At last, oversight the Sheriff’s Department needs

Rick Braziel in 2012 on his last day as chief of the Sacramento Police Department.
Rick Braziel in 2012 on his last day as chief of the Sacramento Police Department. Sacramento Bee file

If ever there was a right man for the job of Sacramento County inspector general, Rick Braziel is it.

The former Sacramento city police chief has the right experience and temperament, and so we’re thankful the Board of Supervisors managed to coax him out of retirement.

As inspector general, Braziel will be an independent employee for the county, with the power to oversee investigations of citizen complaints and push for systemic changes within the Sheriff’s Department, managed by Sheriff Scott Jones. The job has been vacant for two years, leaving the county without a much-needed layer of oversight for the department and at a time when, nationally, tensions have been rising between the public and law enforcement.

That’s why when Braziel starts next month, he’s likely to end up in an unusually hot seat. He’ll have to walk the fine line of answering to a fired-up public and investigating a department burned by bad behavior.

Several incidents in recent months have tested the public’s trust, among them the lawsuit against Deputy Paul “Scotte” Pfeifer – hailed as a hero cop, but also accused of excessive force three times for beating suspects with his flashlight.

Another case involves an excessive force claim in which a man said a deputy shot him without warning in the doorway of his Carmichael apartment. This month, a jury awarded the man, Robert I. Reese Jr., $534,340.

Given these cases and others, Braziel’s to-do list is clear. He must take a hard look at use-of-force complaints, officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. Also worth a look is how, at what hour of the day or night, and under what condition inmates are released from the downtown jail.

We’re confident in Braziel’s skill and experience. Throughout his three-decade career, he has earned the respect of cops and the community.

In 2011, for example, Braziel took heat from a room of livid Del Paso Heights residents after a suspect in the shooting of a Twin Rivers officer died in Sacramento police custody. Braziel never lost his cool. He defended his officers, but he also admitted his department erred by not being more forthcoming about the death.

Braziel has never been one to shy away from tough questions about police conduct. After leaving the department in 2012, he helped draft the U.S. Justice Department’s report on how police handled the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

This is exactly the kind of straightforward objectivity Sacramento County needs to bring a new level of transparency and accountability to the Sheriff’s Department.

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