Reform at Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office moving slowly, report finds
Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department.

    Just two weeks after the Board of Supervisors moved toward issuing subpoenas for Sheriff’s Office records, a report shows more obstacles may be in the way to achieve law enforcement reform in Santa Clara County.

    OIR Group, a consulting firm that provides independent review of law enforcement practices, offered 10 recommendations in August for the Sheriff’s Office to restrict use of force and reduce police violence. The recommendations came from the 8 Can’t Wait database released earlier this summer by police reform group Campaign Zero.

    However, as of Nov. 17, the Sheriff’s Office had only implemented two of the recommendations, according to OIR Group.

    Since the group’s last report, the Sheriff’s Office has started making public the kinds of weapons and military equipment it has, which was one of the recommendations. But the department has failed to ban chokeholds even though this is required by new state law.

    Supervisor Joe Simitian had harsh words for the Sheriff’s Office, which has less than six weeks to comply with the chokehold ban.

    “Any liability that accrues to the county ends up accruing to our county at large, not just to the sheriff’s department…  these essentially (put) a limit on our ability to provide other important services, not to mention the wrongfulness of the behavior when it occurs,” Simitian said.

    OIR, which also heads the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring (OCLEM), recommended the Sheriff’s Office restrict the ability of officers to shoot at moving vehicles, prohibit collaboration on officers’ supplemental reports and require officers to report use of force any time they point a firearm at someone.

    OCLEM also recommended the Sheriff’s Office develop a policy that “expressly lists conduct that disqualifies a potential applicant for employment as a Deputy or Correctional Officer.”

    “With respect to the remaining recommendations, the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t explicitly said ‘We reject them,’ which is a good thing,” said Michael Genacco of the OIR group. “But there is also no specific timeline for implementation of the outstanding recommendations.”

    Simitian pushed back on the slow progress. For example, he said, classifying pointing a firearm at someone “does not seem unreasonable to ask.” That type of incident should be documented, along with the reason for why it happened, he said.

    “We’re balancing the attempt (to make sure) that deputies aren’t afraid to pull out their weapon in a life-or-death situation involving either them or someone else,” Assistant Sheriff Ken Binder said. “But at the same time we want to make sure there’s accountability if they do.”

    Binder said he believed department policy should include this change soon.

    “I would be surprised if we don’t have that as part of our reporting requirements when we come back,” Binder said. “I believe that’s where we’re headed.”

    However, Binder declined to commit the department to other changes, such as writing policy so officers refrain from modifying their reports based on collaboration, coaching or influence by others.

    Supervisors were told the Sheriff’s Office is working on a process to update them whenever military-style weapons are acquired. This would be similar to how the the Sheriff’s Office gets supervisors’ approval for surveillance equipment.

    The public can view the Sheriff’s Office inventory of armaments and military equipment here and here.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow her @MadelynGReese.

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