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Sheriff candidates sound off as voting by mail begins

 

Last updated 5/11/2018 at 8:22am

Riverside County residents could vote for a candidate for the position of Riverside County sheriff as early as Monday, May 7, when the Riverside County Registrar of Voters began sending in mail-in ballots for the June 5 primary election.

Four candidates are currently running for the position. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, June 5, the top two candidates will run against each other in a November election.

In an effort to help voters, Valley News reached out to the candidates to find out what each thought were the biggest issues that needed to be fixed with regard the sheriff's department and how they planned to fix them. We also asked questions about how they would handle such issues as budgeting and jail overcrowding. Below are the responses each candidate provided us.

Sheriff Stan Sniff

Q: Could you please describe your law enforcement experience prior to running for sheriff?

A: I have been honored to serve as Riverside County sheriff for the past decade, after having served for 30 years on a local city police department and on our Sheriff's Department. I rose on up through the ranks from deputy all the way up through one of the few senior assistant sheriff's under several prior sheriffs, with assignments in the Coachella Valley, San Gorgonio Pass area, Southwest Riverside County and Greater Riverside geographic areas. I directly served three of those prior sheriff's as a senior executive leader representing them on operational, disciplinary, policy and other legal issues. I had extensive hands-on management service in our very large agency's ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain, chief deputy and assistant sheriff in the many complex and varied disciplines our agency oversees, including patrol operations that include policing our 17 contract cities, our search and rescue and law enforcement mutual aid operations, running our jail system, securing and serving our courts all across Riverside County and directing our coroner-public administrator responsibilities.

As your sheriff, I have been responsible for a $700 million annual budget that directly impacts the safety and quality of life for all 2.4 million residents in Riverside County, now the 10th most populous county in the nation – and still growing today at the third fastest rate in the country. My senior leadership tightly controls our budget, and we are proud of our frugality and in the face of public safety department budgets slashed over these past few years. After advocating for what we need to serve the public each year during the public budget deliberations, we responsibly execute county funding decisions. In the face of a cumulative $72 million in funding cuts, the sheriff was able to rebalance each budget by years-end through smart staffing reductions through managed attrition. This fiscal acumen, honed through many, many years of hands-on experience at the senior leadership levels of a massive law enforcement agency, has paid dividends for all of our county residents.

I continue to be the most "accessible" sheriff to our Riverside County residents in decades, always on the road talking with community groups big and small, and I continue to weigh in with input on public safety topics and for public policy deliberations. No other candidate in this election has the range and experience honed over many years through all the different levels of one of California's very largest law enforcement agencies.

I have both bachelor's and master's degrees, am a graduate of the California POST Executive Development Program and of the FBI National Executive Institute and hold POST professional certificates that include Executive, Management and Supervision. I have been a longtime member of the California State Sheriff's Association, Western States Sheriff's Association, U.S. Major County Sheriff's Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and several others where we network on and share policing's "best practices" at senior executive level.

Q: Why did you decide to seek re-election for this office?

A: Our Sheriff's Department has been able to nimbly downsize by now 14 percent in end-strength across all of our operations to meet greatly reduced county funding levels through means of our experienced senior leadership. The last few years, since Assembly Bill 109 Realignment, the effects of Propositions 47 and 57, a badly overcrowded county jail system and coupled with collapsing fiscal budgets in Riverside County over the last few years, have collectively presented very tough challenges for the Sheriff's Department and our other county public safety departments. The Sheriff's Department is a pretty "young" department with nearly one-half of the currently employees hired just during the last decade while I served as sheriff. Some of us at the senior leadership level have dealt repeatedly with many of the challenges we currently face today, including skills in the fiscal issues as well as the public policy matters, as well as working with the four separate unions within the Sheriff's Department.

We are also proud of the great strides in modernizing the Sheriff's Department that we've made over the last decade in diversity, education, and dealing creatively with the wholesale changes in our California criminal justice system, as well as our award-winning programs in community-oriented policing and subsequent reductions in crime within our areas of responsibility.

Q: What do you feel are the biggest challenges faced by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department? How you you plan to address those challenges?

