A Call for Grit

Who's watching the watchdogs

Sonoma County has a long history of “problems” with law enforcement agencies going back at least 20 years or so. For example, this quote from a Press Democrat story from 2014: “In 2000, a U.S. Civil Rights Commission advisory committee recommended Sonoma County, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park implement citizen review boards, noting the grand jury’s lack of financial independence and organizational separation from local law enforcement.”

In point of fact, there have been problems with the Sheriff’s Department and cities in Sonoma County with law enforcement agencies—an inordinate number of deaths of people held in custody and of fatalities during arrests by police or Sheriff’s Deputies—and recommendations by federal civil rights commissions and grand juries for independent citizen review bodies at the county level.

Prompted by the Andy Lopez fatal shooting by Deputy Gelhaus a few years back, a citizen’s police review board (IOLERO) was finally established after decades of expressed concern by county residents. Yet still and very recently there have been fatal incidents, killings of people by county law enforcement, and so it appears that police oversight, independent investigation and accountability are more in need than ever.

But now it also appears that the agency created to do this oversight work—referred to in bureaucratese as “auditors”—is being manipulated to become a toothless, compliant and subservient tool of the Sheriff’s Office. You may think this is hyperbole, but with even the most basic awareness of police/civilian relationships here and elsewhere it’s a common problem of major proportions and everyone knows that.

The Sheriff’s Office fought with the prior head of the oversight agency until he resigned in utter frustration and resistance to doing his job. We, the public, know this. His current replacement seems hell-bent on rendering the agency she’s supposed to lead and champion into one of no consequence that serves the law enforcement agency she’s supposed to watchdog.

Is this your objective as well, Board of Supervisors? Are you going to relinquish your promise and duty to the people of Sonoma to hold police accountable for their actions and subject them to an independent investigation by outside agencies? Are you so politically intimidated by the sheriff and the district attorney that you will not stand up for the people who elected you? Will you show some grit in this matter and honor what you set out to do just a few years ago in the name of a child who was killed—shot eight times—for carrying a toy gun?

This is bigger than Sonoma County. This is a national issue. Be the leaders we elected you to be.

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