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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on May 16th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 10

Up for grabs: Two Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office lieutenants challenge Sheriff Bill Brown's bid for re-election

By JOE PAYNE

It's not every year that Santa Barbara County voters to choose a new sheriff. It's every four, of course, but this year's election is different from those in the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office's recent history. That's because Sheriff Bill Brown—who's running for re-election for his fourth consecutive term—is facing not one, but two challengers from among his ranks.


COVER ILLUSTRATION BY ROSS MAYFIELD

Brown's first bid for re-election was in 2010, when he ran unopposed. He beat out a single challenger in 2014 with 57 percent of the vote. Now, the two Sheriff's Office lieutenants hope to unseat Brown in the June 5 primary election.

Lt. Brian Olmstead and Lt. Eddie Hsueh have 28 and 31 years of experience at the Sheriff's Office, respectively, and both say it's "time for change" in the agency's leadership. To win the office on June 5, one of the three must receive a simple majority, or more than 50 percent of the vote, from the county's constituents. If a simple majority isn't achieved, the two with the most votes will compete in the midterm elections on Nov. 6.

At an April 26 forum event hosted by the Santa Maria Valley League of Women Voters, the three candidates shared their respective platforms and visions for the future of the Sheriff's Office. The Sun was in attendance to learn the candidates' positions and qualifications, and also to submit important policy questions to those hoping to serve as Santa Barbara County's chief law enforcement officer.

Qualifications and accomplishments

Each candidate began the forum by thanking the League of Women Voters, and then plunged right into a list of their qualifications and achievements.

Sheriff Bill Brown touted his 40-year law enforcement career, which includes more than 20 years in Santa Barbara County. He came to the area as the Lompoc Police Chief, where he served for 11 years, the same amount of time he's served as sheriff. He has a master's degree in public administration from USC and is a graduate of the Delinquency Control Institute, the Northwest Command College, the FBI National Academy, and the FBI National Executive Institute.


THEY WANT YOUR VOTE
Sheriff Bill Brown (pictured left) is seeking re-election as head of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, but challengers Lt. Eddie Hsueh (center) and Lt. Brian Olmstead (right) are running against him in the June 5 election. The three spoke back and forth at a forum event on April 26 hosted by the Santa Maria Valley League of Women Voters.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

Brown also pointed to accomplishments he and the Sheriff's Office achieved during his tenure, including "delivering on my promise to make the Northern Branch Jail a reality." He said his leadership brought back the DARE program, expanded the gang and narcotics unit, and oversaw the merger of the Sheriff's Office and County Fire Department's aviation units—all amid yearly budget crunches.

"I've led the Sheriff's Office through a series of critical events," Brown said. "Several despicable mass murders, a dozen major wildfires, the recent Montecito mudslides."

Hsueh has a 30-plus-year career working for the county, and said he "grew up in Santa Maria, and now I live in Solvang with my wife." He currently serves as the chief of Solvang and Buellton police departments and oversees law enforcement at the Chumash Reservation.

He's worked patrol, community resources, SWAT, records, rural crime, court security, civil training, and administration with the Sheriff's Office. Hsueh graduated from the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute and plans to pursue a master's degree in criminal justice.

In 2015, he spearheaded a crisis intervention training program at the Sheriff's Office and was recognized by the California State Assembly for performance in conflict resolution.

"As a non-politician, I'll bring a clean slate and new energy focused on the needs of our diverse community," Hsueh said. "I'm proud to have dedicated my adult life to the safety of our community, and I'd be honored to earn your vote."

Lt. Olmstead said he grew up in New Cuyama, where his father was a firefighter. His brother is a firefighter as well.

"Public service is in my blood," he said.

Serving under three sheriffs in his 28 years at the Sheriff's Office, Olmstead said he started as a rookie and worked his way to management. He's been involved with several departments over the years, including narcotics, gangs, human trafficking, homicide, and various patrol divisions. He ran the Sheriff's Office training bureau, he said, and has taught at the Allan Hancock College police academy for 16 years.

Olmstead has a master's degree in business administration and graduated from the FBI National Academy. He's received a number of Sheriff's Office awards and was named Narcotics Officer of the Year by the state of California. He volunteers for the Special Olympics and is the scout master for Boy Scout Troop No. 95.

"I am proud of our department's working relationship with other first responders and the public, but the work needs to be improved at the highest level," he said. "We need a new leader who will listen and learn and cooperate with partner agencies and community organizations."

Into the issues

Attendees of the forum on April 26 submitted cards with questions scrawled on them, which League of Women Voters organizers arranged into categories, melding multiple questions or those posited to only one candidate.