A: The three toughest challenges today for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department are (1) too few sheriff's deputies on patrol in our unincorporated areas, currently reduced by successive annual cuts in funding across the county, (2) shortages in staffing our current jails, as well as the required new staffing for the massive new jail being completed later this year in Indio that we desperately need to slow our federal court-ordered "early releases" and (3) the need to add back staffing to several regional teams and task forces that we could no longer staff due to the successive budget reductions.

The Sheriff's Department has pioneered in the use of alternative innovative programs, such as inmate labor, ankle bracelet monitoring, inmate fire camps, rented inmate beds in other county jails, etc, but the current jail system is woefully undersized by any state standard. Our federal courts intervened forcibly in Riverside County's chronic overcrowding issues in 1993, and that permanent federal court order to each of our sheriffs in turn has directed the wholesale release of tens of thousands of inmates as Riverside County jail capacity continued to lag behind our explosive county population growth. All Riverside County sheriffs had to comply with that federal court order, but that inadequate jail capacity completely undermines the entire local criminal justice system.

Q: A budget shortfall and a resulting decrease in staffing levels have both been hot button issues with regard to the sheriff's department. If re-elected, how would you plan to deal with those issues?

A: The sheriff will continue to publicly advocate for increasing the number of deputies in our unincorporated areas and for increasing the inmate capacity our county's woefully undersized and chronically overcrowded jail system – the most "undersized" county jail system of any in California. This will require the sheriff to stand up and continue to argue formally on the record for what the department needs for its many operations, and in partnership, to manage the agency within the budget allocation decisions made by the county, as has been the case over these past few years of tough budgets.

The Sheriff's Department will continue to always make the best possible use of the resources allocated to department, even as that responsibly continues to make for extremely difficult "forced choices." My responsibility to the county and to our taxpayers is to rebalance my budget each year, even when deep budget cuts are decided upon by the board of supervisors, and to live within my means as allocated by the county.

Q: What could be done to address AB-109-related jail overcrowding and the early release of some offenders? What would your approach be as sheriff?

A: Our Riverside County jail system is currently so woefully undersized for our county's size, that we literally hold in custody only the "worst of the worst" arrested by our county's law enforcement agencies. Our county's jail system is 50 percent of the capacity of many of neighboring counties, one of those a less populated county than our Riverside County. AB-109 Realignment certainly helped increase the volume of "early releases," but the real culprit is the "too small" jail system in Riverside County, coupled with the federal court's intervention into Riverside County's jail clear back in 1993 – that permanent court order directs each sheriff to automatically release inmates when the inmate capacity exceeds our state-rated capacity. Riverside County's early releases occurred before and after AB-109 Realignment became law in 2011.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," and we have long pioneered in the use of alternative and innovative jail programs, such as inmate labor, ankle bracelet monitoring, inmate fire camps and rented inmate beds in other county jails, and in working in close partnership with our courts, the district attorney and the probation department. A number of suggestions about moving some staff from our jails suddenly to "fix" patrol staffing problems would simply create more problems within our jail operations – specifically the shutting down of one of our county jail facilities for not meeting state standards in operating our jails, adding even more early releases. There's no "free lunch."

The sheriff's budget through Riverside County directly funds unincorporated patrol levels, jail operations, some of court responsibilities and our coroner – public administrator responsibilities. The Sheriff's Department is operating at only 68 percent of its authorized personnel levels across the county, throughout its many responsibilities, due its currently funded levels.

As indicated earlier, I will continue to argue publicly for what is needed, but I will continue to always make the best possible use of the resources allocated to our department, even as that responsibly continues to make for extremely difficult "forced choices."

Q: What do you think the most important thing voters should know about you is?

A: I have served over four decades in uniform – as a soldier, a city policeman and within our Sheriff's Department – serving my country, my state and my community. I love challenges and am very proud and humbled in leading a great group of professionals that continues to do great work day-in and day-out throughout all our many operations and all in the face of tough fiscal cuts and the resultant staff shortages. Many are probably unaware, but when I was appointed in 2007, I was a Public Employees Retirement System retiree and was entitled to "double-dip," keeping my PERS retirement plus the salary of county sheriff. I was honored to serve as Riverside County sheriff, and I deliberately "un-retired" from PERS, so that I would set the example to my department members and not "double-dip" at taxpayer expense, such was my commitment to job and to the public I serve.

Former Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown

Q: Could you please describe your law enforcement experience prior to running for sheriff?

