When it came to the case of Denis Flynn, people asked how could a case that serious be overlooked for that long. It turns out what we should be asking is something more along the lines of how many cases like this have been overlooked since Laurie Smith took office? Yes, we should be looking that far back according to a county commissioned report recently unearthed. A report that is linked at the bottom of the page which you can read for yourself.
In 2003 the Santa Clara County BoS commissioned their audit division to do a management audit of the Sheriff’s Office; the second one, the first being when the audit unit was established in 1980. It’s been 13 years since the last audit and comparing the sheriff’s office then to what it is today is demoralizing; there was virtually nothing that has been improved or addressed in that 13 years that was pointed out in the report. From cars to computers, the situation is nothing but even more dire.
The items that have changed the most, were simply eliminated — community policing (SCOPE), mentoring programs, the Sheriff’s Leadership Development program, no annual sergeant training or continuing education for line management to stay up to date and improve. Presuming all of it truly existed to begin with. Some of it did; others I can find no evidence of or witness to.
The ARS system, from what I’m told is currently known as the daily activity reporting system (our PIO is intimately familiar with this system) still exists in the same condition auditors clearly stated needed to be improved all the way back then. Auditors estimated that it consumed enough man-hours to cover multiple numbers of full-time deputies a year, costing over $2M. The report determines reform could return an average of 30 minutes of patrol time for each deputy, every shift, every day. They pointed out this reform would not only save millions in time consumption, and return man-hours to patrol functions, but it would stop the bleed of nearly a half million dollars (at that time, probably more now) that the sheriff returns to contract cities every year. Several suggested to me that the sheriff uses this as a “kick back” system and that its part of the reason she has failed to fix this — it thrills the contract cities to feel like they’re getting both the services they demand and a monetary “return on investment.”
The report writing system, a kludgy, homegrown system that consumes man-hours like a starving teen isn’t even mentioned — that system remains the same today. There have been small, failed, and poorly organized attempts at solutions. One attempt to improve this system was to appoint an IT employee to create another homegrown system. This resulted in an even clunkier disaster that failed. There was a brief episode of seeking a commercial package solution, but the sheriff didn’t want to purchase the necessary software modules to the main program that would be needed. So here we are today, still wasting manpower and money because the sheriff is paralyzed by her own fear of failure.
The sheriff’s response to this is much the same as it has been her entire tenure — we are a great office and we’re doing great. But it gets worse.
Investigations was a bog according to the audit, a complete morass of workload process failure. A complete disaster with an estimated 10,000 open cases in 2003. No computerized tracking existed, administration of the division failing at every level to create any consistency and stability in the process. A slew of recommendations were made in the audit — starting with focusing on reviewing open cases, closing where appropriate and turning over to the Captain and Lieutenant for further investigations as necessary. Sound familiar?
To date nothing has changed and we can only assume things have become worse. I was told they are currently in the same situation, or worse, with open cases. Several sources have told me the standing order is to have detectives close open backlog “in between working on current caseloads.” Seems like that was the problem to begin with, and in 13 years, even after an audit our sheriff’s “national model” is still failing to garner attention.
It’s disturbing when you consider the problematic investigations that have come to light along with the Flynn case — De Anza where the assault of a minor female was unable to be prosecuted because the captain of investigations wasn’t allowed to spend overtime. Audrie Pott who was sexually assaulted and bullied and the West Valley captain tried to send an SRO rather than a detective This resulted in the sheriff’s office pleading through the media 7 months later for anyone with evidence to contact them. Ultimately the offenders received a much lighter sentence than hoped for. None of us will forget the investigative fiasco that was the search for Sierra LaMar. While the suspect was caught, it’s been years of waiting; many say due to issues with the sheriff’s evidence. Information recently came out that there were as many as eleven separate DNA profile hits on her clothing meaning potentially many witnesses, or even other offenders. There are many, many other cases we’ve talked about here.
While the LaMar case was ongoing, because of the poor investigations management, I was told nearly all incoming cases were put on hold, then shoved to the back of the cabinet as investigators returned and had to take on more immediate cases coming in.
Despite recommendations now more than a decade old, there is still no tracking system for open cases. There are thousands of open cases still sitting on the system, waiting for a detective to have free time between cases — I’m left wondering, are any cumulative going all the way back to 2003?! It’s my understanding it is entirely possible.
The administration of Investigations remains dissonant to it’s purpose. Experience and training is not fostered. Detectives are subject to the same 3-5 year rotation out of their jobs as patrol, where in many “leading” agencies, it is a career path option due to the accumulation of skills over time that makes a better detective. Many placed in Investigations see little in the way of training and no mentoring to speak of through their time there, making it more difficult to close cases.
