After several years of delay in revising its operations manual, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office is finally working alongside the County Attorney’s Office to bring the department’s policies and procedures up to date.
In a memo addressed to the County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 11, Sheriff Antonio Estrada said that his department has been working under the existing guidelines since 2014 and is “in dire need of updating its policies and procedures.”
Now, after bringing the topic up for discussion at a supervisors meeting last week, Lt. Gerardo Castillo said the Sheriff’s Office is actively working with County Attorney George Silva to make the necessary changes, which include updating the department’s guidelines for patrolling, use of force, pursuits and incarcerations.
“It’s been at least a couple of years. It was assigned to one of the attorneys that left, then assigned to another attorney that also left,” Castillo said of the delay during a phone conversation with the NI on Wednesday. “But the good news is that the county attorney himself reached out… and we are on track to update the policies.”
During the supervisors’ Aug. 18 meeting, the Sheriff’s Office asked to hire the firm Daigle Law Group of Connecticut to review the proposed updates. The accompanying memo stated that the contract called for paying the outside firm an hourly rate of $200, but didn’t offer a time estimate for the duration of the work.
County Manager Jennifer St. John and Silva advised the board to deny the request, stating that the county could potentially incur significant expenses.
“Also, I’m unfamiliar with this law group and I would prefer to have somebody that will be representing the county in the case (that) our department policies and procedures are put to the test,” St. John said at the meeting.
Silva said that the task of updating the sheriff’s manual could take up to more than a year, and would require constant communication between the two agencies.
He took responsibility for not handling the matter sooner, citing miscommunication among his staff and a high rate of turnover that caused his office to go from more than 10 employees to only seven. Meanwhile, the caseload that his office is handling has increased in recent months, he said.
“I won’t be able to necessarily devote my full time to it,” Silva said, in reference to reviewing the policies himself. “Now, if the county is going to spend general fund money to hire this law firm, I would prefer that you just fund my office and give me an additional position so that I can go through these policies and procedures.”
He explained that the additional attorney could be co-located at the Sheriff’s Office to facilitate the constant communication between the two offices.
Without addressing Silva’s suggestion, Supervisors Bruce Bracker and Rudy Molera denied the sheriff’s request to hire the outside firm for the job.
“I am concerned about the open-ended contract and not knowing how much it’s going to cost us because this stuff can get very expensive, especially at $200 an hour,” Bracker said.
Speaking to the NI on Wednesday, Sheriff Estrada said that his department originally planned to fully cover the costs of hiring the firm through grant money that it had available. However, he didn’t oppose the idea of the county financing an additional county attorney to work on the matter.
“If the county and the county attorney reassure us that they can do it, then we will allow them to do it,” Estrada said, adding that the grant funds could be invested elsewhere in the Sheriff’s Office.
Silva told the NI on Thursday that he had slowly begun reviewing the policies and procedures himself, but would still seek support from county administrators to hire an additional attorney for his office.
“I am going to start the process of reviewing the policies and procedures, but also be reaching out to the county administration on the possibilities of hiring a (civil) attorney to pick up where I leave off,” Silva said, adding that if the county grants that new position, he would assign them full-time to work with the sheriff’s office on the issue.
He added that, ideally, the policies and procedures should be reviewed and updated on a yearly basis, and an additional attorney could help keep other county departments in that good practice.
As for the Sheriff’s Office, Castillo said that administrators were only concerned about moving forward with the policy and procedure updates as soon as possible.
But while Estrada and Castillo hope to update some policies and procedures by the end of the year to have things in order for the department’s next administration (Estrada is retiring at the end of the year after seven terms in office), Silva said that timeline was not likely.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. It’s a ton of stuff that I have to review and I don’t anticipate finishing anytime soon,” he said, adding that the slow process could also serve as an advantage when a new sheriff takes office for a four-year term starting in January.
“There are different ways of doing things, so having the new sheriff come in, then we can start with his opinion as to how things need to be done,” Silva said. “If we do things now, he might end up changing them in the future anyway.”