The sheriff has said a lot of things over the years, perhaps it’s time to examine her election rhetoric a little more closely and see how honest she’s been. I’ll give you a warning, this is a long blog post, but we have a lot of statements to look at. I chose a few I felt pertinent to the arguments we’ve been making on this blog.
“In her kickoff announcement in the Capital Club earlier this month, she said combating domestic violence would be a top priority” MetroActive, 3/26/1998
I can’t find any programs that the sheriff’s office has been directly involved in working to prevent domestic violence through the years. Thought domestic violence is still a critical issue today, and there are many organizations out there. The number of DV murders have been increasing again and intervention measures can always improve, but our sheriff apparently has no part in that improvement.
“Smith proudly supports a bill in the state Legislature that would reclassify the county’s jail guards as peace officers, giving them the same status as regular cops. In the past, DSA leaders have opposed this kind of legislation because jail guards don’t go through the rigorous training process that peace officers do.” MetroActive, 3/26/1998
The sheriff finally managed to find a way to reclassify the corrections personnel a few years ago without having to put them through a full POST academy. She’s made such a mess of it had to stop the process part way through because there was such dissension about her process it resulted in the threat of lawsuits. Now we have two classifications of guards, with no real difference between the roles, which is creating a division between people who work together for no good reason while the sheriff holds her breath in her hissy fit, refusing to work with the CPOA to resolve this issue to everyone’s satisfaction and safety.
Pretty much most of what I can find from our sheriff’s first run consisted of fluff intended to smear her opponents as misogynists as you can see in the above linked source. A tactic she thrives with, again attempting last election to attack her detractors by claiming they don’t support her because she’s a woman who holds people accountable. She was supported by “the troops” through 4 elections. If her gender or her holding people accountable was that serious of an issue, don’t you think it would have manifested itself as a true detriment in any of the previous 4 elections before the stand against her by her own office? And for those want to call me a misogynist minimizing the issue of being a female in what is considered traditionally a “man’s” job — I am a woman, I am all for women having an equal road to follow and the fight for that equality. But it must be for equality — and that includes the equal right to be recognized when you fail. Equality is not a crutch, it is an artificial speed bump to be overcome. When you have personally overcome it and been given the opportunity to prove yourself, going back to accuse all critical assessment as being based on gender without fair consideration is intellectually dishonest and unfair to other women seeking their opportunity to prove themselves.
One source states “She plans an inclusive management style, taking input from everyone in the department, and hopes to use groups of deputies in specialized task forces to target problem areas such as domestic violence and youth crime. Palo Alto Online, 11/11/1998
The suggestion our sheriff has an inclusive management style would be enough to make most deputies choke on their coffee. She won’t even consider input from “everyone” in the department. At one point, she was so opposed to input from below the fourth floor, anyone under the rank of lieutenant required an escort while on the 4th floor. to be fair, maybe 15 years ago, she would talk to deputies for their “input”. But for the most part, it was landing on deaf ears attached to a smiling, yet disengaged face even back then. Now she doesn’t even pretend interest in the welfare or ideas of her deputies.
To be fair, she has put deputies into county-wide task forces. She’s also withdrawn many of them when she didn’t get her way. She lost her management role of RATTF and then, in a fit, she kicked them out of the office space they were using in the sheriff’s facilities. She also threatened to withdraw her staff from the task force — until she realized it wasn’t politically timely with the election coming up. Rumors abound that she lost the management of the team due to mismanagement of funds. She recently had another member of a county task force kicked out for inappropriate behavior. JTTF was left empty for years, until a month ago, even though she noted the importance of being a part of that task force in 2013. She still fails to work with a variety of county-wide task forces because if she can’t have control, and get her way 100% of the time, she wants nothing to do with the effort regardless of her political promises.
“She has helped create a number of programs, including the Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Team and the Regional Auto Theft Task Force.” Palo Alto Online, 11/11/1998
I guess, if you want to call assigning personnel to the positions offered her office to task forces created by other county entities, you can say she helped. She helped create the Human Trafficking task force as well — mostly by completely eliminating her VICE squad and refusing to address any issues of prostitution complains throughout the county. To the point where business owners in one of her contract cities started writing complaints that their concerns of more 6 months about prostitution operations were going unanswered. To the point that any deputy who was caught trying to address and investigate prostitution cases was at risk of reprimand for acting against orders.
If she really wants to take claim for a task force, she should tell us about SCOPE, the community oriented policing program she killed years ago and refuses to revitalize.
“She hopes to increase the rate of prosecution for domestic violence cases, which was 38 percent in 1997, she said. Part of the problem, as Smith sees it, is the limited time investigators have to collect evidence to make their cases.” Palo Alto Online, 11/11/1998
A domestic violence unit was started by DA in 1991. The first of it’s kind here. As far as I’m aware the sheriff has never been a direct part of it nor has she ever attempted to compliment their efforts with her office resources.
