying. He said again in a soft voice, “I ain’t kidding, I cannot get up.” We realized he was not lying. We lifted him from the chair and placed him on his bunk. We removed the restraints while still in the cell. Something that was never done with an inmate of his sophistication. He laid there in the position we put him in. He could not move. We gave him some water and placed his meal within reach. Medical was summoned to check him. Medical provided treatment and said he should be OK.

    The next day I went up to see him. He was still having a hard time moving on his bunk. He thanked me for checking on him. He did recover and give fits to other staff, but he complied with everyone who was there that day. He respected us for listening to him and not kicking him while he was down.

    What did we learn. All new items have hidden issues that will crop up. We know a lot more today. Today an inmate must be allowed every 15 min to move each limb. He was fully restrained for almost 8 hours. Reports and logs most be kept and check by medical. Point here is putting new toys into action without well thought out methodology can be a recipe for disaster. Even if you work out what you can, there are things that will pop up you do not know or ever had a reason to think of. The point is you grow, evolve and try to get better at your duty. That is how line staff does it. Command staff (Notice I did not say Leaders) pint and blame and play for the public opinion.

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