There is a way to bring community concerns directly to Sheriff Scott Jones, but most residents don’t seem to know it exists.
The Sheriff’s Outreach Community Advisory Board meets several times a year to discuss citizen concerns about the Sheriff’s Department, often with the sheriff himself when he attends the meetings. The meetings are open to the public, but meeting minutes for the five meetings in 2015 show only one member of the public addressing the board.
In a meeting last week, the county supervisors talked about bringing attention to the advisory board and fully implementing its duties as a place for debate about issues facing the department – the goal when the board was established in 2007 under then-Sheriff John McGinness.
Since 2013, seven people have been shot and killed by Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies, according to a Bee review. During a July meeting, Black Lives Matter and other area activists brought their concerns to the supervisors, protesting the Sheriff’s Department’s handling of an officer-involved shooting.
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Supervisor Patrick Kennedy said he started looking for opportunities for more oversight and transparency after that meeting.
“The good news is, we have this. The bad news is, we haven’t used it,” Kennedy said last week.
Ken Providence, clergy leader for Sacramento Area Congregations Together, said in an email that the advisory board hasn’t been on the organization’s radar.
“Sacramento ACT has been calling for increased accountability and transparency in our sheriffs department, and had no idea about this board,” Providence said. “We are calling on our Board of Supervisors to step into greater leadership and work with community stakeholders to develop a real commission with real power to oversee our sheriff’s department.”
Local attorney and advocate Mark Harris said the county needs a board with more powers and responsibilities to truly provide transparency and accountability for residents.
Five members of the board are appointed by the sheriff, five are appointed by the supervisors and several are from cities in the county. The five members from the community, one from each supervisor’s district, attend community events and receive community complaints that they then pass on to the sheriff.
Kennedy said there are more proactive things the advisory board could be doing, such as suggesting policies that could help avoid future problems.
“The reason that I was interested in having this conversation is it’s part of a bigger national conversation that I think is going on, and I think it’s important that we stay in front of it,” Kennedy said during last week’s meeting.
Supervisors also asked that a formal role be created for Inspector General Rick Braziel, who was appointed in December as the county’s independent watchdog to review internal investigations and advise the sheriff on community concerns.
Though the name suggests otherwise, the sheriff doesn’t control the board and attends because he is invited by the members, said Sgt. Alex McCamy. McCamy, who attends the meetings with Sheriff Jones, said the department is on board with efforts to bring more attention to the group, which provides input from the community.
Dr. Sonney Chong, chair of the advisory board, said the sheriff gives updates on hiring, firing, conditions at the jail and high-profile incidents in the community and each board member gives a report of issues that have come up in their community.
“We have had times when we’ve received input about a particular issue in the community and have immediately directed more focus,” McCamy said. “Each member of SOCAB is able to have direct dialogue with the entire group. So any concern will be immediately addressed … they’re not having to go through lengthy channels.”
The group has a county website where its meeting times and some member emails are posted, but the process for sending in complaints is not clearly laid out.