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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 20th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 11

Santa Barbara County Sheriff incumbent Bill Brown talks about the North County Jail, budget cuts, and more

By AMY ASMAN

There are two Browns on the June 3 ballot for Santa Barbara County Sheriff, but they couldn’t be more different—a fact both incumbent Bill Brown and his opponent, Sandra Brown, have worked hard to emphasize. Here’s a selection of the Sun’s interview with the incumbent sheriff. Next week we’ll talk to Sandra.

What’s the current status of the North County Jail?


THREE-TERM SHERIFF?
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown is running for a third term as sheriff against Sgt. Sandra Brown, who Sun readers will hear from next week.
PHOTO BY BILL BROWN FOR SHERIFF

The situation of the jail now is that we’ve received preliminary approval from the Board of Supervisors and the state to proceed with the project. We have completed the design phase of the project. We are in a period now where the construction drawings are being prepared by the architect. We are going to begin, probably in about a month or so, the prequalification process for contractors. We hope to go out to bid in November, to award a contract sometime in early spring of 2015, and then actually break ground in the summer or fall of 2015. We hope to finish the project by the spring of 2018. … All told, it’s a $140 million project for which we have $119 million in state funding. What we’re moving forward with right now is the first phase. We’re going to come in behind that and construct the [Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry (STAR) Complex] either at the same time as the North County Jail or shortly after it’s finished. The plan is for the Board of Supervisors to each year carve out [money from] the general fund growth to get roughly $15.8 million for the additional operation costs of the STAR center.

You’ve stated numerous times that the jail is the county’s de facto mental health facility. What would you like to see done to address that?

What I’ve told the board, and it’s important to understand, is that although we’re going to have an area of the [new] jail that will allow us to better manage people who are severely mentally ill, this is not taking the place of a psychiatric emergency facility, or a puff unit. … The reality is we only have 16 puff beds in the county for 440,000 people, which is really inadequate. … The county is also currently looking at a partnership with Marian Medical Center to do a facility up in the North County.

How do you plan to address issues such as overcrowding and releasing “non-violent” offenders into the community between now and when the new jail is completed?

We’ve seen our jail population increase by about 150 inmates on any given day—about 15 percent of our in-custody population—as a result of AB 109, but that appears to have stabilized, so we don’t think we’re going to see any increases in those numbers. … AB 109 changed the packaging of how people are held accountable for their actions. What happened is that people who are in our jail, who normally we would send to prison, stay in the jail. And people who were in state prison who normally would have been released on state parole … are instead being released into the county and are being supervised by the probation department. … In addition to that, we have people who we’ve put in alternatives to custody, which includes electronic monitoring programs, and the sheriff’s office monitors them. We also have something called SWAP—Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program—that falls under our purview. … We have implemented something called CRTs, Compliance Response Teams; we have three such teams in the county. … Their job is to find people who abscond … and hold them accountable. Those resources are earmarked specifically for that population. 

What do you think is the solution for dealing with such a huge population being confined in state prisons and local jails?

It has to be a blended approach. You have to have adequate jail and prison capacity, which is beyond what we currently have. Our infrastructure has not kept pace with the increasing population in our county, and our state is having a very difficult time with inadequate prisons. But the other part of that is that you have to do a good job of reprogramming those inmates who are in jail. You have to provide them with the opportunities to learn, to change, to exercise better impulse control, to learn responsibility, to get an education, to get a job skill or training. Addictions have to be conquered, anger has to be managed. The reality is that most people who go into jail were not very marketable in the first place. They’re even less marketable when they come out because they’ve been in jail and nobody wants to hire them because they’re afraid of them. We have to change that by giving them a marketable skill and modifying the behavior that got them into jail in the first place. The problem—is and this has always been the problem—is that when money is short, the rehabilitative programs are the first things that get cut.

What’s your response to the claim that you’ve put too much focus on the North County Jail and not enough on putting more people on the streets?

Well, first of all, my opponent likes to bang this drum quite a bit, and it’s a political tactic. It’s basically taking someone’s strength … and trying to turn it into a weakness. The reality is three of my predecessors have tried over more than 30 years to build a northern branch jail; 22 grand juries have recommended that we build a northern branch; there have been several attempts, there have been seven different studies done. We had to have a new jail. The reality is that our jail now is completely inadequate for the population that we serve. It was my primary campaign promise that I would tackle this problem, and we have put a lot of energy into it and I’m very proud of that. It’s not something that I feel compelled to make excuses for. I’m very proud that we’re making it happen.

What do you consider your top accomplishments in addition to the jail?

One of my campaign promises was to bring back the DARE program, and we did that. We didn’t have a full-time gang unit when I became sheriff, [so] we established a full-time gang unit. We expanded narcotics enforcement, we established a full-time rural crime program; we established a number of things that are unfortunately no longer with us because of budget deficits and issues. We had a community services unit, we had crime prevention specialists, and we had a research unit. There are a number of things that had to go by the wayside as a result of the cuts that we’ve had to endure over the last six years due to the recession.

What would you say to people who have criticized the length of your department’s hiring process? 

We’ve been continually hiring people; we’ve never stopped hiring people except for when we were in the recession, when we were shedding jobs instead of adding jobs. But ever since that ended, our human resources division has done an exceptional job of selecting and hiring people. The problem is our process is a difficult, a convoluted, and a lengthy one, and it’s because our standards are so high. We don’t just take anyone and hire them on as a sheriff’s deputy or as a custody deputy. They go through an extensive application and training process that takes the better part of a year. … The only way you can change that is to lower your standards to accelerate the hiring process.

How do you plan to bring more resources to your department? 

We tried to get some additional tax revenue through Measure S that would have not only paid for operation and match money for the jail, but it would have provided some additional funds for public safety services as well, and it was very handily defeated at the polls. People are not inclined, at this point, to pay any additional dollars. They think the government should be protecting and providing services to them on the money that they’re already paying. There have been some exceptions to that … but I don’t know if that’s anything that would be realistic in the short-term. We have to look for better ways of using the revenue we have, and a lot of that comes down to growth in the general fund, growth in the tax base, and growth in property and sales tax. As that grows, my hope is that we’ll continue to repair not only the sheriff’s office, but also the other county departments that we work hand in hand with. 

Are there any outreach efforts for the most vulnerable members of our community, such as immigrants? 

Our outreach efforts with all members of the community have, frankly, been extremely limited because of all the cuts that we’ve taken. Our department has lost 64 positions in the last six years. That’s about 10 percent of our organization. The cuts have been disproportionate in terms of support services and management. Sworn management positions are down 28 percent from where they were when I was sworn in as sheriff back in 2007. All of those cuts were reluctantly made in an effort to keep deputies on the streets and custody deputies working in our jail—on the frontlines, so to speak. … It’s the frontlines that have to be the priority. … We do have our Citizen’s Academy, both in north and in south county in English, and we’re putting together a Spanish one … to bring people in to see the inner workings of the sheriff’s office and give them a better understanding of what we do. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

My hope is that people will look at what my track record is and what my accomplishments are and what my vision for the future is and … base their decisions on that. … It’s important for voters to understand the choice that they have: I’m someone who has extensive experience as a law enforcement executive and a master’s degree in public administration from USC. I’m well versed in the political realities of the county and the state. My opponent has three years experience as a supervisor of six people and a high school diploma and no experience as a manager or chief executive.

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at aasman@santamariasun.com.




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