Sheriff Laurie Smith’s Ongoing Manipulation of Implicit Bias

The general public consensus seems to want to believe that custody personnel don’t lodge complaints because of fear of retaliation from fellow workers. The sheriff definitely wants you to believe that because it helps her cover up the reality of the culture of the administration. The sheriff herself has made several statements that personnel were “afraid of their co-workers” and she has “worked hard” to overcome this alleged problem. I know people who have filed complaints, and the only retaliation they have ever feared was from her or her other administrators.

Perusing all the information over the past month or so I’ve been unavailable, there are a lot of issues to address, but this one struck me as the sheriff blatantly pandering to public prejudice to protect her own inaction on these issues. Her comments directly lead the general public to believe the deputies and officers have developed a wide spread culture of internal fear and pressure to either do, or ignore wrongs. Simply not true and the sheriff’s own numbers prove that.

KRON4, in discussing what has been decidedly the worst shift for eliciting complaints about use of force, provided information that 38% of the use of force complaints made by custody staff came from this same shift. http://kron4.com/2015/12/02/video-santa-clara-county-sheriffs-officials-announce-staffing-changes-at-jails-in-response-to-use-of-force-data/

This leaves me wondering, if nearly half of all complaints, internal and inmate/inmate family complaints came from this very shift, why was this not noticed? It would seem to me, even with the pathetic means of tracking any kind of information anywhere in the sheriff’s office (computer systems cost money, we trust you to log everything honestly!) that no lieutenant or captain noticed this trend. No one in IA noticed this trend — nearly half of all jail complaints focused on the same shift.

Talk about asleep at the wheel. When your internal staff is lodging complaints of inappropriate use of force, what is happening? I get the “we can’t always trust the inmates.” We know that, we know that it’s a hard situation. But if the sheriff is saying there is a level of fear in reporting a co-worker so significant that it’s a problem she’s been fighting for a long time, that alone should have made so many internal reports even more notable to her and her administration.

It seems to me, from the presentation to one of the BRC meetings that I read in the minutes, DOC Captain Sepulvida and Lieutenant Valenzuela-Parker, Commander (?!) of Internal Affairs, should bear some responsibility for missing what should have been something of an obvious issue in at least this one area.  He responds, as “Commander” of Professional Compliance to the sheriff.  No wonder it’s so easy for her to manipulate the division with a direct line to her own office and no potential interference from some one who may have ethical concerns. I would also venture that someone qualifying for recent promotion all the way up to Assistant Sheriff of Corrections might also have some inkling of a problem when nearly half of all complaints come off the same floor, same shift.

It was mentioned in the presentation that some investigations resulted in PIPs and increased training. Without providing names or specific situations, the sheriff should be able to provide outlines of actions taken on each of these internally generated complaints — how many resulted in training, or an improvement plan whether the complaint was substantiated or not? Even unsubstantiated situations could result in showing a need to improve a person’s training. I don’t believe much action was taken at all. An example of this would be the deputy who improperly used the FN 303 that may have resulted in the death of Mr. Walter Roches. The deputy did nothing intentionally or willfully wrong due to lack of training, but immediate remedial training should have resulted from such an incident for all involved, to include the lieutenant who gave the okay to use said less lethal force under inappropriate conditions — something done SIX TIMES according to the sheriff. Remedial training being under the assumption there was any formal, and recommended ongoing training policy to begin with; something the sheriff still won’t answer. No training was implemented. For that matter, rather than review the policies, training and tools to ensure proper training and appropriate use policies, the sheriff took her usual knee jerk reaction after about 2 months of pressure; she took all tools in question away from the deputies. The public loves it, the “demilitarization” of police. She, as a professional law enforcement leader, should also realize her decision has left her deputies without less lethal recourse in a variety of events, including should there ever be a riot or an event where prisoners attempt to take some level of control — something she knows can and has happened. Her determination to eliminate rather than improve or change options has left deputies with a choice of standing there and watching or endangering themselves and therefore potentially others unnecessarily.