A: I have 30 years of experience in California law enforcement. Most of my service was spent fighting crime on the front lines. My early years included service on the county's first regional Gang Task Force fighting gang crime throughout Riverside County. I supervised the Crime Suppression Unit and Regional SWAT Team for many years. I also managed major technology initiatives such as the implementation of state-of-the-art Computer Aided Dispatch and Mobile Data Sharing platforms. As a police executive, I was responsible for preparing and implementing multi-million-dollar annual budgets for over 13 years, always hitting budget goals and never going "overbudget." As a police chief, I coordinated the development and implementation of the first police department five-year strategic plan titled, "Policing in the New Economy." We were the first agency in the county of Riverside to deploy body-worn cameras to all field personnel. During my tenure as police chief, we reduced violent crime by 22 percent and maintained the highest Crime Clearance Rate in the county.

I've served in the following capacities: president of the Riverside County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association; president of the Inland Empire SWAT Commanders Association; chairman of the Central County United Way; school board trustee for Linfield Christian School in Temecula; head coach of men's and women's varsity soccer at Linfield Christian School; member of the California League of Cities Policy Committee; member of the California Police Chiefs Association for the Municipal Policing Workgroup; member of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training for the Regionalized SWAT Team Workgroup; "Man of the Year" for the Hemet and San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2013 and 2015 and recipient of the "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Riverside Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee in 2018.

Q: Why did you decide to run for this office?

A: The Sheriff's Department is in crisis. As a colleague of the incumbent sheriff for the past 10 years, I have observed him systematically and categorically destroy the effectiveness of a great organization. This is evidenced by the fact that the sheriff has lost the confidence of every police chief in the county – not a single chief has endorsed his bid for re-election. He's also lost the confidence of his own troops and the board of supervisors. I am gravely concerned for the safety of every person in Riverside County and especially for the brave deputy sheriffs working hard to keep us safe in unsafe conditions.

Q: What do you feel are the biggest challenges faced by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department? How do you plan to address those challenges?

A: Sheriff Sniff's failed leadership has led to a severe staffing crisis in his organization. Experienced deputy sheriffs are fleeing the organization at alarming rates – as many as 30 per month. Additionally, the reputation of Riverside Sheriff's Office is suffering under the politically charged Sniff Administration, making it extremely difficult to recruit and retain great employees. The net result is a severely understaffed department causing excessive response times to emergency calls and dangerously low patrol staffing levels.

The solution is independent, proven leadership from outside the organization to immediately stop the bleeding of talented employees to other agencies. Once we stabilize the staffing and repair the broken reputation, we will again begin to attract the best and brightest to Riverside County. Furthermore, we will deploy more civilian Community Service Officers to handle non-emergency assignments at a much lower cost. This will free up hundreds of deputy sheriffs from administrative assignments to patrol neighborhoods and fight crime.

The sheriff has ignored the reality that Riverside County's jail system is severely undersized. He cannot keep even the most violent criminals in custody and off the streets. While he has repeatedly complained about this difficulty – and released over 44,000 inmates early, he has not identified a single solution, except to demand millions of tax dollars the county doesn't have. So, we have a $340 million, 1,600 bed jail expansion nearing completion in the city of Indio, and the sheriff recently announced he has "no plan to open the new jail." This lapse is unacceptable.

The solution is open the new Indio Jail in four phases. We will accomplish this by retraining the more than 150 personnel now working in the "old jail," slated for demolition in September.

We will also increase the ratio of "correctional deputies" to "sworn deputies" in the jail. This change will save millions of taxpayer dollars and return more deputy sheriff to patrol assignments where they can keep citizens safe.

Another challenge is a failure to cooperate and collaborate. Despite enormous success, the sheriff has pulled all his personnel from many of the regional task forces and special enforcement teams throughout the county. This political move has endangered the lives of citizens and law enforcement officers alike. He has also repeatedly refused to join the efforts of city police departments, the district attorney and federal law enforcement agencies in the countywide Gang Impact Team. These political decisions are hampering the efforts of law enforcement every day.

The solution is to immediately return sheriff's deputies to the Gang Task Force and other regional enforcement teams. I have a long history of working closely with federal and state law enforcement agencies to keep our communities safe. I will bring these relationships to the Sheriff's Department to maximize our efforts.

