County Attempts Slight Of Hand

The other day hidden in the Milpitas Post was an editorial I’m betting they were hoping would be widely missed by those outside the targeted audience of Milpitas. An attempt to lay a story down in a corner of the community and foster it to grow. A beautiful story of how hard the Board of Supervisors are working to improve our jails. A reminder of how many other very difficult issues our supervisors face in their job and how this is just another challenge “presented” to them. The editorial all but beatifies our supervisors as “eager activists” that the rest of the world could only dream about. I wonder if counties around the nation dream of having a jails system like ours. If other corrections officers just wait for an opening so they can apply here en mass as the best place to work. If criminals hope, that if they have to get arrested, it’s here so they can know they’ll be assured of a safe environment where they can buy underwear in commissary.

FFS, stop! (Excuse the language, but I’ve had it.) Challenge given to them? No, no, no. This is a mess they created. Chief Flores fought with them on cuts, they were losing federal money supervisors had come to inappropriately rely on for running other areas of the jails, and they had a sheriff sitting there telling them what a mess the jails were and she could do it not only better, but cheaper. $10M cheaper. And later, she, and the supervisors, all ran on that “savings.” I can only imagine this was buried over in the Milpitas Post by BANG in the hopes that they could get Milpitas to ignore the toxic and dangerous situation in their backyards and that perhaps I would miss this little gem of compressed cow pies.

They turned the jails over to our sheriff. There was no real strategy behind it other than “she can cut” — County Exec Jeff Smith stated redundancies like Internal Affairs and administration would be cut. That was the plan. Nearly all of it.

Here we are today with the same administrative structure — Chief Flores’ position was supposed to be eliminated. Kevin Jensen’s position as Assistant Chief was supposed to be eliminated. Today they’re still there in the form of Chief Hirokawa and Asst. Sheriff Beliveau. No elimination or savings there.

Internal Affairs? That was a redundancy to a point. One problem created was manpower. The bigger and more important problem was that jails IA was now put in the hands of a unit that responds directly to and is inappropriately manipulated by the sheriff. Something she has no qualms about letting her deputies know as we are seeing in action currently.

The jails administration division, the unit that kept communication between the two organizations going so everyone was aware of what was needed. It’s gone. Clearly that communication was needed and technically not a redundancy.

PCAU — the compliance unit, to keep it simple. Gone. It appears from everything I can find policies haven’t been reviewed since the initial review at the change over to the sheriff in 2010. Things change, things are learned, technology develops, new and better practices are created. But not here. Obviously not a redundancy, and it’s recommended removal by the sheriff was approved by the Supervisors against strong recommendations by auditors if you go back through county records.

Investigations — it used to be that enforcement sergeants played an investigatory role at the line level in the jails. For that matter it was one of their primary responsibilities. Apparently that was a redundancy, so at the dawn of 2015, she removed all enforcement sergeants, replaced them with 25% fewer corrections sergeants who maintained no investigatory power and were never trained in any manner to conduct investigations or file reports. The investigations of the entire jails facilities, 24/7, were put on just 4 positions, meaning for all facilities, all incidents needing investigation for 4000 inmates and 1000 staff members, at any given time, there was usually only one investigator available. And due to the divisive way the move was done by the sheriff, corrections sergeants both couldn’t and wouldn’t assist in even the lowest level needs to ease the load and ensure investigations were, not only done in a timely manner, but were able to be done at all. See, by removing all investigatory power from the line level, whomever is filling that line position, to a removed unit, meant more and more would unintentionally get overlooked — through lack of structure, manpower, team work, direct oversight, etc. because all those were cut or eliminated.

The Board of Supervisors that is now telling you they’re ready to “take on this challenge” are the same people responsible for approving every single one of those actions and more. All actions recommended by the sheriff. All actions that hurt the successful running of the jails. The supervisors made drastic changes in the structure of our jails, then abdicated all responsibility in ensuring a smooth and effective transition to a sheriff who’s only interest met their only interest — saving money so they could run on it at election time. Now they want you to allow them to abdicate responsibility and accountability for this mess.

