The race for Santa Clara County sheriff is in full swing, with five candidates continuing to square off in forums throughout the county. Incumbent Sheriff Laurie Smith is hoping to retain her job, which she's held since 1998.
The four challengers are former Undersheriff John Hirokawa; longtime former Deputy Sheriff Jose Salcido; former military policeman and current Deputy Joe La Jeunesse; and retired San Jose police officer and former Parlier, California, Chief of Police Martin Monica.
The candidates met with the Weekly recently to discuss how they would run the 2,025-person department, including 1,453 sworn officers, if elected. Last week, we reviewed their backgrounds and qualifications. This week, we are publishing their views on everything from working with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to regulation of the jail system to transparency among department leaders.
The Sheriff's Office has been plagued by trouble in recent years, including the 2015 murder of a county jail inmate by three deputies, who were later convicted; the 2017 murder of an inmate at the hands of another; the suicides of several inmates; the escapes of two in November 2016 after they sawed the bars off a cell; and the November escape by two inmates from the Palo Alto courthouse. The 2015 murder prompted a Blue Ribbon Commission to study and outline recommendations for reform of the jail.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the June 5 election, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will take place Nov. 6.
Santa Clara County sheriff
Top priorities: Continuing jail reform and implementing the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations; working to reduce property crimes and auto burglaries; and improving residents' quality of life.
Modernization: Smith said she wants to introduce mindfulness training for staff and have a 40-hour crisis-intervention training for all people in corrections.
She would like to implement mobile mental health units with a deputy and a clinician to respond on the street when a person has a mental health crisis.
The jails: Smith pointed to recent initiatives such as building an area to house mentally ill inmates and the addition of barriers to keep inmates at the Elmwood Correctional Facility from dying by suicide. Eleven specialized teams in the jails now work to help inmates with their mental, substance and medical needs.
She wants there to be additional beds for treatment. There is a list of 100 people in jail awaiting treatment beds, she said.
Mentally ill inmates who are in solitary confinement or single cells see their mental health issues get worse, she said.
"There needs to be a bigger systemic fix. It's not working," she said.
Training would also extend to senior staff, who train the younger deputies and can pass along bad techniques for use of force.
Smith said the department has addressed past hunger strikes with inmate councils.
"I can't tell you why they continue," she said.
Immigration detainers: Smith has followed state and county law regarding ICE access to inmates, she said. Regarding the incident where deputies let ICE agents into the jail, "in a 10-day period of time ICE tried 14 to 15 times to get in," she said. "Our deputies made a mistake."
Transparency: Smith said she is conflicted on whether to release video of incidents. On the one hand, law enforcement often claims that ongoing investigations prohibit the release.
On the other hand, "If there is a public interest, it should be transparent, such as an officer-involved fatal shooting. But the video should be out after the investigation is completed," she said.
Video should not be released if it jeopardizes a witness, she said.
However, former San Jose Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell, who chaired the Blue Ribbon Commission on jail reform, criticized Smith in an email, saying the sheriff lacked transparency during the process.
"Smith was obstreperous and either delayed or simply refused to give information to the Commission that we requested. In one instance, she did a 'data dump' on the Commission by distributing five-inch thick binders to each of us at the start of one of our meetings," which didn't give members time to read the information, Cordell said.
"The Blue Ribbon Commission's top and unanimous recommendation was that there be civilian oversight of the jail operation. Laurie Smith ... has vigorously opposed transparency and civilian oversight and only recently showed grudging support for both," she said.
Stanford public safety: Stanford University's deputy sheriffs have been deputized under a memorandum of understanding with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. The university's Department of Public Safety deputies have control of all initial and follow-up campus crime investigations except for cases of death, attempted homicide, kidnapping or hostage taking. The university pays for its own police chief, the deputies and a captain. The lattermost position is supplied by the Sheriff.
Smith said she has questions about the arrangement. She is not always satisfied with the accuracy and transparency of reporting from Stanford's department, particularly about sexual assaults.
"It's a situation that I don't think should exist the way it is, but there is no political will to change it. I've talked to the county executive and the supervisors about it," she said.
Public-safety adviser to San Jose City Councilman Johnny Khamis; former Santa Clara County deputy sheriff; former San Jose Police Department public-safety adviser; former president of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association.