I’ve seen internal complaints and how they’re handled in enforcement for years. I’ve said before, it’s a standing joke. Use of force complaints, sexual harassment complaints, illegal access of files and use of information, so many complaints I’ve been made aware of and nothing was ever done, in some cases not even the pretense of an investigation. Let me rephrase, nothing was ever done that would consist of an appropriate disciplinary action. I can’t imagine they’re handled any better when they come from corrections from what I’ve been told.

So when the sheriff says there is a thin blue line that deputies and officers in corrections or enforcement fear crossing, it’s simply not true; at least not in the context she is trying to promote. If anything at all is stopping them it’s the lack of action they’ve seen on issues in the past or even the risk of backlash from administrators. Worse, they know they’re risking bringing the attention of the sheriff to an unethical tool she will very likely attempt to use to her own benefit and they don’t want the tool to end up as their direct superior as so many have. If there is any fear, it’s from the behaviors of the administration.

An example of this, when a certain captain was busted in a Bay Area city for picking up prostitutes in his county ride (possibly on duty but that was never confirmed) the news didn’t stay under cover long. I had sources in this particular city inform me and others that the captain was given the “VIP treatment” which meant no record exists any longer of the incident. The news went through the office pretty much like wildfire — I know it shocks the sheriff to find people in her office dare talk to other LEOs in other agencies, but they do. Everyone knew the captain was not reprimanded for his actions, that the sheriff figured it would never get out. As the information became more widespread and people became more offended by what he had done and gotten away with, this captain sent out an office wide email telling everyone that if they had an issue with him, they needed to come to his office to take it up, personally, with him. He didn’t even see a slap on the wrist for all implied threats that come with an email like that from a captain in that type of situation either. It implies explicit acceptance of his behavior by those on the fourth floor. I’m quite certain that’s another “deleted” email, like the one from another captain the sheriff claimed didn’t exist that insulted subordinates seeking promotion for his inability to mentor them properly. Sheriff said that one didn’t exist either.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, all appropriate action should be taken against those that do things they know violate policy, or worse, the law. But for the sheriff to continually throw those under the bus who have not only done no wrong, but have tried to do the right thing even the face of her administrators’ willful indifference to these issues is wrong. The only reason she can get away making statements that the deputies are afraid of each other is because that is what the public wants to believe, regardless of veracity. It’s what people in power too often allow, due to their own implicit bias, themselves to believe and take action on, even when it may not necessarily be true in a specific context. One thing my teachers taught me in grade school that has forever done well by me is that I should be a skeptic about everything, ESPECIALLY that in which I’m inclined to be biased towards.  While it’s easy to believe in an environment where people may have done bad things that everyone was complicit in some manner, that 38% of the internal complaints alleged the same shift and floor as the 42% of inmate complaints shows that the sheriff is simply shifting blame here.  It does not support her claim that deputies and officers are afraid to file against a co-worker.  It supports the argument that Internal Affairs has exactly the issues we’ve been pointing out.

Just like the sheriff told the public during election time, hundreds of her own deputies and virtually every law enforcement group in the county and state refused to endorse her because, in her version of the real world, she “held them accountable and they don’t like that.” Everyone cheered and voted for her for not being “one of the good ol’ boys.” Today she stands there, using that same implicit bias the county feels everyone else should get rid of and states how hard a job she has had overcoming yet another public stereotype of law enforcement. Please, for the sake of the continuing survival of this department, do not allow her to feed you any more stereotypes without showing some skepticism and reviewing all the information, much of which contradicts her claims.

There are too many truly good people working in all areas of this agency to let the elected bad apple drag them all down to save herself. We do need to clean house, and the residents on the fourth floor who have stood agreeably silent to, complicit, or participated in so many administrative wrongs should be a part of that cleaning.

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One thought on “Sheriff Laurie Smith’s Ongoing Manipulation of Implicit Bias

  1. I am a former Deputy #1700 who loved his job at the Sheriff’s Office but left because of the administration. You are 100% right, complaints about admin don’t go anywhere and you will only be retaliated against. My experience, unlike most, turned out to be a blessing.

    I want to thank the administration for turning the job I loved into a paycheck. It forced me to look elsewhere with the hope of making my job in law enforcement fun again. Guess what….my job is no longer a paycheck and I will never have to acknowledge people I have absolutely no respect for.

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