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photo credit: Courtesy the County of Sonoma
After a challenging year of negotiations, Sonoma County and two police labor groups have reached a final agreement, fulfilling the oversight promises in 2020's Measure P. The public release of police body cam footage. Independent review. And discipline recommendations.
Rules for each of those provisions are outlined in the new agreement between the county of Sonoma and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, or DSA, and Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association, known as SCLEA.
The two groups represent about 760 county employees. That includes those working in corrections, criminal investigations, probation services, juvenile justice, parks and fire services, and sheriff's office deputies and sergeants.
The agreement resolves issues the police groups had with Measure P. That's the local ballot initiative which passed with over 60% of the vote. The measure increased independent oversight of law enforcement through the county's Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, called IOLERO.
Meanwhile, the state's Public Employee Relations Board, referred to as PERB, had invalidated parts of Measure P because of the lack of a quote “meet and confer '' process between the county and police groups.
Rick Bolanos led negotiations for the county. He said the agreement has restored Measure P’s oversight provisions.
"All of the amendments that were at issue." Bolanos said. "So the amendments that PERB invalidated, all of those amendments have been carried forward and are now implemented to the letter of agreement."
Damian Evans, president of SCLEA, said body-worn camera footage was a major concern for law enforcement groups.
"The primary concern was impacts to employees from a safety aspect as well." Evans said. "If body-worn camera footage is released without concern to victims, witnesses, or those employees."
But, he said he feels the agreements satisfy law enforcement concerns.
"When you're looking at oversight, it's like a Jenga puzzle and there's different agencies that have responsibilities." Evans said. "And there's also different rights and responsibilities that those agencies have towards the employees, kind of have to put all those pieces together. And at the end of the day, what we have is a workable agreement that takes care of all those issues."
But Jerry Threet, former IOLERO director, said he still has some concerns about the agreements.
"So where there's a death in custody or cause of the actions of a deputy, the agreement would require that IOLERO wait until after the sheriff has completed their administrative investigation before doing any independent investigation, the sheriff waits until the DA has done their criminal investigation." Threet said. "So basically you're putting IOLERO third in line and probably a year to two years down the road from the incident."
The new agreement expands IOLERO's role. According to the county, IOLERO can now monitor sheriff's investigations and conduct independent investigations of serious instances of alleged misconduct. In doing so, it will get better access to and cooperation with the Sheriff’s Office.
Threet said IOLERO's expanded authority is now more in line with how he envisioned the agency's role during his time as director.
"When we first set up IOLERO, it was an auditor model." Threet said. "There was no investigation power. So it said you should allow the auditor to sit in on everything, to monitor it as it's happened, to see all the evidence as it's being developed. So you can offer feedback about things. Like if you think they're missing something, that's the time to look for it. Right. And that sheriff at the time said, no. So now we've got this independent investigative authority and they're saying, okay, now you can have what you asked for six years ago."
He said the oversight landscape is complicated though.
"This is a very unique oversight environment because we're talking about an elected county sheriff, as opposed to an appointed police chief." Threet said. "Most of the oversight in the country is oversight of an agency that is managed by an appointed executive authority."
The full agreement can be found on the county's website by typing "IOLERO oversight" into the search box.
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