Failures of Our Allegedly Progressive Sheriff Continue to Harm

It’s been awhile. It’s been a busy while in the sheriff’s PR firm from what I’ve been reading and hearing. The sheriff is just grinding away at keeping herself hidden or ahead of all the disasters on the horizon. From disastrous promotions to another round of public victim-blaming, she’s been a busy woman.

The big incident, the fatal shooting an 86-year-old man in his own home during a welfare check. There are a lot of problems, starting with exigency means urgent need. Fifty minutes of beating on doors and windows? If someone was in need of urgent medical attention, they probably died in that hour. If reports are true that there was indication of mobility in the house early on, and deputies took an hour to act on what was claimed to be a medical exigency severe enough to necessitate urgent entry, there are some conflicts of logic there. Big ones. I won’t go into the decision to act like it was a drug raid and fail to back off in a non-criminal, suddenly high tension situation. Training. Training. Training.  You what might have helped this scenario? The “bullet proof” class the sheriff rejected — assessing from the first moment to the last to make the best decision possible under the circumstances. The sheriff got her political optics, but here’s the proof that training matters more than her political pandering for a vote next election to organizations that don’t even vote in our county.

I’m sure the sheriff will protect the deputy from the results of her failure to provide appropriate training and policy. I’m sure she will protect the deputy from what should have been a better decision process for a 14 year veteran who had been held accountable, trained, and given the incentive to be the best deputy possible by a truly progressive agency. What I want to know… who did the sergeant call before entry and how did that conversation go? We’ll never get a record of that decision process, because I’m sure, like much of the sheriff’s business, like the PG&E substation attack, it was done by cell phone. Probably at least some of them private cell phones. Recording things means potentially being accountable for them, we don’t do that. The sheriff doesn’t like records available that may provide the public means to question. That practice is what assured one person in the PG&E incident a promotion rather than the discipline that should have been given.

I have to say that yet again, I am again amazed by all our journalists and activists here and their absolute commitment to lethargy in regards to the sheriff’s office issues. In another city, a man with a knife gets tazed and dies after a fight with 6 officers that injured two of them and all hell is breaking loose when by all appearances officers did everything right. Here…shoot a guy in his home, sheriff goes under cover, no video, no records, certainly no transparency…well we can’t make Laurie Smith look bad, she won’t give us our treats! Damned embarrassing.

I think people understand where I come from by now. Honest mistakes are honest mistakes… and what happened may well have again been borne from the sheriff’s office consistent lack of commitment to advanced and updated training and an aversion to policy that provides information to deputies for best practices. That doesn’t necessarily entirely exonerate bad decisions on the part of a deputy, each incident should be examined on it’s own with facts, but we certainly need to start understanding why these things happen and taking action to prevent them.

I think the details of the four deaths in the sheriff’s office in just over a year indicate even if we resolved the issue of racism worldwide tomorrow, it is not what will fix the problem we face. But our local public has failed to see our problems, they are lost the tunnel vision of today’s “conversation” about police. The public has applied the general rhetoric & propaganda about policing and lost sight of our issues in the process. Given what I know about the sheriff and her top brass… I have no doubt in my mind, the shooting is yet another catastrophic failure in the sheriff’s leadership, training, and policy. But she’ll again quiet the entire incident, the media is going to sit there quietly like the good and well trained tools that they are and let this to pass, and we are all going to move on. This is one incident that will not see any real scrutiny into the decision leading to use of force.

Our office leadership fails to understand even the most honest of mistakes need clarity, transparency, and integrity when it comes to dealing with, not just the public, but internal practices and the deputies as well. Our leadership’s ongoing refusal to acknowledge a need to improve continues to put deputies and the public at constant risk. When an incident can’t be publicly spun to support our sheriff, our leadership chooses to contributes to the public distrust of police in general by being less than up front, hiding things, and sometimes even getting caught outright in their lies; eventually there will be an incident that generates backlash and it will be on you, the deputies doing their jobs in the streets. It almost always is, despite the YEARS we’ve now spent telling our community there are severe problems here. I have a hard time any backlash would  be directed at the well insulated, very political (that’s a good thing, right?) Sheriff Laurie Smith. Not as long as there is a rock she can hide under or a bus left on God’s green earth that she can throw someone under.

The worst part of the failures in the technical aftermath (not the emotional aftermath) of all this isn’t discipline or lack thereof, in my opinion. It’s the apparent fact that there is yet another policy/training gap in the office that will not be examined, torn down, reassembled in a manner that shows where improvement is needed, a set of best practices created and then implemented to prevent any future deputy from making the same poor decision.

