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Benefits of oversight

Protect civil rights

A civilian oversight board would provide people in San Mateo County with a process for addressing concerns and grievances about the conduct of the Sheriff’s Office and its employees. Currently, there is no process to address these issues. Internal investigations amount to asking law enforcement to police itself, a method that has never proven effective in any sizeable organization. Civilian oversight gives every person in the county a mechanism for ensuring that their rights are being respected.

Support effective policing

Oversight can help identify areas of concern to the community, allowing law enforcement to address those areas before they cause a major incident or become a crisis. It can also review existing policies, research best practices, and make recommendations for proven policy improvements. Supporting independent oversight, and cooperating with the oversight board, is one way that local law enforcement can demonstrate its own commitment to accountability and proper policing.

Ensure greater accountability

The public needs to know that officers who respect people’s rights and execute their duties well are able to do their jobs, but that officers who fail in these regards are known and held accountable. An independent review process helps assure the public that their concerns will be taken seriously by a body that’s responsive to them, and not beholden to anyone in the Sheriff’s Office. Our goal is for the civilian oversight board and the Inspector General both to have subpoena power and to create public reports, so our community members can truly understand what happens when there is an issue or controversy involving any member of the Sheriff’s Office.

Enhance transparency and public reporting

One task of the civilian oversight board will be regular pubic reporting on the conduct of the Sheriff’s Office, including reports on use of force, changes to policies, and disciplinary procedures. These reports help county residents make an informed decision when voting for the office of Sheriff every four years.

Lower liability and costs for county taxpayers

“Police agencies that have independent oversight are paying much less in civil penalties for injuring or killing people than many departments left to police themselves, a KTVU investigation has found.” —KTVU, Payouts for killings and injuries plummet for Bay Area police departments undergoing reforms

The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office paid out $2.5 Million in the past five years for settlements in excessive force/wrongful death cases, an average of more than $3,300 per deputy 1. That money is paid by taxpayers. Neighboring Santa Clara County paid $10 million to the family of a single inmate who suffered severe brain damage as a result of systemic failures in the county jail system. These systemic failures might have been identified and rectified with a strong oversight system; for Santa Clara County and the badly injured inmate, oversight came too late. We have the opportunity to put that oversight in place here, and to reap the benefits to us as individuals, community members, and taxpayers.

Build trust between community and law enforcement

The current system, in which accusations against Sheriff’s officers are investigated by colleagues of those same officers (or not at all), can undermine public trust in the entire department. When an officer is cleared by an internal investigation, it can feed an “us-vs-them” cycle in which the cleared officer does not get the benefit of restored trust. A lack of transparency can allow suspicions to take hold and grow. Oversight pulls back the curtain on how and why things are happening, allowing residents to feel more confident in the professionalism of the officers who serve the community. The independence of the civilian oversight board can also help restore the reputation of any officers who are cleared of accusations against them. Law enforcement professionals and civilians alike stand to benefit from everyone having confidence in our Sheriff’s Office.

Citations
  1. A look at the most notable police payouts in the Bay Area: KTVU News