NBC Never Mentioned Why Santa Clara Sheriff Should be Removed

NBC, in their usual fashion, glossed over a lot of information. In this post I want to address the “why” of “critics are taking issue with the inclusion of Sheriff Smith – who oversees the jail – on the commission.” NBC decided to just lay that out there in their broadcast as if we just didn’t like the sheriff.

I would like to tell you a few reasons why we want her off the blue ribbon commission. It’s not because we don’t like her. You don’t have to like your boss, most people don’t like their boss. We’ve all worked for people we don’t like, we’re professionals. The problem is not personal — it’s that we don’t respect the job that she does. It’s not a disagreement over philosophies or ideologies, we believe she continues to endanger the public with her actions. We feel two deaths in the jails in a month, both involving multiple administrative failures that could have been significant roadblocks to these events, show exactly how she has failed us, the public, and the Tyree and Roches families.

But you expect me to be more detailed about why it’s not in anyone’s best interest to have her on this commission.

Let’s start with the obvious. This is supposed to be an in-depth investigation into why the jails went from okay, but could use improvement to rolled over in a ditch in just about 5 years. What changed? Her oversight, her “plan.” The county all but washed their hands of the responsibility when the sheriff promised them millions more in savings and they jumped, though they promised to keep a close eye on things since an audit indicated most cuts were not feasible. They turned the jails over to her, she gave them the savings, they all failed to keep their promises. Now they’re going to spend all of the sheriff’s savings and more on commissions, law suits, spin doctors and settlements. That two of the architects of this situation — David Cortese and Laurie Smith — or Cindy Chavez, who has her own barrel of ethical conundrums, should be allowed anywhere near this commission is an offense to everyone. And we can’t forget, another one of the architects, a former sheriff’s ally, George Shirakawa had his hands in this too. To be fair, we don’t know yet who will be appointed from the supervisors, but we do know who’s always seeking all the attention and credit — we’ll see.

The sheriff’s actions and oversight of the jail are part of the investigation here. While her input into what she’s done, her need to answer questions, the necessity for her to be “held responsible” is important, it has nothing to do with actually being appointed to the commission. And if we all agree this may well find that she needs to be held responsible — why would you have someone who has a good possibility of being defined as a significant part of the failures sitting on the commission to determine her level responsibility? It’s such a conflicted logic that I’m left in awe that anyone would argue there is reason in her appointment.

There is an obvious rift, distrust, and inability to communicate between the sheriff and her deputies. Her presence as an authority through her appointment will have… oh I get to use the supervisor’s favorite phrase here… a chilling effect on the willingness of deputies to speak up should they want to or be so requested. They are afraid of her and her administrators seeking retribution — particularly because if she can discredit anyone who speaks against them as she conducts her more private “parallel investigation” it benefits her in the more public venue of the commission. It will be difficult enough to select “employee representatives” without her making a mental record of their every word. To put her in the room, as an official and an appointee, to be a member of a committee determining the truth of each piece of information is downright detrimental to getting necessary information.

There is a reason for the trust and communication problems and it should be part of the investigation of the commission — communication and trust between front line and leadership is essential to the success of law enforcement and there is none. You don’t have to like your boss, but you have to trust they’re making every effort to do the best thing — deputies don’t trust that she is. The sheriff has continually brushed off morale and trust as a non-issue or a personal issue on the part of deputies. She has paid public lip service to it during the election but taken no action to reverse the problem. If she isn’t trusted to take issues in her office seriously as part of her job, why are we to trust she will do so now? Her lack of respect for issues brought to her have demoralized the office, it’s caused distrust among everyone in the office, many fearing that if they do the “wrong” thing, which often means just doing their job correctly, they’ll get in trouble. If they question how things are being done and promote ideas for improving things, they will be made an outcast and called a “troublemaker” (and I’m using one of the kinder words we’ve heard them call some people who “make waves.”). People who catch the sheriff’s eye for the wrong reason but have done nothing wrong will often be denied training, they will be denied equipment, they will be banned from certain choice assignments, they will be involuntarily transferred at random at best. At worst they will face the threat of reprimand — anything from a note in your file to a full on IA. Whatever they feel they can get away with and will make you shut up.

When it comes right down to it, this commission has no real power to hold the sheriff responsible. She is an elected official. At best they have the power to call it a failed administration of the jails and make recommendations. At best the sheriff endures a dent in her public image. Putting her on the commission, along with her best political friends, all with the ability to manipulate the process to mitigate any damage that may impact her reputation, or theirs, when there is such a minimal real-world impact if there is serious offense is ethically wrong.

Then we have to remember, the sheriff is part of the notoriously well known old guard in the jails. Her own profiles state she was “watch commander” for the jails for some period in the mid to late 80’s — a time known for “elevator rides” and other events shocking enough that they are still talked about today by both insiders and outsiders. After her supervisory role in the jails, the sheriff was promoted to the position of Assistant Sheriff. Fast forward to today, in just 5 years of putting the jails back in Sheriff Smith’s hands we have seen a return to that level of disregard that allows those types of problems to flourish once again. The jails were removed from the sheriff’s office, if you remember, after complicated events that began with the Board of Supervisors demanding the sheriff of the time to make drastic cuts, things degraded to the point of some inmates attempting to take over a jail in escape attempt. The situation ultimately ended with a fight between political elements resulting in the jails being removed from the sheriff’s direct control.

This time we have the same political bodies, the same cuts, and ultimately the same problems — and one of the very same players at the head of the line who told today’s supervisors she knew how to make these cuts. We can’t address old problems with people who were a part of those old problems. The sheriff after more than 40 years has proven that she brings nothing new to the table here — give her place on the commission to an independent individual with professional experience and proven knowledge of the solutions available since the sheriff’s failed ideas based on the events of a generation ago.

Given all this, I ask you again to please make the effort to sign and share the petition demanding her removal from the commission for reasons of ethics and moral responsibility to the voters.