Change Will Require All or Nothing: Laurie Smith Must Go

I was beginning to lose hope that it would ever happen. I was starting to believe that the sheriff had managed to put golden handcuffs on virtually all the major community group’s leadership along with a good number of county officials.

The waffling about real solutions, the attempting to scapegoat others… and finally public declaration on my blog of what so many deputies have heard in the backrooms — she won’t step down, she refuses to step down, she has significant support, so we really aren’t going to try.

I’m glad to see Mr. Moore and Mr. Hansen step back significantly from those positions. I still question if they really are committed to understanding the depth of the issues here when they continue to stop short of calling for the sheriff to resign. They need to stop trying to protect the sheriff; it continues to appear they are still attempting to protect their own interests at some level by taking only half measures in their speech. It smacks of the continued planned effort among friends to move the goal posts as far back as necessary to silence people.  That there is an acceptance she will have to give up the jails and fall back to being happy running the sheriff’s office and maintaining her power base there.  Unacceptable.

Why do some continue to believe how she manages the corrections division is different from what she does in enforcement? Why do they believe they solve the problem, and not just a portion of it, when they call for the re-separation of the two divisions?

It was a much quieter protest, but when the sheriff ran in 2010, there was already a growing dissent against the sheriff in enforcement. Deputies were already speaking out in enforcement; I was already actually talking back then as well just prior to the election. The upwelling of unrest had only just begun. That was more than 6 years ago now, yet we’re still going to only solve a portion of the problem?

Understand enforcement here will never be like Chicago, Baltimore, or Ferguson, or other areas we see such poor leadership affecting significant racial divides between police and community. Those are not your deputies. The vast majority are committed, there for the right reasons, and wanting to do their job better. They are human and they make mistakes. There is no mechanism in this office where they can learn from those mistakes. Mistakes are ignored, used as leverage against you, or used to punish you no matter how minor — all dependent upon the sheriff’s opinion of you.

Please do not desert them by stopping at change in the jails.

There are other considerations — if we again separate the jails from corrections, the sheriff will still have to maintain staff there as before so there is an enforcement component. The sheriff will still have some power there, minimized as it is; she will still use the positions available to her to seek retribution. But the majority of retribution will likely fall on those in enforcement who have stepped up to speak in unison and support of the corrections deputies, as well as continue to bring attention to enforcement failures. In other words, some improvement in corrections, more damage in enforcement; a minimization of the sheriff’s reach rather than an elimination of her power to continue to cause problems.

While you haven’t seen the same shocking results in enforcement, that doesn’t mean there is nothing wrong and that people aren’t being victimized by the failures of leadership in enforcement. It is a much different environment with different issues that result in different, but no less harmful results. Lack of training, unwillingness to support modernization from practices to policies to equipment causes unintended failures. The sheriff’s lack of integrity in Internal Affairs in the jails stemmed directly from how she handles enforcement in a disturbing trend that goes back more than a decade from the information I have. Those she has not been able to force into submission of her ethics she has threatened and domineered into a fear that their security, reputation, career and credibility will be destroyed if she finds any means.

She is not above creating her own star chamber with herself, her assistant sheriffs, Martha Wapenski, and Cheryl Stevens/other members of County Counsel overriding investigations, creating inappropriate policy based on current events, and other means to keep deputies in line. The incident where she tried to silence the deputies who openly supported her opponent last election comes to mind as at least one event that was released.

We won’t become Ferguson; we will become SJPD — perpetually understaffed and unable to find a decent candidate in an increasingly competitive candidate market. We will have deputies less willing to take the risks necessary with less support when they do. They will begin to feel embattled and ignored by the community so many have tried to serve fairly and honorably. They will walk away. They will be hired by others agencies who can recognize their capabilities.

As it is now, the sheriff can’t hire laterals. Not an experienced soul would go near this place given the choice with the reputation Laurie Smith has cursed us with. The sheriff can brag she has a full academy; reality is that for our office, we are graduating less than 10 cadets per each classes of 50. The rest go to other agencies. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before other agencies start to see the results of her removing some of her most qualified instructors for no reason other than personal dislike and unwillingness to corrupt themselves to support her.

Sooner, rather than later all these failures will spill on to our streets in a manner that becomes intolerable to us all — do we really have to wait until that point in enforcement, or can’t we understand that the poor leadership exhibited in the jails isn’t magically something different over in enforcement and do something proactive rather than reactive as a county and a community?

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