We know she doesn’t take domestic violence and the risk of death seriously enough to take advantage of immigration law that might save someone’s life. If we chose worst case scenario’s — violating someone’s theoretical right to not have to adhere to immigration laws put up against someone’s right to life, I think the former is honestly the least of the offenses here. But it’s more important to make a political stand than it is to address preventing a domestic violence (DV) murder of a mother of three. Silly me, I just don’t prioritize very well I guess.
Somehow I don’t believe the sheriff has really improved the time and evidence collection issue she mentioned either. She currently has only 1 investigator dedicated to DV at HQ, and this position was only created and filled within the last month or so (Sept. 2015). The sole investigator is responsible for all county and contract city incidents involving DV other than south county. There has been no one directly assigned to DV cases prior to that for many years. It’s my understanding from up the ladder that this dedicated position has other duties within investigations, so “dedicated” may not be an accurate description.
Once media sources endorsement stated “[W]e prefer a candidate who is known for dealing with management issues directly and fairly; who has a reputation for bringing multiple agencies together and building law enforcement coalitions to solve problems; and who has run a campaign based on the issues and needs of the county.” Palo Alto Online, 10/21/1998
The sheriff promised a lot in 1998 it seems. It’s taken many years for a stable, if “old boy-styled” agency with some ethical issues, to begin to show serious cracks of collapse under a Sheriff Laurie Smith, but it has. From winning the DSA endorsement election after election, to begging and offering empty promises to get her union endorsements in 2010, to this last election where both unions under her direction all but begged the public for a new sheriff. She can’t even bring her own personnel together, nevermind other agencies.
Sheriff Smith hasn’t even managed to adhere to her proclaimed strong points from 1998 — she hasn’t brought multiple agencies together. Most agencies want nothing to do with working with SCCSO because of her. She hasn’t built a coalition, for that matter she’s removed herself from many of them over time. Dealing with management issues fairly and directly? Talk to the DSA or CPOA about trying to have a conversation with her about any particular issue — assuming anyone can even find her in the office. Talk to any deputy about how often they see their “leader” amongst the boots on the ground without a political motivator present.
But to bring things a little closer to today:
“Responding to the influx of inmates in Santa Clara County jails, Smith said the Sheriff’s Office opened a re-entry resource center with mental-health services for released inmates in a building across from the jail.” Los Altos Online, 2014
My understanding from several sources is this is the CASU program, and it is rife with issues. Corrections deputies on the street without full law enforcement training addressing potentially high risk inmates. People who, if it came down to it, may not want to go back to jail. These are generally AB109 convicted inmates, not minor misdemeanor cases. They can include far more sophisticated criminals. Sources also indicate the sheriff is manipulating statistics by failing to hold early release inmates accountable. If they ignore offenses, they don’t get recorded, the statistics then show an increased success rate for the sheriff’s program. From all accounts, the program is little more than a feel good facade that may be endangering the public by failing to address violations thereby encouraging inmates to push the envelope of bad behavior due to lax supervision. The program runs risks parallel to the Willie Horton incident, a program with good intentions handed off to people who provide a poor administration of the program that resulted in injury to the public.
“First of all, we are entrusted with the public’s money,” Laurie Smith states. “We want to make sure that we’re fiscally responsible. We’ve never been over budget since I’ve been sheriff or deputy sheriff.” Los Altos Online, 2014
The sheriff needs to understand there is more to being “fiscally responsible” than not going over budget — it also means to ensure that the money that is used, is used effectively and efficiently to maintain a standard the public expects. You can save all the money in the world, but if people are suffering, and now even dying, unnecessarily because of the cuts you made to come in under budget every year, you’re not being fiscally responsible. If you’re endangering those in your custody, your employ, and those who hold you in public trust, simply to save a dollar, you are not being fiscally responsible.
“According to Smith, her office has saved more than $10 million annually in the jails budget by eliminating overhead and duplicate services.” Los Altos Online, 2014
Many of the items the sheriff has cut are not “duplicate services”. Having multiple correctional officers on a floor is not “duplicate services”, it’s a safety issue. Having enough supervision for the jails is not “duplicate services”, it’s a safety issue. Having enough investigators is not… you getting the point sheriff? Duplicate services were, in theory, in the administration. However, we still have a Chief of Corrections, John Hirokawa. It’s my understanding the sheriff is in the process of appointing a 3rd Assistant Sheriff, to be assigned to the jails — a person who would replace the position previously held by Kevin Jensen Assistant Chief of Corrections, a duplicate administrative position. Now, she has eliminated the expense of JAD, and PCAU, and we’ve seen the results of that — broken communication between staff and administration, no effective policy review standards, no auditing process to examine incidents and determine if a change needs to be made to prevent it from occurring again. Those are what were cut, and again, those were not “duplication”, like sufficient staffing, they were safety measures that protect everyone.
The sheriff comfortably states, “Leadership isn’t measured by making speeches and being liked, but by the measurements of what you’ve done,” Los Altos Online, 2014
And that’s what we’re examining here — what has she done? The measuring stick I’m holding says not a lot in the way of positive. Not even on issues where she shows a lucid understanding of there being a problem.
