Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 12
Challenger Sgt. Sandra Brown talks about budget reform, safety, and more for the Sheriff's Department
BY AMY ASMAN
Last week, Sun readers heard from Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown about why he’s running for re-election. This week, the Sun talks to his challenger Sgt. Sandra Brown, who works a supervisor in the coroner’s office.
Can you elaborate more on your goal to reform the Sheriff’s Office in terms of spending and organization?
Instead of being ashamed or political about the costs of doing our job, I think we need honesty. [Sheriff Bill Brown has] gone to the board numerous times with huge spending … [that’s] over the allotted sum. The rules are specific that he needs to come to the board first and ask for the money before the costs go out, and yet he’s doing it the other way—and they’ve reprimanded him on it, but he continues to do it. The real cost of the North County Jail keeps fluctuating: It was $17 million, and then it was $20 million, and now it’s $15 million. I’m not sure from the article that you wrote, he said $15.8 million, I’m not sure if he’s talking about overall costs with the $140 million because it’s kind of ambiguous … .
The STAR [Complex], OK, so if he is, what he’s talking about is the $100 million facility is going to cost $20 million to staff and he adds another $15.8 million, we’re looking at $35.8 million to staff and operate the North County Jail when we’ve been told as taxpayers it was going to be $17 million.
... Under this administration, we’ve had six helicopters, but we’ve also seen a decrease in services. So when I talk about fixing the department, I’m saying, what are the priorities? Is it having a North County Jail, is it keeping our Foster Road jail open, or is it having six helicopters? … The reality is that he’s spent a lot of money on toys, and he’s not spending it on things that are needed in this county. Look at the Foster Road jail: He closed that right before the beginning of AB 109, and that was part of the AB 109 plan—to house some of the inmates there. So that plan fell apart. … The other glitch was that we’ve had a staffing crisis in our agency for over four years, and that was due to him, not the county. He likes to put it on the Board of Supervisors, but that was because he stopped any hiring operations. He closed down our Human Resources Department. We’re down 40 funded positions today.
It didn’t. We lost positions, but there’s also attrition. Did he tell you that we only laid off one employee?
That was attrition. … Through attrition we were able to lose those 64 positions with laying off only one employee that we’ve rehired. … Today currently we’re down 40 positions. … Last year we hired over 70 employees, and we lost over 50 through attrition. This year we hired 13 and we lost 20, but it’s also because he’s allowing the department to decay especially in the South County Jail. We’ve had deputies work one shift in the jail and then quit because of the environment … which consists of a lack of training, overcrowding of the inmates, [and] it’s an unsafe environment and we can’t retain employees. We’ve taken deputies off the streets and placed them in the South County Jail just to keep the South County Jail open. … We have a retention crisis, and Bill Brown doesn’t understand that. He thinks it’s a staffing crisis. The question is how can we retain employees because we’ve let the jail decay so much.
To stop the hemorrhaging and the crisis, we’re going to have to put deputies back in the jail to augment staffing, and we’re probably going to have to hire out background investigators to do private human resources. I know you brought up in your interview [with Sheriff Brown] the amount of time it takes to hire someone—well, then that makes sense that you hire background investigators who are certified just like law enforcement. There are many companies that do that, and you put that money in the front and try to get more employees on that end, also improving what’s going on in the jail. There has to be a plan. [The jail has] over a 70 percent pre-trial rate of people who have been arrested and are sitting in the jail waiting to go to trial; there has to be a process of … finding alternative places people who are non-violent offenders or first-time offenders who don’t need to be in the jail, whether through electronic monitoring or some other form of house arrest.
I think the $100 million portion, the 377-bed portion of the jail makes sense. The STAR Complex, to me, the funding … it’s kind of ambiguous how he puts it, but he’s talking about the $15.8 million being needed for that facility, I don’t know where we’re going to get that money. That’s a new number. That’s in addition to the $20 million. … I think there just needs to be an honest conversation about the staffing and maintenance, and that’s my only concern, because the numbers keep changing. I understand that a project like that is going to have some fluctuation, but we can’t have smoke and mirrors when we’re talking about taxpayers paying … for a facility like that. It’s not free money.
We’ve had two full-time deputies working on gangs from Cuyama to Carpenteria, which is inadequate; I think that’s obvious to anyone. We need a sheriff that understands the complexity of the gangs that have rooted into our community. These aren’t small-time gangs selling little bags of marijuana and tagging on the street corner. These are gangs that are very sophisticated. They are organized crime, and they’re doing taxation, kidnapping, money laundering, drug trafficking, homicides—the list just goes on. And the only way you’re going to be able to make a dent in that crime is doing long-term investigations to take these groups down in large numbers at one time. You can’t take them down one at a time in a patrol car and a roving gang unit and expect to make any sort of difference.
Again, we have 40 funded positions right now in the agency. I think it’s 12 deputy positions right now that are open, so you could allocate those to the gang unit. You have the ability to staff and figure out where your priorities are. Instead we’re taking 12 deputies from the streets and putting them in the jail to keep the jail open … because, again, we’re not be able to retain employees in the jail.
Yes, I want to have that, and I will, but it’s also about being a more proactive sheriff. I want to start what I’m calling a parent academy and hire one civilian employee to basically do reach out to parents and families and youth [to] educate them on drugs, gangs, all the red flags, and also teach parenting. That employee will [reach out to] nonprofits … and the nonprofits will teach it to the community to help parents recognize the red flags and keep [their children] from coming into the criminal justice system. … We should be doing prevention on the other end. The cycle begins with violence, gangs, abuse, poverty, and drugs in our households. It’s about generations upon generations that have gone through the criminal justice system and become institutionalize to where the next generation believes that that’s their path. We need to change that perception with kids and make them believe that there are alternatives to incarceration.
I’d like to end with I didn’t plan on this being my career path. I’ve been with the department 17 years, and I never thought this is how my career path would go. I thought I would be a lieutenant, maybe a commander, and then retire. But after working under this administration for almost eight years, and watching the sheriff take the privilege of what he has and really whining about the budget and not focusing on solutions, I can’t stay silent. The closing of our Foster Road jail for a little over two years, causing the increase in cost to taxpayers, the increase in crime. Santa Maria was listed by the FBI as one of the top 10 most violent cities in America. How does he not play a role in that? Those are decisions he made. That doesn’t have to do with budget; that was him deciding the Santa Maria [substation] jail is not a priority. You can’t sit silent when you see things you think you can fix and things that are not priorities that should be. … He’s also been talking about this de facto mental health facility for almost eight years. So what’s the solution? The solution is that we train our deputies in restorative policing, using alternatives to citations and putting them in custody. … Here you have a person who is [displaying] irrational behavior because of their mental illness and you’re throwing them in jail. The cost to the taxpayers, the cost to that person is overwhelming. So you look at someone like Santa Barbara PD that’s using restorative policing, they’ve dropped their caseload of incarcerating the mentally ill—it’s a huge percentage. So we need to start working with Alcohol, Drug, Mental Health [Services], we need to work with nonprofits and our homeless shelters and find alternatives for them other than our jail. He’s had eight years to come up with a solution. He doesn’t have a solution except for the $140 million jail facility. The Marian hospital thing is going to take another two years.
Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at email@example.com.