Your lawyer has oversight; shouldn’t your Sheriff?
Other public offices have external checks and balances to monitor, advise, and guide their actions and to ensure accountability and transparency. Congress provides checks and balances to the president, and the State Legislature does the same for the governor. Local police departments have the city manager and city councils to oversee their work. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office has none.
Your doctor is subject to the oversight of the Medical Board of California; your attorney’s conduct is subject to review by the State Bar of California. If you have an issue with a doctor or lawyer, there is a formal process of reviewing those complaints. There is no such process for the county Sheriff’s Office; the only oversight a county resident can exercise is one vote every four years. Voters are often given little insight into the inner workings of the Sheriff’s Office. Civilian oversight seeks to improve accountability and transparency while improving trust between law enforcement and the community they serve.
Our county is not yet equal before the law
Our county’s ethnic mix is changing rapidly, with Latinos being our fastest-growing population group. If we do not address the issue of inequitable treatment of people of color, it will become worse.
People of color are at mortal risk. In our five local counties, Black people are less than 7% of the population, but make up 27% of people killed by police between 2015 and 2020 1. Law enforcement officers in San Mateo County used tasers to kill three unarmed people of color in 2018 alone 2.
Despite 19 use-of-force deaths, no law enforcement officers in San Mateo County have been charged for a lethal use of force during District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe’s 11 years in office 3.
People of color are at higher risk of arrest. Black people are nine times more likely to be arrested in San Mateo County than White people, and Hispanic people are twice as likely to be arrested as White people 4.
Is this evidence of systemic bias? Without independent review, we cannot rule it out. We need oversight to restore confidence in law enforcement, but more importantly, we need it to ensure that our county government is respecting the rights of all residents.
What are the benefits of civilian oversight?
What are the limits of oversight?
Read more about oversight
FxSMC maintains a list of useful references to legislation, media articles, and more related to law enforcement oversight. See the resource list.
- Exclusive: Blacks are only 7% of the Bay Area, but 27% of those killed by police: San Jose Mercury News
- Calls for video release mount after California county’s third Taser-related death: CBS News
- Fewer than 10 percent of San Mateo County police use-of-force cases end in jury trial. Here’s why: Half Moon Bay Review
- New Insights into California Arrests: Trends, Disparities, and County Differences: Public Policy Institute of California