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The SCSO says in its response to Threet that it fully supports an audit of its policing practices, but that the supervisors ought to do away with the IOLERO and hire outside auditors on a rolling, non-permanent, contract basis that's pegged to specific investigations. To Threet and criminal-justice reformers, that's just another way of saying that the police-accountability protocols in Sonoma County would be watered down under the contract-auditor model. The sheriff's office doesn't see it that way:
"The Sheriff's Office feels a more productive model to accomplish this is to hire a truly neutral, independent, and unbiased auditor for a specific, limited period of time. If there is no expectation of employment beyond a specific period of time, there is no pressure or inherent need to justify IOLERO. This would greatly reduce the chances of either intentional or unintentional bias developing in the auditor. It would also afford the Sheriff's Office the opportunity to get input from a variety of perspectives outside of the county. The Sheriff's Office looks forward to continuing to work with the Board of Supervisors to fine tune the auditor model."
Threet says the SCSO's call to eliminate the IOLERO and replace it with a contracted auditor was news to him when he read the report. "It's the first I heard of it, in [Giordano's] response."
Essick says that despite taking the reins as elected sheriff in a month, "we still have a sitting sheriff and [Giordano] is the one who is going to be answering, speaking for the SCSO on the report."
In a phone call with the Bohemian, Essick declined to offer a view on the future of the IOLERO. Giordano's still his boss, he says. "I could say something that would undermine him. We're really close to me taking over, but his name is still on the front door. I don't want to do something to jeopardize the relationship with him."
- Sheriff-elect Mark Essick
No doubt he's in a bit of a sensitive spot. The unpopular sheriff who was in charge when the IOLERO was created is no longer with the department—and the popular sheriff who is pushing to shut down the IOLERO will be leaving in a month.
Meanwhile, a federal civil lawsuit around the Lopez shooting by an SCSO deputy who remains on the force drags on.
Essick was publically and initially opposed to the creation of the IOLERO as it was being discussed after the Lopez shooting, but expressed support for the office through the course of a robust campaign season that saw the first contested sheriff's race in the county in nearly three decades.
Word from Giordano, who endorsed Essick, is that it's premature to discuss what he'll be saying to the supervisors on Dec. 4. He encouraged the public and media to attend. Police-reform activists will likely turn out in force.
Essick says he's taking a wait-and-see approach before weighing in on Threet's proposed changes to the IOLERO ordinance—which generally call for enhanced access to the police agency. The ordinance isn't on the agenda and isn't coming up for a vote this week.
"If and when the board decides to take up that discussion and talk about [the ordinance modifications], I'm sure there will be plenty of robust public discussion on it then, and when I get a chance to see what they're really looking at," Essick says, "I'd be happy to weigh in—but that could be weeks or a couple months away."