What if San Diego had a leader in law enforcement who could see beyond warehousing the homeless? What if we had a Sheriff who wasn’t proud of the fact our jails are dumping grounds for the county’s mentally ill humans? What if we could find a way past the “us versus them” mentality, where fear drives the relationship with the government agency touching the most lives?
The question for voters in the 2018 election for County Sheriff shouldn’t be “what if;” it should be “why not?”
California’s electorate has (over and over and over again) spoken up. The days of lock ‘em up and throw away the key are over. Some of our public servants don’t like that idea. There are plenty of reasons to believe current Sheriff of San Diego County, Bill Gore, is one of those people.
Gore got his job the old-fashioned way; being hand-picked by his predecessor and rubberstamped by the County Board of Supervisors in 2009. In 2010, blessed with the advantages of incumbency, he defeated two challengers from the right who campaigned against him for being soft on crime. In 2014 he ran unopposed.
This year, Gore’s got a challenger. Sheriff’s Commander Dave Myers is running on a platform of reform based on 32 years of law enforcement experience with the department, along with insights gained from being the first person in the Department to come out of the closet.
A quick look around the Sheriff’s Department would seem to suggest there’s plenty of room for reform.
Since Bill Gore took office, the County of San Diego has paid out (through September 15, 2017) $24,033,149.36 via 108 personal injury and damage settlements.
While the Sheriff’s Department says there is no correlation between the department’s response and the current hepatitis A outbreak, a 2013 grand jury report was critical of screening and immunization procedures for jail inmates:
“Public health and correctional professionals now recognize the significance of including incarcerated populations in community-based disease prevention and control strategies,” the jury wrote in bold letters.
County Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer and Sheriff Bill Gore disagreed with the findings and rejected the recommendations.
San Diego’s epidemic of jail suicides in recent years has attracted national attention. Yet another grand jury issued a report in May 2017 critical of training and procedures, concluding with four recommendations for action.
The grand jury’s report, the first to focus on jail suicides since at least 2011, found a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department policy manual was recently updated with procedures for new safety cells for inmates believed to be at risk for suicide. But there wasn’t any detailed training for correctional officers on how to effectively reduce suicides or a larger written policy statement from the Sheriff’s Department. The grand jury concluded that a top-level suicide prevention plan is needed to focus jail staff on potential warnings for suicide.
Sheriff Gore’s response to the report disagreed wholly or in part with three of the four grand jury suggestions. The need for a full-time Mental Health Officer was rejected on the basis that the private contractor providing services had adequate personnel to fulfill the needs of the inmates. Fortunately, there have been no suicides so far this year.
Most recently, charges against Joshua Strode were dismissed once a video surfaced of deputies abusing him in the intake area of the jail. He was initially charged with battery of an officer and resisting an officer.
Questions have arisen stemming from Sheriff Gore’s involvement in a scheme involving illegal campaign contributions made by Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura. Court documents filed recently say Gore’s office was the location where Matsura informed then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis he was, in fact, a foreign national.
Gore’s meandering into politics includes a campaign video (from 2016) supporting Darrell Issa, who –I’m told– has tried to cash in that relationship by pressuring the sheriff to clamp down on the weekly protests outside his office in Vista.
Most disturbing to me, and indicative of the current sheriff’s leadership was the Voice of San Diego report on two-week trial run of new state requirements aimed data collection in order to identify and deter police racial profiling.
Perhaps, as authorities emphasized, the amount of data collected by the Sheriff’s department wasn’t enough to make a conclusion about about an apparent disparity indicating Hispanic and black drivers being stopped at a higher rate than their share of the local population.
But the shocking number of San Diego Sheriff Deputies (and SDPD) who found reasons to not comply with the requirements of the survey tells the real story, I think:
San Diego Police and the San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies participated in a two-week trial run of the proposed rules earlier this year. The results showed minorities were stopped disproportionately when compared with the local population, though spokesmen for both agencies discouraged making such demographic comparisons given the small size of the dataset.
During the field test, a high volume of vague answers like “other” and “NA” stymied meaningful analysis. Over objections from some law enforcement agencies that complained further explanation was time-consuming, officers will be required to write a short explanation of the reason for stop and basis for a search in their own words.
The “reason for presence” entered by half of all San Diego Police and County Sheriff’s deputies, for instance, was simply “NA.” Another 26 percent marked “patrol.”
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s 2015 law “aimed at ensuring that all Californians are treated fairly by law enforcement” won’t be worth much if officers simply muddle the process.
Looking forward, San Diego’s Sheriff is also involved with the statewide association backing an initiative rolling back criminal justice reforms implemented through voter-backed Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016.
