Lessons Still Not Learned

The media is making a big noise about our progressive sheriff taking such great actions to correct her archaic systems. She’s added complaint boxes to the jails to help facilitate privacy in making a complaint. It’s sad when the biggest story about a catastrophic failure is the partial implementation of something that seems to be somewhat common sense. Thankfully not everyone was on the sheriff’s bandwagon this past week as NBC showed.

It’s a great step, but like everything else the sheriff does, barely thought out and implemented in a manner that is poorly thought out. Apparently LaDoris Cordell has noticed; Ms. Cordell doesn’t commit in this interview, but it sounds like she may agree regarding a recommendation the sheriff step down. I may well owe Ms. Cordell an apology after this is all said and done. If the recommendations are hardline and demand accountability at the top as well as at the line, I’ve under-estimated her. I will be happy to say I’m wrong.

I do want to say that the best of all circumstances is the retirement of both the sheriff and the undersheriff. While the jails can be resolved by removing them from the management of the sheriff back to its own entity — her stepping down also potentially resolves the multitude of enforcement issues that I fear will never be addressed. If she is allowed to remain, the retribution against the commission and corrections will fall on the shoulders of those in enforcement alone, the others being out of her reach. I can’t let it go without saying, the morale in enforcement is no less fragile than in corrections and leaving her in charge would be a death blow to what is left of the office stability in my opinion.

But I get ahead of myself. The sheriff claimed getting the boxes up was a matter of timing, not kneejerk response to the report to the Blue Ribbon Commission, but that she had possession of the boxes for months. So we would naturally make an assumption — if this is not a kneejerk reaction, the sheriff has had time and the wherewithal to address the process of using these boxes, handling of complaints v. grievances, and a written policy as well as a training program to ensure sergeants understand the details of the policy and how to execute them.

But the people I heard from on this pointed out what seems to be an almost constant problem with everything the sheriff touches, old and new: NO POLICY, NO TRAINING. Same thing that appears to be at the heart of the information that Ms. Cordell is getting. If the sheriff has had the boxes for months, what has she been doing to prepare for their implementation? It appears nothing other than working to find the best time to benefit from PR. That’s what you get when you are paying $100K in tax dollars to a PR firm hired to protect an incompetent sheriff.

My understanding is little has changed in this process beyond taking the officers/deputies immediately out of the loop and somewhat better documentation of grievances and complaints. Sergeants have been tasked to complete during their shift, opening complaint boxes (was twice a day, already down to once a day), logging each complaint and responding to each complaint by end of shift. (I’m curious — are there restrictions on access and ability to alter this log?) My understanding is the response portion is a big issue, it remains the same as it always has at this point, undefined, which was a big part of the problem.

It’s also my understanding that sergeants are so concerned about the process and their potential liability in it that some are refusing to take OT shifts because the OT sergeants are the ones usually tasked with the job of dealing with complaints. This adds to the staffing issues already at hand, both through the additional work and through the reduction in present staff.

I agree we need oversight at the jails. I know many are against it, but if it’s truly independent and FAIR and whomever holds the position doesn’t engage in publicly making blanket comments intimating all police are bad people with bad intentions and the moment you turn their back they’ll kill someone, I think the majority will come around.

Why do I think it’s critical that someone be there? It’s not so much to watch the deputies & officers in my opinion. It’s to address the subjective manner which Captains and Lieutenants have decided who is put through an IA (sometimes even undeservedly) and who’s misbehavior gets overlooked based on personal likes and dislikes of individuals

It’s to ensure that programs that should be implemented are implemented. The lockboxes are just the example under discussion. PREA also comes to mind and how “training” consisted of giving sergeants the answers to audit questions to provide enough proof action was being taken and implementation was in process. The policy predates the audit and hasn’t been changed since.  The attorney providing the report made a shocking statement that the jails had failed nearly every point in the audit, yet were allowed to pass on a slew of promises. I’ve shown here what has been done in support of implementing PREA standards — not a damned thing.

As we’ve said, the commission has no power to force the sheriff to implement any recommendations — in many ways neither does the county, for that matter. She can make promises, smile at the public, have David Cortese, Cindy Chavez and her friends at the Mercury promote her virtues as a “progressive sheriff” until everyone is satisfied. I’ve been told by several people the Blue Ribbon Commission was even her idea — a great way to pretend to be transparent and cooperative while not really committing to any accountability.  When the public eye is off her she will turn around and, at best do nothing, at worst shove the entire office over a cliff in a fit of vengeance. And yes, I do believe she is absolutely capable of such an act.

Again, I implore the commission that their top recommendation be the retirement of the sheriff and the undersheriff and allow the community to hold an election to find someone who wants this job for the right reasons rather than for narcissistic satisfaction. I feel it is critical that the community organizations get behind this recommendation whether or not it is made by the commission.

I was told recently right here on my blog, “The community doesn’t care enough”. It pains me to agree, after the last election and so few showing up, the community doesn’t care. It’s the job of community organizations like PACT, NAACP, De-Bug, La Raza and others to get the community to care enough, to understand the severity of the problem she presents. I understand a number of the people who speak for these groups in some manner are friends of the sheriff.  Maybe they’re too close to publicly call for Laurie Smith to step down. That shouldn’t cause the rest of us hesitate in our efforts.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons Still Not Learned

  1. A correctional deputy mounted the grievance boxes . That shows it was a knee jerk reaction. He did not use safety screws. The GSA should have done this job

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