Top priorities: Salcido would focus on changing the department's culture. He would work to educate his deputies to be neutral peace officers rather than to have preconceived notions about people. He wants his deputies become aware of social injustice so they will better relate to the people with whom they interact.
"The Black Lives Matter movement is real," he said.
He would also find ways to get people with mental illness treatment rather than simply putting them in jail, and he believes deputies need more training to effectively assess and handle persons in mental health crises.
He would also focus on jail reform and on providing treatments for addicted persons and those with mental illnesses. Crime prevention would be a third priority.
Modernization: Salcido said he would buy more technology for the Sheriff's Office, including more laptops, computer programs for processing reports and license plate readers.
He would improve the department's diversity, especially increasing the number of high-ranking female deputies.
He would institute a merit-based promotion system that values how much deputies have helped change the department's culture. Promotions would not be politically based, he said.
Salcido would also increase communication with his staff, giving every employee at least 10 minutes a year of his time to air their concerns and to discuss what is working, he said.
The jails: Salcido would focus on providing treatment to inmates in the jails so that they can overcome or make progress in handling their problems.
"I believe in therapeutic communities; putting people with similar challenges together," he said. Inmates would receive treatment and support each other.
"The average stay for an inmate in the jail is 180 days. That is enough time," he said.
Salcido would reduce gang violence by focusing on the heads of gangs within the jails. By offering supportive services and education, he thinks those persons can be turned around. Inmates who look up to them would follow their example, he said.
He does not support the use of unnecessary force in the jails.
"I'm not a fan of weapons. I'm not a fan of Tasers. Most of the people in jail are people who have health issues. If they have been addicted to drugs they often have heart issues. You introduce electricity and you can kill them."
He would also focus on things that can reduce recidivism. Salcido would find out which inmates were transients so they can receive services and not return to the streets. He would also develop teams to create emotional support and services for families of the incarcerated so there will be better support when inmates get out. By creating better environments in jail and reducing abuses by Sheriff's Office staff, inmates who return to the streets will be less angry and less likely to commit violent crimes against officers, he said.
Immigration detainers: He would follow county policy and would not allow ICE agents into the jails, but he could cooperate with ICE to remove those inmates who are convicted of violent crimes under state law SB54. He would offer services to the undocumented domestic partners of batterers to help them be independent after their spouses are deported.
Transparency: When it comes to public access to police videos, Salcido sees his role as following the law and not making it. County Counsel should decide on the release of videos to the public, he said, though he is receptive to the disclosure of some videos in cases of the greater public concern. He would follow state law under the Peace Officers' Bill of Rights to protect and not taint investigations.
Stanford public safety: Salcido would review the efficacy of Stanford's department. One concern he has is whether the university pushes to resolve some crimes through its Title IX adjudication process rather than encouraging students to file police reports.
Fifth-grade teacher; retired San Jose Police Department sergeant; former police chief in Parlier, a city near Fresno
Top priorities: Monica would prioritize changing the culture in the Sheriff's Office with respect to dealing with young men of color, many of whom feel bullied by police, he said. He would do so through an emphasis on community policing, which includes educating officers about the community they serve.
Improving mental health services and staff practices inside and outside the jail are also top priorities for Monica. He said he would collaborate with outside mental health agencies to bring in services for mentally ill suspects and to train and advise the department.
Streamlining the department budget to eliminate waste and overlapping programs and training is also a high concern for Monica. He criticized Smith for spending "millions of dollars for a (Sheriff's) police academy," noting that that young cadets would be better served by mingling with others from agencies at a joint police academy.
Modernization: Monica would equip all deputy sheriffs and corrections officers with body cameras — ones they could not turn off at will. He is a strong proponent of using social media to reach out to the public and of encouraging deputies to expand their education. Training classes that officers take are not enough, he said: "With college classes, you have to take exams and pass them." He wants to see officers develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, which he said would help reduce unnecessary officer-involved shootings and excessive force.
Monica believes inter-agency collaboration would improve the performance of the department, which is currently isolated from other law enforcement agencies. He would open up communication and use relationships with other law-enforcement agencies and with private industry to help devise tools and strategies that would solve crimes and work to reduce gang violence.
The jails: Monica said he would frequently visit the jails and demand accountability and reviews of staff procedures and jail conditions. He would organize monthly meetings with inmates to learn about conditions and their grievances. He'd direct supervisors to walk around "every nook and cranny" of the jail. He would create a separate facility in the jail for inmates with mental health issues so they can receive better care and likewise separate out gang members and target services towards them. He would institute education for inmates to prepare them for jobs when they leave. He does not support the use of Tasers and riot guns in the jails.
