San Mateo Supervisors Reach Compromise on Sheriff’s Oversight

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors stopped short of approving a new civilian oversight commission for the sheriff’s office at a recent meeting. But the board did ok several changes aimed at increasing transparency and accountability at SMCSO.

Instead of a civilian commission with subpoena power, the board will create a civilian advisory board. The body will assist a new criminal justice oversight committee on the board of supervisors, which will retain its subpoena power. In extreme cases, the board would hire an inspector general.

The sheriff’s office has long faced accusations of systemic bias and excessive use of force. According to Jim Lawrence, Board Chair for Fixin’ San Mateo County, arrest rates for people of color are 17 times higher than for white individuals in the county. Latinos are twice as likely to be arrested than whites. And, according to the organization’s website, “despite 19 use-of-force deaths, no law enforcement officers in San Mateo County have been charged for a lethal use of force during District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe’s 11 years in office.”  

Just days before the supervisors’ meeting, two inmates died in separate incidents at the Maguire Correctional Facility, which is run by the sheriff’s office. 

A civilian’s oversight commission would have cost the county an estimated $3.5 million annually. Critics of the proposal, including former San Mateo City Police Chief and current U.S. Justice liaison Susan Manheimer, said civilian oversight commissions have proved “dysfunctional and counterproductive” elsewhere in the Bay Area. Assistant County Attorney David Silberman said there were already a plethora of state and local oversight efforts.

Read more at The Almanac.