Reality is that this tragedy will change nothing, improve nothing, not politically, not logistically, and not in practice. The sheriff doesn’t do after action assessments. She has not a single person on the fourth floor who even knows how to do an after action assessment as far as I can tell. Not her new Undersheriff, not a single one of her assistant sheriffs are up to such a detailed process. Probably few to none of her captains as well. That what happens when you promote people who stand around looking lost at critical events, bully their way to the top, or take advantage of a corrupt system to ingratiate themselves with those in power.

I found the sleazy means of release of information by the Sheriff’s office, and the media coverage mind boggling. Our recently minted Lieutenant Jensen appears to have been caught in a lie again, in the days before identifying the victim, he stated deputies had been called to the house in the past. I understand that is likely untrue on it’s face. At best he laid it out so if there were prior contacts, it could be construed some kind of criminal activity elicited said prior visit(s). This natural assumption given the structure of the statement given by our recently  rewarded PIO is, from what insiders have told me, flat out untrue. Regardless of the fact that the vague statement did not clearly indicate any criminal problems, NBC Bay Area News’ Robert Handa, a long suspected sheriff’s pocket dweller, reported the 86 year old man, legally in his home, legally defending his castle, to be a “suspect.” Suspect of what? He couldn’t answer and when I addressed it, he deleted the tweet, but to the best of my knowledge the tweet from the general NBC Bay Area account remains.

It is the fact that our community will remain silent in the face of such an incident. It is that there are still political entities that will happily latch on to our sheriff’s political wagon even now. Candidates like Manny Cappello of Saratoga, right where the shooting took place and in a city that hasn’t demanded answers of their contracted policing service. Or Palo Alto Councilman Marc Berman running for Assembly. Others boasting the Sheriff Smith endorsement this election, despite all the controversy include Orrin Mahoney, Ron Diridon.  Vote Smart people, vote smart. Refusing to vote for those that seek Smith’s endorsement will send a message; not that I have a lot of hope for that actually happening, it must be mentioned.

I sadly think that we’ve all, inside and out of the sheriff’s office, have heard the end of the story of Mr. Eugene Craig. We might get a blip on the radar, if it’s a really slow news day here in the Bay Area, about the settlement the county gives the family. The Board of Supervisors certainly aren’t going to open their traps and call out the sheriff to publicly review welfare check and entry policy, training standards on the issue, etc. Maybe in a few months they can start some commission or quarterly meeting investigating some special new county task force of lightly trained deputies to do welfare checks for a feel good moment — elections are always around the corner. But only after they’re sure they won’t raise any real concerns about this incident again and cause heartache for Laurie.

To change the subject for a final moment of your time here, I want to empathize a little with the CPOA here… I hear your board president has gotten that promotion she told you should didn’t (and said she wouldn’t) take. Not sure how many times she’s going to make support for her look foolish. Congratulations Lieutenant Amy Le you have proven to date that you can not, will not keep a single promise you make while burning bridges to retirement and political office. That $50K President Le spend in union funds for the sheriff to have an opportunity to get pictures with CPOA members like they support her… I would say payoff was priceless, but for Amy Le, it clearly had a price tag on it. Hey, it’s $50K the CPOA now can’t move into their political accounts to support whomever runs against Laurie Smith if they wanted too. Let’s be real, we’re not all as stupid as Laurie’s new permanent Public Relations firm wants to believe. As bad at is it, you have to admit, getting the CPOA to drain $50K from their coffers to help provide a positive PR op for Laurie… brilliant. Just curious, do you folks have a recall process? Because you might want to consider recalling Le before she does anymore damage… she’s only been president what 3 months and I’m pretty sure she’s close to breaking every major promise she’s made.  Maybe they can call it the First Annual Correctional Deputy Appreciation BBQ and make you feel better about being used. Did anyone tell you the sheriff has sponsors that pay for that kind of thing though… like Gordon Biersch brewery?

So anyway, final note —  this whole post a little test for me… if I was feeling the same aggravation and frustration that was getting overwhelming when I write these, this was going to be a brief, very brief return. I’m still walking away without cursing after a lightly  scanned edit before post. In light of this, I have been asked to review a recent meeting and I have started but it takes some time to review, note, translate to a blog, etc. but there is definitely some irony to be shared from the few minutes I’ve watched.  So while I get to this video and write the next post, be kind to each other, be safe, watch each other’s backs, and do the right thing to the best of your ability. You as a deputy may be the only positive reflection left in this office, have pride in that and hope it’s enough to protect you from the travesty that we call our administration.

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