Thursday, October 21, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 34

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 9th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 41

Community members call for county Sheriff's Office oversight

By Malea Martin

On Dec. 1, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors held its third hearing on criminal justice system changes since June, when the item was first introduced following the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed. 

The Sheriff’s Office, which runs the Santa Barbara County Jail (pictured), has been at the center of locals’ recent calls for more accountability and oversight.

“The impacts of systemic racism can have dramatic consequences,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said as he introduced the item. “In our county, this looks like Black and Latino residents being arrested and incarcerated at higher rates, Latino residents and other people of color testing positive for COVID-19 at higher rates, and generational inequities fueling achievement gaps that exist in many of our local schools.”

Assistant County Executive Officer Bernard Melekian told the board that the county’s jail population was 932 inmates in April 2019. One year later, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold, that number dropped to 692. Sheriff Bill Brown reported later in the meeting that as of Dec. 1, the population was at 569 after a number of inmates were transferred to state jails. 

But Brown said that number could begin to creep back up in coming weeks, as an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks in the state jail system recently led the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to halt transfers once again. This means that inmates who would normally be moved from the county to the state jail will stay in local custody for the time being. 

Following the staff report, 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said the board still needed to address “the elephant in the room”: ongoing calls from the community to create a sheriff’s oversight committee.

Much of the public comment that followed requested more transparency and oversight of the Sheriff’s Office, just as Hartmann alluded to.

Connie Alexander, who identified herself as an African American community member, told the board during her comment that “progress is subjective.”

“I don’t really see a ton of progress here,” Alexander said. “Before we pat ourselves on the back and go too far, I think there’s a lot more work to be done.” 

County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said that such committees can be only “advisory to the board, not directive to the sheriff.” Only the California Attorney General has supervisory powers over sheriffs, he said.

Hartmann added that, as a supervisor, she has felt frustrated at times over the lack of agency the board has with the sheriff’s department.

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