One of the largest stacks of questions was on the topic of recreational cannabis—how will the Sheriff's Office regulate both legal and illegal cannabis operations in the county?

Sheriff Brown said that recreational cannabis use was "the law of the land," even though he was publicly against Proposition 64. He did say it was the Sheriff's Office's role to enforce county code so that recreational cannabis is used safely and kept away from local youth, which he said would be a challenge.

"It's going to be very important for us to recognize that if there's going to be legal marijuana in our communities, we the people, the county, needs to be able to benefit from that," Brown said, hoping for funding from taxes to "up-staff" the department's narcotics unit.


INCUMBENT CANDIDATE
Sheriff Bill Brown has served as sheriff-coroner and head of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office for three consecutive four-year terms. He’s also former Lompoc chief of police; past president of the California Police Chiefs’ Association, and current president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

Olmstead agreed with Sheriff Brown both that recreational cannabis was the "will of the voters," and said that some of the money collected from taxing the county's cannabis industry should go back to the Sheriff's Office.

"Now with the business licenses and land use, I believe as long as there's proper funding through the tax measure and through business licensing, the Sheriff's Office will be able to respond," Olmstead said. "We are developing a marijuana compliance team that will help enforce the county ordinance, but also primarily going after the black-market-style growers and business people that are outside the law."

Hsueh said he agreed with both Brown and Olmstead and said "we're probably 20 or 30 years from figuring this out." Enforcement of illegal grow operations would require more staff, he said.

"We're already bigger than Humboldt County is what I've heard," he said. "So it's an issue we're really going to have to face."

A question submitted by the Sun asked the candidates to explain their position regarding collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and SB 54, the so-called "sanctuary state" bill.

Sheriff Brown has publicly opposed the bill both personally and as president of the California State Sheriffs Association.

"We believed then and we believe now that it is bad public policy," Brown said. "Our quarrel with SB 54 is that it provides sanctuary to criminals, and we don't believe that should happen."

Brown added that he'd like to work to pass a "legislative fix" to address deficiencies in the bill.

"We have no desire to impact otherwise legal undocumented persons, but we need to target criminals," he said.

Hsueh said that he thought that "the whole immigration system is broken," and said that undocumented immigrants faced legal challenges in immigration court, which is under the executive branch.

"You're not entitled to a public defender, you're not entitled to an attorney unless you can afford it," he said. "There's children that go and represent themselves in immigration court, and in our county our main commodity is agriculture.

"I am not for letting hardened criminals go—and I read the bill, it's California law, the people have spoken—[but] I'm not in support of being an ICE agent, and I'm not in support of cooperating with the federal government on people who are in for petty crimes," he added.

Olmstead said that the federal and state government "have put law enforcement in a difficult situation," and agreed with Brown that the bill "limits our ability to protect the public."

He'd like to see certain crimes added to the list of offenses that would allow state agencies to work with ICE, including certain violent crimes. Olmstead also said that the state's stance can unneccesarily block agencies' access to federal grants to combat problems like drug and human trafficking.

"When I look at it, I'm always worried about a law that restricts law enforcement's ability to protect the community," Olmstead said. "These type of laws that limit our ability to remove serious felons from the community affects those types of investigations."

Community concerns

Questions regarding law enforcement's approach to responding to calls involving people with mental health issues came up as well. Many submitted questions about de-escalating confrontations with vulnerable or disturbed people, and what the Sheriff's Office can do to collaborate with agencies that offer support to those with mental illnesses or substance abuse issues.

Hsueh pointed to the crisis intervention education program he began, which partnered with the county's Behavioral Wellness Department and local nonprofits to train "several hundred" officers in the county, he said.

"It's ongoing training," Hsueh said. "But you have to really think outside the box and be creative so it doesn't cost the Sheriff's Office money. We pay for this by charging a tuition for outside agencies and got our own personal training to do that."

De-escalation and mental health services integration is an important issue across the nation, Hsueh said, explaining that many cases of use of force involved the mentally ill or those with substance abuse issues.


UNION FAVORITE
Lt. Brian Olmstead grew up in New Cuyama and began working for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office in 1990. He is endorsed by the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the union that represents local Sheriff’s Office deputies.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

Olmstead said that he teaches de-escalation tactics as a police academy teacher at Hancock, showing "ways to slow the event down so they don't have to quickly go to some sort of use or force or lethal force."

"We need to continue this training," he said. "Those skills are perishable, both in communication skills and use-of-force tactics, so we need to continue doing those trainings on a routine basis."