The supervisors and the sheriff are running ~1200 deputies underfoot as thugs (hey wait! Isn’t that in and of itself racist?? I’m so confused) because of the acts of 1% of their population. All this effort to what end?  To avoid accountability and turn this into a success story for themselves and the whole thing the fault of bad deputies. This mess in the jails is all just an opportunity to make our community better, never mind their lack of depth when considering issues that created this opportunity.

What is most disturbing is even still after 10 gang members attacked a deputy, seriously injuring him, at the Milpitas, Elmwood jail facility, they’re still not exactly telling the truth to the community about what exactly the Elmwood facility is. They call it a “minimum security jail” in the editorial. I know sometimes we’re all slow on the uptake, but tell me — since when do minimum security facilities have pods specifically assigned for violent gang members that can’t  mingle with others because they may commit violent acts? Since when do we bring people down from maximum security jails with the AB109 designation and put them into a minimum security jail? They don’t. Well, not until Sheriff Laurie Smith and Elmwood met anyway.

Perhaps the Elmwood facility was intended to be a minimum/medium security location at the outset and has been such in the past. If we’re going to be honest though, don’t we think at this point we should be telling the truth? Supervisors and the sheriff have turned the location into a facility that holds all risk levels, regardless of the fact that facilities are lacking for the currently assigned use. Regardless of the fact staffing is significantly low, increasing risks for everyone under the best of circumstances, to include the community.

It’s also my understanding inmates assigned to Elmwood who in the past have had higher security classifications have frequently been down-classified to meet the minimum security classification in order to house them at Elmwood.

Manipulations like this increase risks for other inmates, for guards, and increase risks to the community should someone be so inclined to escape. For example, accused child molester Johnell Carter, now convicted with a life sentence, probably should not have been classified as minimum security.

What makes the Johnell Carter case wholly relevant here is the fact that it was a staffing issue that allowed the inmate to escape. We have only one deputy transporting inmates for medical visits. Ignoring that Elmwood houses a higher risk population now, something the county is not entirely transparent about, the sheriff told the public after the escape she vowed to review policy. A review that was given such serious consideration that it resulted in her second statement just a day later, surely backed by supervisors, that she was “comfortable” with current policy because it had been effective for 10 years.

This is the level of concern put into our jails since the supervisors handed the jails over to the sheriff. This is the concern for the security of inmates, the safety of officers, and the protection of the public.

If the “experiment” of creating a separate Corrections Dept. was a “disappointment” I have no idea how they begin to classify this unmitigated disaster that has ultimately cost life and limb offered to us by our supervisors and sheriff today. May I remind you, while the jails were far from perfect, they were recognized for their efforts to improve and much of this wasn’t happening when the sheriff took over the jails.

There are only two ways decisions like the ones that have brought us to this point can be made. Through sheer ignorance and lack of will or intellectual incentive to correct that ignorance is the first. The second is more disturbing, through intentional acts to willfully ignore that what was 10 years ago, is not what is today and put the well being of others at risk for your own benefit.

There are so many other failures I want to address mentioned in the editorial piece, but I just can’t. I am sickened that they believe the public will fall for this… and the reality that the public just might actually fall for it. It so frustrates me, these narcissistic fools who think they’re qualified for the next Nobel Peace Price for their list of empty happy bills and a sheriff who is at best incompetent, at worse negligent and criminal, refuse to take even a small amount of responsibility. Instead their endeavor is to get editorials like this written in the hopes of spinning a better story for themselves than they spin for the hundreds of thugs (racist trigger!) who wear a uniform for the county. It’s infuriating our media continues to pander to the creators of this mess, one that has costs lives and ultimately will cost us tens of millions to fix and tens of millions more to pay off the victims, inmates and deputies. These people are not the next coming of Gandhi or Jesus.  Stop writing about them as if they are.

As a tax payer and a voter, the rest of us need to decide — is the end result Dave Cortese, Cindy Chavez, Mike Wasserman, Ken Yeager, Joe Simitian, and Laurie Smith have given to us worth voting for again if and when that day comes. You have to ask yourself, if they’re considering our jails with this much neglect and failed transparency, ultimately manipulating us away from looking to closely at a bad situation, what else isn’t so good that they’re hiding? Maybe nothing, but are you willing to risk it any more? Haven’t they had enough chances to do the right thing?