Promotions continue to lack sense — sources inside investigations have told me that numerous people have been promoted or placed in special assignments with little experience; individuals leave behind sometimes as many as several hundred open cases on their desk, some of which never even saw the beginning steps of an investigation despite their increasing age. Cases that are ultimately shoved into the remaining backlog with the thousands of others because the new, untrained, unmentored person assigned to the desk doesn’t know what to do with them. The reward and accomplishment of promotions and special assignments is apparently earned through means other than investigating and closing cases.
You and I can only imagine the viciousness of some of the crimes — unfortunately a couple of my sources frustration boiled over and I was enlightened on a handful of details on a few of them that may now be beyond resolving. Victims no less tragic than Sierra, Audrie, Denis or any of the others we’ve talked about. Victims whose names we will never hear because of the sheriff’s failure to correct such serious problems after more than a decade,
The sheriff spouts off phrases like “we’re nationally recognized” and “we’re a leader in law enforcement,” yet there is never any substance provided to back those claims. Victims of crimes have been waiting God only knows how long for justice they will likely never see now. She sees the office through a convoluted prism where she is convinced poor practices are leading edge and that she’s “doing a great job” when she almost literally appears to be doing nothing to keep the office moving forward if we’re to use this audit as a standard measure.
The sheriff responded to the audit, in part, with this statement:
“I have one sincere personal vision for this organization. Given the quality of employees, I believe the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office can achieve recognition for our excellence and become one of the most highly revered law enforcement agencies n the nation. To achieve this goal, we must highlight our successes publicly and resolve our disagreements internally.”
It is nice she the realized the quality of employees even then, but the tragic reality is that despite the quality of employees, she has no idea how to utilize their skills effectively in unison with the needs of a law enforcement goals. And if she doesn’t like someone, she will refuse to use their skills in any effective manner because she sees giving someone an assignment they can actually do as a reward — rewards must be earned in her office. When you earn them, she will happily give you the assignment of choice, regardless of your qualifications and ability and without the training and support to develop that ability. A detective has been one of those “rewards” for some.
This is essentially the same thing she says today in response to any question or concern. It is exactly the practice she has followed — tout the successes, real or imagined, shove the failures into a dark closet. She refuses transparency because the problems are so invasive now and she has been unable to resolve them internally, so she simply ignores them hoping no one else sees them. The more the deputies become restless and uncomfortable with the situation, the more she has had to focus her attention on intimidating them into silence. A reasonable leader would focus on actually resolving the problems, behind closed doors or where ever solutions took them.
The sheriff’s inability to cope with problems and needed improvements seems to stem from an inability to understand that they don’t have to mean failure. Her means of dealing with problems, making everyone pretend they don’t exist, has certainly brought us to the brink of failure. While she has applied solutions, they’re often poorly thought out, don’t follow basic established standards, resulting in ultimate failure of the solution. This further seems to set her back.
The Sheriff’s office desperately needs new leadership. Someone with integrity, someone who is great at solving problems and will not shy away from solutions at the first sign of difficulty. Whomever that leader may be, they currently do not exist on the fourth floor of the Sheriff’s Office in any form.
The sheriff has recently been in the news telling us she is “focused on implementing meaningful reform” in the jails based on a number of audits and investigations into her actions there. She spent 6 years cutting away at the structure of the jails to save money. If we are to compare the situations — the sheriff has failed to implement any meaningful reform in enforcement for over a decade after this audit. Her focus has been her political character, entertaining the SAB, and garnering as many contracts as she can. Are we to truly believe now, that in a few years we will see different behaviour and leadership from the sheriff in either jails or enforcement, knowing her legacy to this point lives in this audit.
Perhaps, looking over this report, the greatest irony is the sheriff accusing the unions of “fighting to keep the status quo” in the media the other day. She has thrived on status quo and “this is the way we’ve always done it” for far, far to long. The unions are done with it. It changes now or it results in more departures.
But please, again, don’t take my word for it, you can read the 2003 audit yourself. I think you’ll find that the audit covers all these issues and many more. The executive summary provides highlights of the issues found, the entire audit and collective responses are extensive.
Please don’t forget to sign the petition to remove Laurie Smith as the administrator of the Department of Corrections contract. We are far from the signatures needed to make an impact. Ask friends and family to sign, share on Nextdoor communities and other places people may see it. Thank you!