The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors has decided against creating an independent board to oversee the county Sheriff’s Office, opting instead to approve a recommendation by its public protection committee to receive quarterly reports from the Sheriff’s Office concerning its activities.
Assembly Bill 1185, which became law Jan. 1, 2021, authorizes counties to establish law enforcement oversight panels and/or an inspector general to assist in oversight duties. Doing either requires action on the board’s part or a public vote.
The Aug. 9 vote was unanimous, but there was still lively discussion over how much oversight is necessary. District 1 Supervisor John Gioia — who argued for an independent commission, saying it’s “just good government” — said quarterly reports are better than nothing.
“I don’t think we need to appoint a separate body for us to do our job. I think it’s very clear that we do have subpoena power through an inspector general.”Supervisor Candace Andersen
“I want to support doing this, but I want my comment to be really clear this does not go far enough and prefer civilian oversight and, hopefully, that stays at the forefront of discussion, but I don’t want to oppose having these quarterly meetings as long as they’re before the full Board of Supervisors,” Gioia said.
One topic of discussion was the board’s ability to issue subpoenas, a power state law gives independent oversight boards or inspector generals. County Counsel Mary Ann McNett Mason confirmed to the board it can appoint an inspector general rather quickly, who could then subpoena certain records.
District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen said her goal was to create more transparency, but that the sheriff is already overseen by state agencies, including the attorney general.
“I don’t think we need to appoint a separate body for us to do our job,” Andersen said. “I think it’s very clear that we do have subpoena power through an inspector general.”
A first step
District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover said law enforcement oversight is always going to be an issue while inequality exists.
Glover said he’d accept the quarterly reports as a first step “with a clear understanding that we continue the dialogue and anytime that we see that an inspector general needs to be more a part of it because of the lack of transparency or information, then that comes back to this board.”
Board chairperson Karen Mitchoff said the majority of Bay Area counties have opted not to form independent law enforcement oversight panels. The staff report for Tuesday’s meeting said four out of nine Bay Area counties have established an inspector general or an oversight board, with two other counties in the process of doing so.
“I actually think what the public protection committee has recommended is better than an oversight board by an independent citizen’s committee, because at least it’s held here in the chambers, it’s videotaped, people can watch it live or watch it after the fact,” Mitchoff said. “I assume an oversight body would be subject to the Brown Act … but this provides, in my opinion, a better forum. Especially if it’s quarterly.”
The framework for the quarterly reporting was developed by the Sheriff’s Office and the county administrator’s office. The reports will update supervisors on Sheriff’s Office activities and allow them to ask questions about operational issues. The report will cover custody services, field operations, support services, and administration.
Custody services include total number of bookings, number of participants in custody alternatives, in-custody deaths, and medical data overseen by the county health department. The department would also report on coroner cases, internal affairs investigations, use of force events, assaults on staff, interactions with immigration officials, racial data, evictions, and other significant events.