Lastly, it's no secret that the county of Riverside in the midst of a fiscal crisis. The sheriff continues to demand millions more tax dollars that we simply don't have. The county is on the verge of insolvency in large part because the sheriff has been wildly spending precious tax dollars while refusing much needed reforms. The Sheriff's Department is decades behind the rest of the county in terms of technology and innovation. The computer system in use by deputies is inefficient and wasteful.

I am no stranger to leading in difficult times. During the Great Recession, we saw revenues drop by over 30 percent. Subsequently, I led an effort to leverage technology and civilian resources to greatly reduce the cost of policing. I will do the same as sheriff. We will implement data-driven policing strategies and drastically increase the number of civilian personnel so that deputy sheriffs are free to patrol our neighborhoods, respond to 911 calls and keep us safe.

Q: A budget shortfall and a resulting decrease in staffing levels have both been hot button issues with regard to the sheriff's department. If elected or re-elected, how would you plan to deal with those issues?

A: First, there is not a budget shortfall. The sheriff wants us to believe that his inability to retain great employees is the result of a "budget shortfall." The fact is, the sheriff's budget has increased every year since he was elected. He routinely can't spend the budget he is allocated. Why? Because he is driving deputies away from the department faster than he can hire new ones. It's a failure of leadership, not a budget shortfall.

As stated above, I will retain great employees and attract hundreds to join the sheriff's department by leading the organization in a positive and inspiring manner. Once we stop the bleeding and implement much needed reforms and technology, we will relieve the enormous pressure on the county budget and restore fiscal health to the organization.

Q: What could be done to address AB-109-related jail overcrowding and the early release of some offenders? What would your approach be as sheriff?

A: First, I would open the Indio Jail Expansion and its 1,600 new jail beds. Secondly, I would make better use of technology in crime fighting and inmate monitoring, and lastly, collaborate with local and federal agencies to make sure the most violent and dangerous criminals are incarcerated.

Q: What do you think the most important thing voters should know about you is?

A: I am a proven leader. I love my troops, and I know how to empower great people to do great things.

Sheriff's Lt. Chad Bianco

Q: Could you please describe your law enforcement experience prior to running for sheriff?

A: For nearly 25 years, I have spent my entire public safety career with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. I have extensive experience in corrections, patrol, narcotics, gangs, internal affairs, administration and supervisory and management assignments. I have over 12 years of budget experience including two years direct and four years indirect at our largest contract city, overseeing a $44 million contract city budget. Over the years, I have earned the respect of not only my peers and subordinates in the Sheriff's Department, but other police agencies as well.

Q: Why did you decide to run for this office?

A: I am running for sheriff because the Riverside Sheriff's Department is in crisis. We are losing employees at rates that are simply not sustainable – averaging close to 30 per month. Employee morale is at an all-time low. Our budget is completely mismanaged to the point that money is being "found" and used as an election ploy. Our personnel staffing is so mismanaged it is creating severe safety concerns for deputies and county residents. Tens of thousands of inmates are being released each year into our neighborhoods. The sheriff's relationship with county and city leaders has been severely damaged as a result of the incumbent's inability or refusal to maintain honest dialogue and trust with the elected officials charged with its oversight. The department's relationships with our law enforcement partners is clearly broken. For the first time in history, the current sheriff is running for re-election without the support of any law enforcement agency or current Riverside County Police Chief.

This public display of rejection of the incumbent sheriff is a clear indication that, like the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, the Riverside County law enforcement community has lost faith in the sheriff's ability to lead the department and effectively work with his fellow public safety professionals.

I am running for sheriff because I know I can work well with others to solve all of these issues. I have the working knowledge of what works and what does not within our department. I have the support of the troops that must make drastic cultural changes to save our department and provide a proactive law enforcement service to our county residents. I have the ability to work with others to ensure an honest, trustworthy relationship is built with other county leaders to address our budget issues. I also have the leadership ability to collaboratively work with other police agencies as equals.

I am running for sheriff because the Riverside County Sheriff's Department needs a leader capable and willing to do everything it takes to make a difference.

Q: What do you feel are the biggest challenges faced by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department? How do you plan to address those challenges?

A: Fiscal mismanagement of our department budget has resulted in the early release of more than 30,000 convicted criminals in the last three years making it tough to combat the area's gangs and violent criminals. Our budget is the most critical challenge.

