ELECT NEW SHERIFF TO GET MORE TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABLITY & RESPONSIBILITY

Opinion
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Hilbert Morales
EL OBSERVADOR

At a recent monthly meeting of La Raza Roundtable, incumbent Sheriff Laurie Smith was the featured speaker. The audience of some 75 individuals, many of whom represented their Latino organizations or were advocates listened to Sheriff Smith’s presentation with courtesy despite experiencing the receipt of no information of any significance.

For example, The Department of Corrections, which reports to the Office of the Sheriff, has a capacity of 3,800 jailed inmates. A recent ‘Realignment Project’ report revealed that 50% of inmates incarcerated in the jails of the County of Santa Clara ARE LATINOS; 12% are Blacks and 2% are Asian-Americans. This bit of information reveals that our county jails are no different than those of state and federal prison whose inmates are mostly individuals of color. Does this information indicate that the Sheriff’s deputies do ‘law enforcement’ efforts unevenly? The current citizen oversight group which deals with monitoring of law enforcement by Sheriff’s deputies never seems to become very public. Why is that?

The effort to construct a new jail became known to me through my involvement with the Behavioral Health Board, County of Santa Clara (I recently termed out). It was this group which suggested that the new jail have adequate space for the professional mental health assessment of new inmates. This data is essential for improved placement of inmates in the appropriate grouping for rehabilitation; risk of violence; knowledge drug dependence; and sexual predatory inclination history, if any.

This same information reveals the need for the Health and Hospital Systems, County of Santa Clara to plan for this county’s expansion of acute psychiatric capacity at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. its former Psychiatric Building was razed during the 1980’s and replaced with the Barbara Aarons facility which is always full, indicating it’s time to consider expansion of adult psychiatric services…especially acute psychiatric inpatient services which are currently contracted for at venues beyond the borders of this County. This information reveals why Michael Tyree, a patient awaiting an empty psychiatric hospital bed, was temporarily given ‘protective custody’ at a county jail cell.

Information concerning those inmates with mental health issues was not mentioned by Sheriff Smith to her Latino constituents attending that La Raza Roundtable meeting. Why not inform them?

Another example, there was no mention of “Rape Kit Status”. Many law enforcement agencies have rape kits awaiting examination (this item was addressed by recent legislation signed by Governor Brown establishing a reasonable deadline).

It occurs to me that this presentation by Sheriff Smith might be an example of not sharing information which other agencies and individuals need in order to make constructive adjustments within their own circles of responsibility. It would be appropriate for this County of Santa Clara to plan for the capacity to care for behavioral and mental health issues without using jail cells. This capacity would decrease the need to have a new jail facility to house criminals alongside those with mental health issues and those unable to post bail while awaiting a court hearing.

THERE IS A NEED FOR REFORM AND LEADERSHIP CHANGES which requires the election of a new sheriff. Ms. Laurie Smith has had 25 years of distinguished public service as an elected official.

Events during the last several years indicate the need for this community to elect a new Sheriff. And those registered voters who are persons of color have an opportunity to speak up with their vote. Those who are registered and do not vote will be complicit in the re-election of Sheriff Smith as a 5-term incumbent who have the ‘incumbent advantage’.

Is there a qualified candidate with the requisite interest, training, experience and resolve to address the many issues extant today at the leadership level of the “Office of the Sheriff”? YES, THERE IS!

Fortunately, a recently published article entitled “OVERSIGHT, REFORM OF SHERIFF’S OFFICE ARE PAST DUE” exists. It is authored by John Hirakawa, (Bay Area News Group, Mercury News, September 26, 2018, Opinion Page A10). EO’s readers are encouraged to look up this article in order to read its content and acquire its informed content directly and personally. There is a level of confidence and satisfaction one has when one is appropriately informed.

The ‘protective custody’ levels of all inmates needs to be addressed. The training of personnel involved in implementation of all protective custody issues needs to be always monitored. The mission of the Department of Corrections as well as that of the Office of the Sheriff needs to go beyond issues of “surveillance, suppression and safety”.

The County’s taxpayers merit receiving timely reports on progress made, if any, on those 173 issues (recommendations) made by the ‘Blue Ribbon Committee’ chaired by Judge LaDoris Cordell (retired) some 3 years ago. Where do the “independent civilian oversight” reports go? These reports need to get beyond the offices of the County Executive and the Board of Supervisors. Reporting to this level of the County’s leadership does not constitute letting the community know. How many complaints from the public (especially those submitted by family members of inmates) have been received and appropriately addressed?

Sheriff’s Deputies may need more in-service training and periodic assessment of ‘personal temperament’ factors which indicate a need for respites or reassignments. The jail environment is one of very high stress because of the concentration of individuals with a propensity to be spontaneously abusive or violent. What are the current personnel policy changes needed to protect our employees, the deputies? Today much more is known about human behavior, mental health, and behavioral health modification & rehabilitation opportunities. Is new information being used and implemented? Opportunities for operational cost management exist today.

For example, incarceration cost of an inmate is $45,000 per year; the same individual may be monitored by a probation officer at a cost of $12,000 per year. The reduction in operations cost is $32,000 per year. If 35% of inmates have mental health issues, and if some 25% of inmates are there awaiting their court appearance hearing, it seems possible to devise a different protocol for these two cohorts who do not present a danger to the community in terms of being violent, being a predatory sex offender, or addicted to drugs.

There is an opportunity to identify with use of assessment techniques those who could be and should be at home in their community, with their family; keeping their jobs, etc… each individual not jailed ends up being a $32,000 cost reduction. Just one hundred such individuals receiving alternatives to being jailed results in savings of $3,200,000 per year! When will this approach be assessed, devised and implemented? It would make us taxpayers happy to know that effort is happening.

The registered voters of this County of Santa Clara will have an opportunity to elect a new Sheriff this coming Tuesday, November 6, 2018, California’s Election Day. Remember that your vote is your voice. Those who do not speak up by voting may end up being complicit by allowing this FIVE TERM INCUMBENT to win again. PLAN TO SPEAK UP WITH YOUR VOTE!

VOTE FOR JOHN HIRAKAWA, former undersheriff, retired. This County needs a new sheriff who is committed to reforms, does not oppose Civilian Monitoring-Oversight, and will increase transparency, accountability, and responsibility. We, The People who pay the taxes merit knowing what’s happening in our jails and knowing about issues which our law enforcement officers face when on-duty.

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