Inside a report with the title “Yolo County Sheriff: Leadership practices from the Wild, Wild West” one would reasonably expect to hear tales of brutality and lawlessness among the ranks of law enforcers. Or at least of outlaws shooting it out in, say, Woodland and Davis.
But the grand jury report released this week didn’t deliver any smoking guns, let alone any evidence of a Dodge City-like atmosphere in Yolo County.
At most, it accuses Sheriff Ed Prieto of being a lousy leader and bad manager whose imposing presence quashes any criticism or complaint among his staff. Plus, he might not have complied with some county-mandated training.
For other county department heads, those deficiencies would be enough to be fired by the Board of Supervisors. But in this case supervisors, who requested the grand jury report, have little power to enforce it.
Prieto is an elected official who just last week won a fifth term in an unopposed race; he answers only to the voters and his conscience when it comes to his own management style.
However, its misleading title aside, the report did raise issues disturbing enough that they need both a public airing and an outside review. The most troubling are the allegations of poor morale among deputies and the existence of an evaluation system that uses baseball metaphors and appears to be a type of quota system for felony arrests. This comes on top of three previous investigations of management practices of the department and two pending sexual harassment cases against Prieto.
The loudest voice calling for an outside review should come from the sheriff himself, who has a lot to lose if his department’s professional credibility is damaged. Prieto told The Bee’s editorial board Wednesday that he is taking the findings in the report seriously and wants to see some sort of an independent review of the allegations made in the report.
And though the grand jury “did not find such acts of willful or corrupt misconduct that rose to the level that warranted an accusation,” it did suggest some reasonable recommendations for the Sheriff’s Office to take to correct the alleged transgressions. They included the suggestion that county elected officials undertake a “360 degree” evaluation in which employees receive confidential, anonymous feedback from co-workers and bosses.
That’s a good idea, but a better one is for an independent audit, which Prieto suggested. The Board of Supervisors should also consider supporting the idea and permanent oversight for the Sheriff’s Office. Other local governments have used citizens commissions and inspectors general to help repair their relationships and reputations with community members.
In any case, this report has cast a dark shadow over county government that supervisors and the sheriff can’t ignore.