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November 15, 2022

County seeking independent sheriff’s inspector

SANTA CRUZ—Santa Cruz County will send out a request for proposals (RFP) for an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that would have independent oversight of the Sheriff’s Office, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 1185, a state law passed in 2020, allows counties to create an inspector general to act as an independent, neutral third party to review operations of sheriff’s offices, including  evidence, policies, procedures and documents. It also allows for reviews of county jail systems.

The law also allows the IG to have subpoena power in investigations involving use of force, critical incidents, and citizen complaints.

The RFP comes after four community meetings held countywide in August and September and attended by roughly 87 people to gather input on what the public wants to see in the OIG program.

Deputy County Administrative Officer Melodye Serino said that, in considering a local model, the County reviewed similar programs in 52 different jurisdictions.

County officials say that creating an independent inspector will foster public confidence in its law enforcement departments, as well as promote transparency in their day-to-day operations.

The OIG would have a wide range of duties, including the ability to audit internal affairs investigations, look into complaints and officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. The office would also have subpoena power. 

It is not yet clear what the office will look like when established. The Supervisors will later determine whether it would be a single person or a contracted company.

Many of the speakers who addressed the Board called for it to include citizen’s oversight.

“I strongly believe that for sheriff oversight we should have a civilian board to work with the independent inspector general to increase transparency, trust and accountability,” said Rev. Beverly Brook of Peace United Church of Christ.

Some members of the public have called for a hybrid model, although the Supervisors seemed to reject calls from the public of forming the OIG as a citizen panel.

“I think it’s unquestionable that a civilian oversight board would be susceptible to a significant amount of bias, in particular the bias of those that would be doing the appointing,” Supervisor Zach Friend said. 

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty agreed, pointing out that an entity selected by the Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff’s Office—both publicly elected—means the office would be subject to greater public accountability.

But any discussion of how the OIG will be run was premature, said County Counsel Jason Heath, who pointed out that those details can be hammered out once the Inspector is chosen.

“You’re just approving an RFP,” Heath said. “You’re not approving the language of an ordinance.”

As written, the plan calls for 1% of the Sheriff’s budget—roughly $100,000—to fund the OIG.

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