Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office requesting $8M for overtime
Santa Clara County Government Center. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

Citing much-needed jail reforms implemented over the past four years, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office is asking county lawmakers for more than $8 million to cover growing overtime costs.

The request, which will be considered at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, would allocate $8.1 million from the Special Programs Labor Reserve.

With little discussion, a county supervisors’ committee last week accepted a report from County Executive Jeff Smith highlighting the spike in spending at the Sheriff’s Office since 2012, sending the item to the full board.

Salaries and benefits cost $230 million in 2012, the report said, compared to roughly $350 million last year.

While general funds were required to balance the budget in 2013 — an expense attributed to a Correctional Peace Officer’s Association settlement — they were again used in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to cover overtime attributed to the jail reforms.

The jail reforms were established partly in response to the death of Michael Tyree, a mentally ill inmate killed by correctional officers at a San Jose jail in 2015.

In a recent interview with the San José Spotlight, Supervisor Dave Cortese said some reforms were already in motion before Tyree’s death, but the tragedy played a role in speeding up the process.

“Tyree being murdered ended up in this mosaic of pieces of reform which include taking a harder look at how we’re employing (the staff),” said Cortese.

In the wake of Tyree’s death, a Blue Ribbon Commission was formed to address jail safety concerns resulting in 80 recommendations. Cortese says all recommendations have been adopted, though not all have been implemented yet.

Employing more psychiatric professionals to work in jails, for example, was quickly implemented, but getting a person to serve in an oversight role has taken a bit more time.

“That requires a longer hiring process (that) would entail a national search,” Cortese said.

Fellow Supervisor Joe Simitian says budgeting concerns — and the growing staff overtime costs — have existed long before the jail reforms.

“I think the significant amounts of overtime that we’ve been confronted with raise a number of questions about our budgeting process,” Simitian said Thursday. “This is a longstanding problem.”

The board approves a budget each June for the new fiscal year. When vacancies aren’t filled and are instead replaced by overtime, it comes with additional costs, Simitian said. That means the budget is used as more of a “theory” than an established guideline, he added.

Simitian also expressed concern that some employees might be favored to receive additional hours while others are overburdened by the long shifts.

In addition to asking for more money for overtime costs, the report said the Sheriff’s Office has bolstered its communication about jail reforms with the community.

Representatives from People Acting in Community Together recognized the progress made, but expressed disappointment with communication issues that still linger. One concern includes canceling bi-monthly meetings held between senior jail administrators and the community.

“I encourage these meetings to be reconvened soon,” said PACT member Christine Clifford at the committee meeting last week. “They promote clear, transparent communication between the sheriff’s department and all interested stakeholders.”

Cortese asked that a report be made to further explore that issue.

The Board of Supervisors will meet at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the county government center, 70 W. Hedding Street in San Jose.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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