I will openly work with the Board of Supervisors to not only save millions per year from our budget with a simple restructuring of corrections, I will actively work with them to ensure our spending and personnel management in patrol operations utilizes the most cost effective methods available to provide the most efficient law enforcement services possible. I will ensure we have adequate patrol staffing in our neighborhoods.

Employee morale is currently at an all-time low. This not only causes a lack of productivity, but also causes our employees to leave to "greener pastures" at other agencies. We are losing millions of dollars by training employees and placing them in a work environment that causes them to seek employment elsewhere. Not only must we replace that employee, we must retrain another costing the taxpayers millions of dollars per year.

I will fix these morale issues by providing specific missions and goals and then empowering employees to make a difference within our communities. I will identify and eliminate organizational deficiencies that cause employees to leave our agency.

Law Enforcement has evolved, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department has not. We must change from a wasteful and costly reactive policing model to a modern era of proactive community-oriented policing utilizing proven crime reducing techniques. We must take a proactive approach to identify and eliminate quality of life issues before they become a community crisis.

The public in general has lost trust in the leadership of the Sheriff's Department. I will provide a transparent, open department to mend this lack of trust within our communities and rebuild bridges built on pillars of honesty and integrity within our department and its ranks.

Q: A budget shortfall and a resulting decrease in staffing levels have both been hot button issues with regard to the sheriff's department. If elected or re-elected, how would you plan to deal with those issues?

A: Honesty and transparency is the issue and the key. Staffing is being completely mismanaged throughout the Sheriff's Department putting deputies and residents at risk. The Board of Supervisors allocates a specific amount of money to provide law enforcement services. Failure to manage the budget and personnel has allowed county staffing to fall to critical levels. Rather than manage the department, the current Sheriff has chosen to simply demand more money every year while threatening to cut or eliminate services.

I have a reorganization plan that will save nearly $10 million EACH year with a restructuring of corrections personnel. Routine audits of station staffing will be conducted to ensure our communities are kept safe and taxpayer dollars are not wasted. Our department must be transformed from an outdated reactive agency to a modern-era proactive policing model to identify quality of life issues and address the concerns of our residents. Modern policing techniques and ideas are not only needed to save money, but also to address the ever-changing landscape of the criminal justice system in California.

Q. What could be done to address AB 109-related jail overcrowding and the early release of some offenders? What would your approach be as Sheriff?

A: We can no longer take the approach of doing nothing while blaming others for our circumstances and failures. We must stand up and make organizational changes to address the issues caused by AB 109 and early release. The fact is we need more jails to provide the ability to house more inmates. However, the early release of over 40,000 inmates is not the answer. We must change the culture and the structure of our department to address these issues. More effort must be made to expand the safe use of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration where appropriate while keeping dangerous inmates in custody. Enhanced electronic monitoring, expanded inmate work release and inmate training programs may be effectively used to help lower the risks of the inmates, once released, from re-offending.

We should look at developing substantial public-private partnerships that would assist inmates with not only job training, but also provide incentives for job placement upon successful completion of the training program.

Riverside County is a very large political player in the State of California. This power must be used to obtain necessary state funding for our county jails that have been overlooked or neglected by political leaders.

Q: What do you think the most important thing voters should know about you is?

A: I am a very motivated and dedicated law enforcement professional with the leadership ability to not only effect change, but also provide outside the box thinking to come up with solutions that make a difference.

Under my supervision, we developed and initiated the largest online child sex crimes sting, resulting in the arrest of 52 men over three days, by utilizing staffing adjustments and volunteers to accomplish this aggressive goal without unnecessary personnel and overtime costs. My model has since been replicated and implemented by nearly one hundred law enforcement agencies across the country.

I am humbled and honored to have earned the support and endorsement of the hard-working men and women throughout the Riverside County and Southern California Law Enforcement community. These are the very deputies and police officers who work so hard to keep our cities and our County safe. Our law enforcement officers and organizations have placed their faith in me to lead our department and to re-establish public safety as primary focus of the Sheriff's Department. I would appreciate your consideration to become your next Sheriff on June 5.

Deputy Miguel Garcia

Deputy Miguel Garcia, a fourth candidate running for sheriff, did not respond to requests for comment from Valley News.

 

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