For the first time ever, an inspector general will provide oversight of the Sheriff’s Department starting this summer, more than a year after scandal broke out over deputies allegedly beating inmates at county jails.

Hiring an inspector general was one of the key recommendations of the blue-ribbon Commission on Jail Violence in October, which said the position should have “unfettered access” to the department and report directly to the county Board of Supervisors.

County spokesman David Sommers said a headhunter reached out to about 150 potential candidates and professional organizations before the March 25 application deadline.
“At this time, the recruiter has narrowed its focus to approximately 13 highly qualified individuals,” Sommers said.  The salary range for the position is $153,601 to $232,488.

Commission executive director Miriam Krinsky said the county Board of Supervisors should not only hire the best candidate but structure the new position so that whoever holds it has “true independence and adequate empowerment to accomplish the task.”

“The new inspector general will need to have not simply an understanding of law enforcement and corrections practices, but also an equally deep appreciation for the human rights issues and community concerns implicated when misconduct by deputies goes unabated,” she said.

“Absent effective, independent and empowered civilian oversight, our community can have no assurance that true reform and long overdue improvements within our jails will be lasting when the bright public spotlight recedes,” she added.

The commission said the inspector general should be appointed to a set term and have sufficient job security guarantees and autonomy to operate independently. Sheriff Lee Baca embraced the idea of creating an inspector general when the commission broached it last year, but discrepancies between what he had in mind and what the commission recommended later emerged.

During a board meeting in December, Baca talked about planning to solicit job applications for the position, and being “open” to having the board collaborate with him on the hiring process. It prompted Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to interrupt him then, saying: “Stop right there. You’re not going to select the inspector general. The Board of Supervisors is going to select the inspector general.”

Sheriff spokesman Steve Whitmore said this week Baca is not participating in the hiring process. “We have absolutely nothing to do with that,” he said.

Currently, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; the Office of Independent Review; the Office of the Ombudsman; and the American Civil Liberties Union all provide oversight of the department in one form or another.

The commission recommended consolidating their functions under the Office of Inspector General, which would have “unfettered access” to department records, witness interviews, video footage, data, personnel and facilities.

It said the responsibilities should include conducting regular and unannounced inspections of jail facilities; overseeing the inmate complaint process; reviewing use of force statistics and the department’s disciplinary decisions; conducting independent investigations and audits; and reporting findings to the board.

“The new inspector general should bring to the job an ability to persuasively and effectively identify – and cast a strong public light on – needed change, as well as an understanding of how to work within an inherently political system,” Krinsky said. “The OIG can help ensure that problems come to light quickly and that needed reforms do not languish for years – as they have too often in the past.”

Please view the original article on the Contra Costa Times website.