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Letters to the Editor: March 14, 2016

Jerry Threet responds to Peter Byrne

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Threet Responds

Peter Byrne's Open Mic ("Threet's Beat," March 1) raised the legitimate question of whether the newly created Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) is worth the money necessary to run it. Of course, these questions were discussed at length in multiple public forums by county officials and community members for over a year, the public largely supported the proposal, and county supervisors approved the model creating our office. Byrne now again raises this issue, but in a way that distorts the facts we provided him.

The IOLERO has a total budget of $527,335. Approximately 75 percent of the budget is made up of salaries and benefits of the agency's two employees, the director and the administrative coordinator. My salary as director is around $160K, plus benefits, for a total of about $263K in compensation. My assistant's salary is approximately $63K, plus benefits, for a total of about $122K in compensation. Because the IOLERO director is required to be an attorney, the compensation for that position is commensurate with public attorney salaries.

In accepting this position, I took a salary cut from the $180,000 I previously received as a deputy city attorney. I did so because I believe this is important work.The remaining $130,000 includes support services and supplies, which account for 25 percent of the budget. More than the refreshments mentioned by Byrne, this covers rents/utilities, advertising and marketing, translation services, professional memberships, conferences (such as the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement), software licenses, business travel, etc. This also includes about $40,000 for the possible relocation of our office, which we have decided against spending in order to preserve continuity of the current location and save money.

Byrne asks what you are getting for this money, and focuses on my decision to forgo additional review of the Andy Lopez shooting. I'll turn to that in a minute. First, lets look at what our office has been doing. When I started last April, I began to set up an entirely new department from scratch, including a work plan, websites, social media, office procedures, audit protocols, hiring an assistant, meetings with stakeholders and outreach to communities. From April until July of 2016, those start-up tasks took all of my time, but by August of last year, we were fully staffed and up and running.

So what are our missions? First, we provide independent civilian review of investigations of complaints against sheriff's deputies. Since August of 2016, we have 25 such investigations in our log, 15 of which have been completed by the sheriff's office and referred to the IOLERO for review. Of those 15, we have completed eight audits. Three of these audits resulted in recommended changes to sheriff's policies. In six of them, the IOLERO agreed with the findings of the investigation exonerating the deputy of wrongdoing. In two of them, the IOLERO disagreed with the finding of exonerated.

While our office has no authority to impose a contrary finding on a complaint investigation, neither do most civilian oversight agencies in the country. Second, we conduct robust outreach to Sonoma County communities, to bring community feedback back to the Sheriff's Office and to help explain sheriff's policies to community members. We also try to bridge gaps where they exist. I've had over a hundred meetings and met with many hundreds of community members since last April, including most recently close to 200 members of the undocumented immigrant community in small settings, hearing their concerns and explaining Sheriffs policies that may affect them.

We have an 11-member Community Advisory Council that holds meetings to review policies and recommend changes. Our current focus is on the immigration policies of the sheriff's office. Both the CAC and I will soon be making formal recommendations for changes in the sheriff's policies in this area. We will then turn to review other policies, such as body-worn cameras and use of force. The most important opportunity to change law enforcement interactions that the public wants improved is through changes in the policies that guide deputy actions.

Byrne correctly states that I declined to review the Lopez shooting but significantly misrepresents my explanation. The IOLERO's general policy is not to audit completed investigations over one year old, as the statute of limitations has passed on any possible discipline for the deputy for any violation of policy. In addition, the Lopez shooting was independently reviewed by the district attorney and by the U.S. Department of Justice, both of which cleared the deputy of wrongdoing.

Finally, the Lopez case is being litigated in federal civil court, where the issue of whether the deputy followed policy is being fully explored by an independent magistrate. Give these multiple reviews, and the passage of the statute of limitations on discipline for the deputy, there is little a review by our office could add at this late juncture. Because there are other investigations currently pending in our log where our review could make a difference, it makes little sense to focus our limited resources on the 2013 Lopez shooting.

Jerry Threet

Director, Sonoma County Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach

Into Darkness

"Darkness is good." This quote is from Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump's chief strategist and NSC member. The quote further goes on to state, "Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan. That's power." Yes, that is power, but to what ends? I don't know what the future portends, but there is certainly a darkness enveloping our nation. Mr. Trump's appointees and cabinet choices can easily be substituted one for another. Genuine discussions that invite different opinions are a rare commodity in this administration. Instead, there's a built-in consensus reflecting a rigid ideology on domestic and foreign policies for a nation and a world that has not existed since the mid-20th century.

"The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia," says Bannon. Globalists! Or was it American banks and businesses, who had merely followed the natural flow of capital to where the biggest bang for the buck could be found, and that had, in Bannon's own words, "fucked the workers of this country."

Bannon says that there is a new movement emerging, a movement that will last 50 years and that these are times as exciting as the 1930s. I would suggest we read and remember what really happened during those times overseas, when nationalist movements, of which Mr. Bannon is claiming to be a part of now, governed. Another man with aspirations to make his country great again, through fear, intimidation and broken agreements with other countries, offered a regime that would stand a thousand years. Fortunately, it only lasted 12, but millions suffered as a result.

Fifty years, Mr. Bannon—I think not!

E. G. Singer

Santa Rosa

Write to us at letters@bohemian.com. Open Mic returns next week

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