Immigration detainers: He is sharply critical of the Sheriff's Office letting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents into the jails. He would follow county policy regarding not allowing ICE into the jails and state law regarding violent criminals who can be deported.
Transparency: His push for greater transparency would include adding body-worn cameras on officers and expanding video coverage in the jails. He believes that the public has a right to know what happened in officer-involved deaths and questionable incidents. He would follow the County Counsel's recommendations regarding release of most footage.
Stanford public safety: Monica would no longer deputize Stanford to conduct its public safety but would instead have the university contract directly with the Sheriff's Department. "Schools are political," he noted, because universities and colleges don't want to have a reputation for having high crime rates. It is therefore difficult to get an accurate accounting of reported crimes. "It might be better to do away with that whole setup," he said.
Joe La Jeunesse
Santa Clara County deputy sheriff; former military police officer
Top priorities: La Jeunesse has a laundry list of top priorities: using technology to make communities and schools safer; jail reform through improved oversight of the department and the jails; mental health training; training to de-escalate situations; collaborative policing and cultural sensitivity training; and creating a more positive image with the public.
He would want his deputies to learn about the diverse communities where they work and develop more respect for the people they serve.
"We have to go back and win the hearts and minds of the public," he said.
He would want his deputies trained on handling mentally ill suspects such that their skills become "muscle memory." He would also have a psychologist on call to aid deputies who are facing people in crisis.
Modernization: He wants to boost use of technology tools in the sheriff's office, including computer programs to improve workflow. Many things are still written by hand, he said.
Concerned about school shootings, La Jeunesse would focus on making neighborhoods and schools safer by using technology such as the ShotSpotter system that detects gunfire. He would also work with tech companies to develop an algorithm and other tools to detect threats by kids on social media that could lead to a school shooting.
The jails: La Jeunesse would work to change the culture in the jails to make them safer for prisoners and staff. Offering services to help inmates have better care and ultimately better lives would make the streets safer for everyone.
He would institute programs and policies for protecting inmates from each other, from abuse by officers and from suicide. The county is already adding suicide barriers at the Elmwood Correctional Facility, where some suicides have occurred, he said.
He would house mentally ill inmates in a separate wing and would bring in more doctors and services to help them, he said.
Immigration detainers: For a year, La Jeunesse commanded military troops from El Centro, California to Yuma, Arizona at the U.S. border with Mexico and saw the impacts of illegal drug smuggling and gangs. He describes himself as "anti-sanctuary but not anti-immigrant."
It's the purview of the federal government, not the state, to protect the borders, he said.
He would follow the law and not let ICE agents into the jails but also follow state law and release violent felons for deportation.
"My concern is when you let them out and ICE doesn't know, (ICE) start(s) doing sweeps. Who's to say they won't round up whole families?" he said.
La Jeunesse would make publicly available the release dates of all felons, regardless of immigration status, so that victims and the public would be notified.
He would also work to reduce fear in the immigrant community and dispel fear that law enforcement will arrest and deport innocent people.
"A lot of people are hiding in the shadows and are being victimized by the gangs. We have to get to the immigrant community and make them feel safe," he said. "We must figure out a way to separate us from ICE," he said.
Transparency: "If we're doing the right thing, we have nothing to hide," he said.
He is OK with the release of police videos through the court system, but he wants to prevent the prejudicing of cases before the accused have their day in court. In cases of alleged police misconduct, he could envision releasing video in at least abbreviated form if it doesn't impact a case. He would also follow the Police Officers Bill of Rights.
Former Santa Clara County undersheriff
Top priorities: Hirokawa would collaborate with community groups to bring about cultural changes on the streets and in the jails. He would also focus on reducing domestic violence, sexual assaults and human trafficking, coordinating with nonprofits and other groups.
He would implement jail reforms and department promises made in 2014, a key strategy of which would be providing treatment for mentally ill inmates, he said. About 30 percent of inmates are mentally ill and about 75-80 percent have an alcohol or drug addiction. Hirokawa would also be upfront and admit mistakes rather than hiding them, he said.
