Investigation v. Prevention

The Mercury News is as usual putting in their personal, under-educated 2 cents and putting up a bid for Cordell and the sheriff, adding to the voices demanding the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) publicly respect, hear and investigate the complaints of every individual who deems themselves an injured party for ever having to deal with the sheriff’s department.

Cordell and the sheriff are voicing the same short-sighted noises.

I am not saying incidents shouldn’t be investigated. I’m a firm believer that even the most successful and by the book incident should be examined, if for no reason other than to determine if there is a better way to do things. Never stop learning, never stop improving. Absolutely we need to investigate incidents and deal with them to the best of our ability. But the BRC is not the forum for what they’re demanding and it would damage the efforts and success of the goal — prevention.

That is what the sheriff, Cordell and the Murk are asking us to do. They’re saying we don’t need to learn the cause of these incidents, we just need to investigate and punish. We don’t need to find ways to better ourselves and stop the next death, as long as someone is there to punish the people involved.

But what if there are ways to flat-out prevent these incidents? Save lives? What if we were to replace anything that has been eliminated in 5 years by the sheriff? She’s eliminated a lot, folks.

  • 1) She has roughly 25% fewer sergeants — none of which are currently trained to do investigations and report like the position did until February of this year.
  • She has 35% less staff than she did prior to her take over — and they were already short staffed then. Part of the problem of “proving” this is lack of records. Try to research how long and how often inmates were left in lock down due to short staffing and you won’t find any computerized information, because they still use a bound notebook and all entries are hand written. Imagine going through tens of thousands of pages trying to correlate short staffing to lock downs. It’s nearly impossible. She counts on issues like that to protect her from the truth coming out.
  • She never recreated the policy compliance unit after the handover in 2010 that used to review policy to keep it updated and review incidents to ensure events were to policy, and change said policy if need be in light of events. In 5 years there has been no standardized process to incite review to improve policy.
  • She still has JTO’s (jail training officers) but it’s my understanding that there are too few, and they are laden with other responsibilities since the change of hands that prevents them from providing training their charges up to an acceptable standard. The staffing numbers simply do not allow for the training program to function as it was designed.
  • She has failed to follow through on several known cases where people were either released with cause for criminal actions and not charged, or allowed to quietly retire as we’ve discussed in other blogs.
  • She has allowed training officers and others in senior positions to go unaddressed despite having committed violence to and/or in front of new cadets and deputies. This gives a clear message to new personnel that physical is an acceptable option when they see it used and the offender doesn’t face discipline — not even when lawsuits result.
  • She has 2 detectives on duty for the entire jails system, and if one has a day off, there is only one for the entire jails system. Investigations are prioritized to the point where lesser cases will never even get looked at because lack of manpower demands more serious cases get the attention.

Let’s look at the number of structural failures in the death of Michael Tyree that may have prevented his death:

  1. No senior officer or sergeant, or any senior deputy with high risk/mental health experience present on the floor.
  2. Most senior person on a high risk floor was a 3 year deputy with a use of force complaint under investigation according to available information.
  3. No system that immediately tags a deputy with use of force incident that assigns them with a senior officer or JTO for direct oversight while the investigation is ongoing if the deputy is allowed to stay on the job during the investigation as at least one deputy was. No evidence of a training review or other refresher actions taken during this time for or by the deputy.
  4. No cameras, a “common sense” move according to the sheriff who failed to take action on it for 5 years despite a number of people attempting to bring it to her attention.

Any one of those actions alone may have changed this situation, maybe saved a life, or vindicated the deputies in their actions despite the death.

The Mercury attempts to make it appear as if the sheriff immediately started investigating some things as soon as she took over. If that is the case, what exactly has she done as far as disciplinary measures, improvements in policy, structural improvements to the system? Has she even attempted in 5 years to ensure correlation between her’s and DOC policy? Review DOC policy to ensure it meets her “high standards”? Provide us any thing. Anything at all. Any one fired for abusing inmates charged? Drugs on site, charged? Did she ever investigate how the inmates were getting cell phones and other contraband into Elmwood and stop it? What has she done in these implied investigations? I’m imagining the same answer we got when we asked who had nationally recognized her office in the past few years — dead silence.

But the Murk, Cordell and the sheriff are arguing against addressing those issues now, despite claims the sheriff was investigating some of them prior. No, they’re not openly saying don’t examine those issues. But their argument to make this a public forum for redress is exactly that. While they’re bogged down detailing complaints, new incidents happen, new complaints come in, there is no time to investigate and correct the situations that would prevent the new incidents.

They would rather bury the BRC in a series of investigations when the intent of this committee was to seek reforms for preventative measures, not investigative redress.

Why would these three argue for investigation over prevention? Easy. Personal interest.

Investigations provide media fodder that sells papers. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed the continued shrinking of the Mercury content, but I can promise you they have. What a great way to help that problem, a forum that just spews out problem after problem involving “bad cops” for them to cover – they don’t even have to be legit complaints since it will all be public, they get their mitts on the complaint on day one. Just like they bashed the SJPD into oblivion and can’t feed on that corpse for awhile, they will do so with this forum if allowed to turn it away from it’s initial project.
Cordell is just looking for her next paycheck and a good ego stroking. Reality is she left San Jose and their police department in no better condition that she found it. I actually do recommend some form of civilian oversight. I recommend that we look to cities that have done it successfully and have done so by combining the efforts of community and police rather than a crowned individual with a lot of political drivers like Cordell was. If we are to have an oversight committee, it should be separate from the BRC, and the fact that Cordell can’t see the importance behind addressing the bigger picture demands she not be a part of it. There is a lot to consider when turning to civilian oversight, much of it very different than the goals of the BRC. I hope the Board of Supervisors will take it more seriously than those speaking out like Cordell, the Merk and the sheriff, all with a personal vested interest when and if they take such action.  I truly hope they don’t just slap it on as a part of the BRC to satisfy people making a lot of noise, but providing us too little substance.

But the last person we should be listening to in regards to running any commission is Sheriff Laurie Smith. Her vested interest is part and parcel with the outcomes of all of this. Focusing on individual deputies will take the focus off that list of failures above that could have saved Michael Tyree’s life. The individual deputies will take the heat, and no one will be looking at the broken system they have to work within. A system that may allow corrupt individuals to do bad things, that may create situations where there is no evidence and good deputies end up looking corrupt, or deputies who simply act with poor training and bad policy direction as the death of Mr. Roches has brought light too.

The sheriff would be insulated, continued to be called the hero for her obscenely reactive response where a proactive leader would have prevented the problem to begin with. The core problems wouldn’t be addressed, resulting in more incidents, and yes, possibly more deaths. But that’s okay, the BRC would be there to investigate them.

I don’t know about the sheriff and Cordell, but I want to see a system that prevents these things, and when things do happen, they are rare and addressed immediately and accordingly. Not one that allows problems but vindicates the broken system by going after deputies who may or may not be guilty, destroying their careers in a public venue all to protect a sheriff, give someone a big paycheck, and allow a paper to stay in business when they probably should just close their doors anyway and let a better journalistic source fill their void.

We can avoid the failures of Cordell by being smart about an oversight committee if the county chooses to form one. Unfortunately, the voters of San Jose outweighed the voters of the county and the only way we can see the sheriff removed at this point is if she steps down on her own. As long as people give her any false argument to stay or defend herself, we’re stuck with her.