Simitian Calls for Independent Oversight of County Jails, Law Enforcement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        
September 6, 2017

SIMITIAN CALLS FOR INDEPENDENT OVERSIGHT OF COUNTY JAILS, LAW ENFORCEMENT

SAN JOSE – Two years after the tragic death of Santa Clara County Jail inmate Michael Tyree, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian is proposing independent civilian oversight of County law enforcement and corrections.

“Meaningful oversight is an essential component of the reform effort that has been under way for the past two years,” said Simitian. “It’s time to take the policy discussions we’ve had and turn them into tangible change.”

Following Tyree’s death on August 26, 2015, the Board of Supervisors created a Blue Ribbon Commission on Improving Custody Operations to study options for bettering circumstances within the jail. Over the next year, the Blue Ribbon Commission and 13 other organizations compiled a list of 623 recommendations to improve conditions within the jails.

At the same time, departments across the County undertook significant steps on their own to improve conditions within the jail. Between April of 2016 and April of 2017, the Board’s Finance and Government Operations Committee (which Simitian chairs) oversaw the discussion, review, and implementation of the vast majority of these recommendations.

“The Blue Ribbon Commission made it clear that establishing an office to provide meaningful civilian oversight was one of their most important recommendations; in fact, one of their two highest priorities” said Simitian. “Now it’s our responsibility to follow through, and turn that recommendation into real, lasting change.”

To that end, Simitian asked County Counsel to draft an ordinance establishing an Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Oversight within Santa Clara County. The model described in the draft ordinance closely reflects the structure of the County of Los Angeles’s Inspector General model, but is tailored to fit Santa Clara County’s specific circumstances.

The ordinance reflects input from the community, County staff and the Department of the Sheriff; as well as nation-wide research as to best practices, the testimony and recommendations of eight national and international experts in the field, and the recommendations of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section.

The proposed ordinance would create the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Oversight, which would have five primary responsibilities:

  • Operations oversight and audit (that is, oversight of day to day operations; audit and monitor the investigation of complaints)
  • Receive complaints
  • Policy analysis and recommendations
  • Community outreach
  • Mediation
     

The Ordinance also provides for the creation of a Citizens’ Oversight Committee to ensure public access, engagement and input.

Simitian said his interest in civilian oversight of County law enforcement emerged in the aftermath of the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri three years ago. “I asked myself, what can we do to make sure we never have a Ferguson here in Santa Clara County?”

“Body-worn cameras for our officers seemed like an important first step, along with Implicit Bias training for our law enforcement and corrections staff. The Board agreed, and we’re moving forward on both fronts. The third key ingredient” said Simitian, “is meaningful civilian oversight, which I initially envisioned for the enforcement Deputies out in the community. The beating death in our jail, however, highlighted the need for oversight on both the correctional side and the patrol side of operations in the Sheriff’s Department.”

As to his proposal, “This is a first draft, not a final draft,” said Simitian. “However, given the importance of this issue both within the County and to the larger community, I believe that this is a task that benefits from as much sunlight as possible.”

“This is a challenging endeavor,” said Simitian. “Getting it right takes great care. We have to keep the public safe, and protect their due process rights. We have to keep our officers safe, and protect their due process rights. And we have to build and maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement, which is in everybody’s interest,” he said.

The Board will hear the proposed ordinance preliminarily at its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 12, at 9:30 A.M. The proposal will then be sent to the Finance and Government Operations Committee for review in the coming months.

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