Modernization: Hirokawa pledges to change the organization through effective leadership, training and hiring. He would look for managers who "develop people, accept responsibility and are accountable each step of the way" with the aim of improving their division's accountability, efficiency and productivity, he said. He also favors training staff "to treat the public and those in our custody with humanity, compassion, understanding and kindness. We need to be firm but fair in our enforcement of the law and our interactions with those in our custody."
He would also review the quality of training in areas of cultural awareness, crisis intervention teams for the mentally ill, familiarity with countywide protocols and alternatives to incarceration for juveniles and those with mental health and substance abuse issues.
To ensure a department that is attuned to the diverse community, he would step up recruitment to a broader base.
He would ensure better oversight over and documentation of staffing.
"Prior to my retirement I oversaw the purchase of a new Early Warning System to identify deputies who are at high risk of negative interactions with the public. I wanted to examine how certain misconduct investigations were being handled," he said.
The jails: In response to The Blue Ribbon Commission's 175 jail-reform recommendations, Hirokawa's top priorities would be "leadership/cultural changes in the jail environment; mental health care from booking to housing to release. Independent oversight, creating an ombudsman program and fixing the grievance practices. Classification/out of cell time and programming opportunities," he said in an email to the Weekly.
"I am hearing that there is a long wait time for the seriously mentally ill inmates to get their initial medication," he wrote. "I would assign a dedicated health care liaison to the Custody Health Services division to ensure that the mentally ill inmates are getting the appropriate treatment and medication."
He would also introduce telemedicine to the booking area and jail facilities, an idea he proposed as undersheriff. He would also incorporate dialysis and other medical treatment areas in the new jail. Both of these initiatives would significantly reduce transportation and hospital costs .He intends to seek legislative changes to increase funding for inmates not covered by Medicaid and MediCal.
The County should also seek grants, opportunities with nonprofits, faith-based groups, peer mentors and retired medical professionals as a less expensive and more cost effective way to enhance custody health services, he said.
He would also ensure that more inmate trustees are assigned to each living unit to ensure that cells are cleaned, he said.
"I had recommended, prior to my retirement, an inmate occupational training program for hazmat cleaning services," he said.
As Sheriff, he said, he would personally attend the San Jose Mayor Gang Task Force, a model for reducing gang violence in the county.
"I would have the Jail Intelligence and Gang Units collaborate more with outside agencies. There needs to be a greater emphasis by the sheriff to approach gang violence as a countywide and/or regional approach by sharing and coordinating the information flow that can help reduce gang activity," he said.
He would also continue to advocate for alternatives to incarceration to reduce the jail population and collaborate with the school districts and Juvenile Hall to stop the "school-to-jail pipeline."
Immigration detainers: Hirokawa helped draft and implement the current County Civil Detainer Policy in 2011, which does not honor civil detainers nor agree to turn inmates over to ICE when presented with a detainer. He said he would not give ICE access to the inmates unless ICE or other federal authorities have lawful court orders, criminal warrants or subpoenas.
Transparency: Hirokawa said his department would work cooperatively with any oversight group.
Regarding video releases, he said he would want to create a unit to make videos more accessible, but he is also aware of concerns by the District Attorney's office that early release of videos could color the testimony of witnesses. He would also want to protect the privacy and integrity of people who are caught on the videos.
Stanford public safety: "I am not satisfied with where the relationship between the Stanford University Department of Public Safety and the Sheriff’s Office is currently at. There should be more collaboration between the two organizations to ensure that students, faculty and visitors are safe and informed about their community," he said in an email.
"The Sheriff needs to communicate and welcome the Stanford vhief and Stanford officers as part of the Sheriff's Office team, especially since the Sheriff's Office has law enforcement authority over the Stanford University campus. There should be more planned meetings/open discussions as agency heads of these organizations, as this is not currently being done."
He said he would also work with Stanford's chief to host Stanford University community discussions and forums to address concerns and receive input around how campus public safety could be improved.
"I plan to work with Stanford University and SUDPS to provide the campus with pertinent and up-to-date public safety information and/or statistics beyond what is required by the Clery Act. The release of crime-report information will be done in adherence to and compliance with the Sheriff's Office General Orders," he said.
Since the sheriff has contracts with other agencies and cities to provide full-time law enforcement services, he would be open to exploring ta similar arrangement with Stanford, keeping the current Department of Public Safety staff assigned to the contract under the direction of the designated University Director of Public Safety.