Updates on County Sheriff Oversight

Notes from the Field from Jody Nunez, LWVO Board

Interviewer: When you last posted we learned that Alameda County Supervisors can now appoint a Sheriff’s oversight committee. Among other things, lots of concerns have been raised about conditions in the Santa Rita jail, health and mental health services for inmates (85% of whom are in pre-trial detention because they don’t have money for bail), and a very high rate of in-custody deaths.


What should the public know now about the status of the Board of Supervisors discussions? We know there have been several public hearings, but what does the public need to know now and is there anything concerned citizens should do?


JN: There was a presentation by Wendy Stills to the Public Protection Committee on Thursday last week, unfortunately before any real public comment could happen the meeting ended when an in-person speaker objected to the mask requirement.


At this meeting and the public outreach meeting before there have been coordinated objections to the Oversight commission -- they have very specific talking points and seem to be a large, organized group. It is critical to reach out to the individual BOS members to express support for the Oversight Commission. You can write your representative, email, call or virtually attend a BOS meeting. I am not sure when this specific issue will be on the agenda, but I will keep you posted. We are trying to reach out to all each individual Board of Supervisor to discuss our support of this commission and are hoping you do too.


Interviewer: Besides actually appointing an oversight committee, the League has a long-standing commitment to citizen oversight, and we want to make sure any committee has the resources it needs to do the job. What things are most important to an effective Sheriff oversight committee and what have advocates for reform felt are the critical pieces?


JN: The two most important pieces of this commission is setting up an independent selection committee, this will make ensure the members of the commission are diverse and reflect the communities who are most impacted by the Sheriff's department and the Jail.


It is also imperative the commission and the Inspector General have independent counsel; if the commission is represented by County Counsel it will be more difficult for the commission and the Inspector General to do their work as County Counsel has an inherent conflict as the legal representation of the Sheriff department. County Counsel has been very resistant to this commission, evidenced by their very weak proposed draft of the statute for the commission.


We--in collaboration with the Faith in Action group--have submitted a draft for a much stronger, independent commission. We are hoping for public support of our alternate draft. Our draft establishes a strong transparent commission which has the power to effect change and hopefully interrupt the current cycle of deaths, poor mental health services and litigation regarding the poor conditions at Santa Rita.


Interviewer: Although the oversight committee is unrelated to the June election, we understand that there are three candidates running for Alameda County Sheriff. How can people learn more about the candidates so they can make an educated choice?


Attend the many candidate forums that are currently being held by the LWV and many local political and community-based organizations. This is the first contested competitive Sheriff race in our county in decades. The Sheriff is not only in charge of the jail, but he is also in charge of the Coroner's Office, he provides Emergency services to the county, provides police services to all unincorporated areas in Alameda County and provides staffing in the courts, including the service of eviction notices and orders of the court. This is a powerful office with a very large budget, approximately $550 million dollars so we all should be interested in who holds this job.


(Editorial note: This June voters have 28 days to cast their votes and many more options including vote by mail and voting locations to use regardless of where you live. Because every voter will receive a mail ballot, it is important to have your registration up to date. Visit the League’s website for more details. Please also see this related news article.)