When asked about most significant challenges coming up in her job, she responded in part, “In particular, training law enforcement with skills necessary to address those with mental-health issues is increasing in importance.” Los Altos Online, 2014
Clearly there has not been an attempt to provide nearly enough training to the deputies in the jails in this respect. After all, they’re trying to wrap the entire Blue Ribbon Commission around this subject and ignore other crucial issues. Enforcement has only a small handful of trained deputies and this number has not been expanded since either of the two deputy involved shootings involving mentally disturbed individuals, nor since the election in accordance with the above statement. That’s an awfully long time to recognize a problem and do nothing about it.
We heard the sheriff’s catch phrase repeatedly during the election, on her videos and from her supporters: “Most importantly…the Sheriff’s Office will remain focused on keeping kids out of gangs, off drugs, and in school” Smith Campaign Interview Video, 2014
The SO, 18 months later still only has one youth program, in a contract city, Teen Academy. I’ll be honest sheriff, I’m not sure how one “remains focused” on efforts they’ve never engaged in. Maybe we can ask the sheriff’s friend, Darcy Green, who supported this claim of what the sheriff has done as far as community policing programs to keep kids out of gangs, off drugs, and in school. Surely as the President of the County Board of Education, she can provide something other than repeated rhetoric by a campaign about “cleaning house”. She should have direct knowledge of the sheriff’s role in these types of efforts within the schools — why did she never speak to them even though she did a campaign video on other issues outside her professional experience about deputy discipline? Interesting, she was noted as a member of the NWPC, implied member of the SBLC, but not a member of the County Board of Education? You would think this is exactly the person you want talking about your efforts outlined by your catch phrase. Or, given realities, maybe not.
This source also lists the sheriff’s “background”: Santa Clara County sheriff watch commander, 1976-1990; Santa Clara County deputy sheriff matron, 1973-1976 Los Altos Online, 2014
Only 3 years as a deputy? Matron to watch commander?? Deputy to lieutenant watch commander?? What happened to sergeant? What happened to Captain — oh, that’s right, she never was a captain. She never really was ever a lieutenant either. She was a Working Out of Class lieutenant for some period of time which we’re unclear of. She was promoted beyond her experience, repeatedly, much like most of her current administrators, and we’re finally seeing the results of a padded resume. Why won’t the sheriff give us a clear concise history of her “experience” she has continually talked about? IF she has all this experience to fall back on, where does it come from?
Simply being present doesn’t cut it. When did she actually work patrol? When was she actually an investigator, a lead investigator, and not just the bait for drug and prostitution stings? When did she actually manage a division, directing and overseeing investigations, patrol operations, special operations, etc. first hand, not from the fourth floor? When has she ensured her subordinates, as a sergeant, a lieutenant, or a captain, had met all minimum training standards, and created a plan to exceed those minimums and create training specialized for that division or team? She never has. At least not in any substantial manner. Therefore she has no idea how to sustain these operations at a higher level, never mind lower levels. The operations she does have some experience in, Vice, she eliminated. And jails. She brings 40 year old experience to the table from an organization that was suffering many of the same failures then that she has created over the past 5 years.
The sheriff spent a lot of time telling us how she holds people “accountable”. Now it’s time she hold herself accountable. Save the population from more of your bad leadership, step down and let us have a new sheriff, one that we can hopefully count on to pay more than lip service to the voters and her deputies to curry favor with the elected and the elite.
It all comes down to this, an unwitting statement printed by her Mercury News supporters that paints the sheriff’s philosophy for her position perfectly: “While she has her flaws as a manager, she has a quick sense of the public pulse. If that means she gives DA Jeff Rosen a case that still requires some baking, so be it. She can say she did her job.”
That’s the sum of 17 years as sheriff for Laurie Smith — do enough to hand it off and be able to convince the public she did her part, the failures are on the part of someone else, even if they stem from the gaps she created in the process. She’s done that time and again — Audrie Pott where she lost evidence when Captain Binder held a “mourning period” and then further delayed the investigation with an SRO and citations leaving the sheriff begging for lost evidence months later. The DeAnza rape case where it’s widely understood that Captain Angus (who quietly retired, uninvestigated, unreprimanded, and has now been asked back as a contractor to assist in the investigations into the jails) refused to send out investigators and CSI in a timely manner to avoid overtime costs, losing crucial evidence. The Sierra LaMar case where the fourth floor very publicly minimized the case via a PIO statement indicating they had no “evidence associating a crime” with her absence therefore they considered her only a missing person 8 days after her disappearance. They used that position as the deciding factor to not increase resources on the case during that crucial time frame. The office was later accused by members of the Klaas Foundation and Mark Klaas of hobbling the search for Sierra. The list goes on. All cases other people have paid the price for — emotionally, politically — while the sheriff has walked away unscathed with the claim “we did a great job.” She did just enough to do her part.
Maybe we should take the time to do an update this blog or maybe her revisit her report card. The sheriff’s resume is littered with broken promises and unfinished projects she doesn’t want to talk about.