Sheriff Brown said that mental health was a topic that "we need to be very, very concerned about," and that "one of the greatest public policy failures of our time was the decision to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill."

"They're rotating in and out of our jails because the jails have become the de facto mental institutions for our counties, and the reality is that mentally ill people shouldn't be in jail. And the reason that most of them are in jail is because there are not adequate community-based treatment or housing alternatives for them," Brown said. "It's really important that we as a community solve this problem, and I commend Lt. Hsueh for spearheading the [crisis intervention] training, and I was happy to approve that as the sheriff."

Brown also pointed to his work serving as a commissioner for the state's Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission, which has studied the issue extensively in the state and across the country. Solutions come when agencies and communities work together, Brown said, and don't wait for a "magic pot of money coming to fix this problem."

Questions about the conditions at the Santa Barbara County Jail came up as well, along with possible solutions to fix the problems.

Brown touted the North County Jail project, which is currently under construction in Santa Maria, which he said was a campaign promise fulfilled. The main jail, however, is overcrowded, aged, and far from an ideal facility.

"Our jail is abominable," Brown said. "It is a facility that in parts of it are over 50 years old. It's an antiquated design, it's not a modern correctional facility, and it inhibits our ability to offer the type of programming that can reform and allow inmates to recover and rehabilitate and ultimately reduce recidivism.

"We're going to have to, in a way that's very smart and diligent, remodel and repurpose the main jail in such a way that we can enhance the medical and mental health facilities in the jail, which are pretty dismal right now," he added.

Olmstead focused on overcrowding and training for the custody staff as an important factor in safety in the Santa Barbara County Jail. He also said that the workload for the jail's custody staff was an issue as well.

"We have to reduce the mandatory overtime that's been in the jail for the last 15 years," Olmstead said. "That's a safety hazard because our custody deputies are getting tired, and it's a lot easier to make mistakes and get hurt, and also it's more unsafe for the inmates."

Getting political

The exchange between Sheriff Brown, Lt. Olmstead, and Lt. Hsueh was friendly and agreeable—most of the time. When the candidates discussed endorsements, however, things got a little heated.

Olmstead received endorsements from multiple local public service unions, a former sheriff, and two county supervisors. A significant endorsement came from the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriffs' Association—the union that represents the Sheriff's Office's former and current sworn staff.


BLUE BLOOD
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Eddie Hsueh spoke about the importance of de-escalation training and his part in developing de-escalation training at the Sheriff’s Office. He was endorsed by the Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee and recently testified at the state capitol in support of SB 1200, the Gun Violence Restraining Order bill.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

"To be a good leader, you must have the confidence from the people that work for you, your peers, and the people you work for. The current sheriff has lost that confidence," Olmstead said during his closing remarks. "The Deputy Sheriffs' Association—made up of the men and women who come to you in your time of need—has endorsed me for sheriff, and basically voted no confidence for the current sheriff with only 47 members out of 463 members voting for him. ... Let's bring back confidence in the office of sheriff."

"You know, Brian, you were doing great up until that point," Brown shot back. "But it's a disingenuous statement to imply that 470-some people voted in the DSA endorsement, and that did not happen, and the reality is that I still have the confidence of many people within that organization, and I have had that confidence in previous elections."

Brown then read an endorsement he received during the 2014 election, which said that "no one has headed the Sheriff's Department better than Bill Brown." The endorsement was penned by Hsueh, Brown revealed after he finished reading.

"I'm not sure what happened between then and now, Eddie, but I want to thank you for that heartfelt endorsement," he said.

Brown also mentioned his many endorsements, which include Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), 5th District County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, local police chiefs, mayors, city council members, and organizations.

Hsueh doesn't have as many endorsements, but his most significant came from the Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee.

Hsueh smiled after Brown read his endorsement from 2014, and offered an olive branch before criticizing Brown.

"Well, first of all, I like Bill Brown, I think he's a good man, but I think there's a time for change and a shelf life on leaders in the Sheriff's Office," Hsueh said. "Leadership's a language, and we talk about, well, you make sergeant and you have a 500-foot view, and you move up and you have a 1,000-foot view, and then you move up to a 100,000-foot view.

"And I think the sheriff's view has become too high," he added. "And I think he's so high at the state level, sitting on commissions. I think that he's well intentioned and he does a great job at some of these committees and whatnot, but it hasn't helped the local communities, and I think we need a sheriff that's going to have a slightly closer view to the communities."

Managing Editor Joe Payne can be reached at jpayne@santamariasun.com.




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