County moves toward sheriff oversight
By Howard Schmidt
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is wrestling with how to impose more oversight over Sheriff Scott Jones and his department.
Jones is a controversial figure. Community activists paint him as head of a rogue department. But he won re-election without a challenger in 2014 and finished first in a four-person contest in 2018.
As an independently elected official, Jones is accountable to voters, not the supervisors.
Despite Jones’ autonomy, the Board of Supervisors is moving toward creating a community review commission that will subject the sheriff and his agency to greater oversight.
The push probably is linked to a shooting in 2017 that erupted into a dispute between Jones and former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Brazil, who served as Sacramento County inspector general.
The inspector general position provides independent and objective review of citizen complaints of misconduct by sheriff employees. Nonetheless, Jones rebuffed Brazil’s critical commentary on the deadly shooting.
The Brazil-Jones feud created a schism among some supervisors—notably Phil Serna—about Jones’ management. Retired Brentwood Police Chief Mark Evenson became the new inspector general. Supervisor Patrick Kennedy says the current IG is receptive to having a community review commission.
Kennedy says he’s wanted a commission for some time for “better transparency and accountability for law enforcement.” He told his colleagues, “The idea isn’t about Jones, but instead the position of sheriff.”
During that discussion, Serna appeared to contradict that by bragging about voting against the sheriff’s budget due to the “department’s leadership.” He meant Jones.
The creation of a review panel would put the sheriff’s department under a degree of civilian oversight that doesn’t exist today. Yet Kennedy’s proposal acknowledges the commission would have no authority to manage or operate the sheriff’s department, including the imposition of discipline.
Originally, the commission wasn’t to have subpoena power. But criticism from community activists led Kennedy (with help from Serna) to add that provision for consideration. Serna says subpoenas are needed because the sheriff’s department operates without “structural scrutiny.”
Citizen review commissions are not without controversy. Membership sometimes gets divided into camps—anti-law enforcement comprised of social justice activists against pro-cop supporters unwilling to recognize any need for reform.
Supervisor Rich Desmond says there is a need for a review commission. He’s a retired CHP officer and worked on Assembly Bill 953, which created the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board to improve diversity and racial and identity sensitivity in law enforcement.
Desmond told fellow supervisors when working on that bill there were legitimate concerns about having extreme viewpoints on the panel. He thinks any county review commission should be “balanced.”
The commission idea has been on the board’s agenda twice this year. Each time, only a handful of citizens commented. Representatives from law enforcement were silent.
The composition of the proposed commission would consist of supervisors each appointing two members, plus one county staff person named by the county executive.
While some supervisors may be critical of Jones’ management, he has a record of reform. Earlier this year, Jones began to equip deputies with body cameras. The department expects full deployment of cameras by June.
Jones was the first sheriff to create a Youth Services Unit that works collaboratively with community partners, including schools, faith-based organizations, businesses and nonprofits. The unit addresses issues such as youth violence and delinquency by positively connecting deputies with underserved youngsters and their families.
The review commission will probably become a reality. County staff has been told to bring supervisors a draft for the group. Time will tell whether the commission succeeds.
Howard Schmidt has worked on the federal, state and local levels of government, including 16 years for Sacramento County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.