The California Sheriffs Association, along with a similar group representing District Attorneys, has been a mainstay of political efforts to oppose and repeal efforts for legal reforms.
The job of sheriff is bigger than most people realize, so consider a few statistics:
- The San Diego County Sheriff is chief law enforcement officer for all unincorporated areas, and 9 cities in an area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
- The department includes approximately 2600 sworn personnel, 1600 professional staff, and 1000 volunteers working out of 18 substations.
- The department runs seven detention facilities. With an average daily population of approximately 5,300 inmates and a budget of $297 million, the San Diego County Jail system is one of the largest in the country.
- 35% of County inmates (60% of the juveniles) are diagnosed with mental illnesses; 26% are homeless, unable to afford bail for minor offenses.
- Homeless arrests are generally for misdemeanor offenses, the Sheriff’s Department has discretion over whether they’ll be incarcerated if not charged with felonies. Many sit in jail for as long as 200 days, before being released, usually because the City Attorney’s office has declined to prosecute them.
Now we get to the ‘why not?” part of the story.
This year’s election is about more than simply choosing between candidate tweedle-dee and candidate tweedle-dum. A narcissist in the White House is inciting division and hate, along with pushing an authoritarian agenda.
Thousands of candidates have made the commitment to run for office in the wake of last year’s presidential election, many from groups that have been historically underrepresented.
A growing realization that this hope and change stuff needs to happen from the bottom up to have any lasting effect means there will be a lot of new faces in the half-million or so local contests around the country. And the struggle for diversity and positive change goes beyond election contests; cultures of oppression are being challenged.
At the root of the County Sheriff’s problems are the realities of the department not looking like the communities it serves and a 19th-century approach to policing. Body cameras, soothing rhetoric, and storefronts cannot bridge the gaps driven by a culture based on the inherent righteousness of the badge.
Candidate Dave Myers is one of those people who’ve seen the world change around them and decided to change with it. His desire to be a cop started with a childhood encounter, namely getting caught doing something wrong by a police officer.
Growing up in near-suburban San Diego meant he was taken home. In a recent interview, Myers told me that’s where his lifelong desire to be one of the ‘good guys’ began.
Three decades-plus on the Sheriff’s department have left him wise enough to realize the privilege that got him off the hook. And his idea of being a ‘good guy’ has been tempered by working in virtually all the components of the agency.
Make no mistake about it, Myers loves being a law enforcement officer. He happens to think there’s a better way of getting the job done by emphasizing diversity, prevention instead of reaction, along with including empathy and de-escalation as means of resolving conflicts.
He wants the department of the ‘business’ of waging the war on drugs, to build an agency responsive to the communities it serves instead of a political ideology, promising to “hold our deputies to the highest standards of ethics and provide the training and support necessary to achieve this.”
Throughout our conversation Myers pointed to the lack of women on the force, saying recruitment efforts weren’t enough and pointing to the issues of retaining female officers.
From the campaign site on why Myers is running:
What our current state of affairs demonstrates is a failure on the part of our law enforcement leadership to own up to the shortcomings of policing today. They are not asking the difficult questions nor implementing proven strategies of building real community partnerships. All of which can keep our Deputies, and our communities, safe.
Myers emphasized during our meeting that he’s running on his law enforcement credentials. He’s a reformer, not a radical, and feels like he’s earned the opportunity to put his experiences into practice.
One comment, published in response to a simply awful op-ed in the LGBT Weekly gave me insight into the human behind the badge:
It takes courage to have come out as the first openly gay Deputy at the Sheriff’s Department at a time when guys like Gore we’re keeping files and tabs on gay activists in San Diego because they were seen as deviants and morally corrupt.
It takes courage to come out and have to endure other Deputies turning their backs on you and marginalizing you because you were the “faggot cop”. It takes courage to continue to do your job and do it really well even though you had lieutenants and captains who treated you Like you were trash because you were gay. I know, because he helped me to accept myself and live my life as an openly lesbian Deputy.
Yeah, he’s made a difference already and I know he will make it even better when he is elected Sheriff. I’d like to sign my real name to this, but Gore is so petty and insecure that I doing so would be bad for me. Yeah, it’s still that bad at the Sheriff’s dept.
It’s my belief 2018 electoral contests for County positions represent the best opportunity for progressive change at the local level. I will, of course, cover other contests, but feel these races are the best place to start.
In addition to the story above, I’ve also profiled Matt Strabone, a progressive candidate for Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk and will be posting on District Attorney Candidate Geneviéve Jones-Wright (DA) later this week.
I’ll spend December researching the candidates for Supervisor (and taking some time off) and begin with candidate profiles in January (After Three Kings Day).
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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