The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the establishment of an agency that will have independent oversight of the Sheriff’s Office.
The Supervisors will hear a second reading of the new ordinance creating the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Dec. 13 for final adoption.
Assembly Bill 1185, a state law passed in 2020, allows counties to create an inspector general to act as an independent, neutral third party to review operations of sheriff’s offices, including evidence, policies, procedures and public documents. It also allows for reviews of county jail systems.
Once established, the OIG—run by Playa Del Rey-based OIG Group—will be able to independently initiate investigations involving the use of force, critical incidents and community complaints.
“The purpose of the office is to foster transparency and accountability, identify unmet needs and service gaps, encourage timely and serious consideration of complaints and provide independent review of serious incidents involving county personnel,” said Deputy County Administrative Officer Melodie Serino.
The OIG also has subpoena power, subject to approval from the County Counsel.
That provision garnered protest from a handful of public speakers, who asked the Supervisors to table the item pending further discussion.
“This ordinance fails in its most basic fundamental purpose, to create an independent, investigative oversight structure,” said local criminal defense attorney Jonathan Gettleman. “Also, this ordinance builds in a structural conflict of interest with the County Counsel.”
But Sheriff Jim Hart said that rule was created to allow County Counsel to help refine the subpoena and let the people requesting get the information they need.
Asking for a decade’s worth of use-of-force incidents, for example, could take a staff member six months to compile, whereas Counsel could help narrow the focus of the request, Hart said.
But the question is largely moot since the Sheriff’s Office will cooperate with any investigation, Hart said.
“We’re going to fully cooperate with this auditor,” he said. “If they want to look at an internal affairs investigation or a use of force incident, we’re going to provide that information without a subpoena.”
Hart says he welcomes the new OIG, which he says is “natural and normal” for the department, which uses $100 million annually from the County’s general fund.
“I don’t look at it at all as anything negative,” he said. “I think it’s another set of eyes on a very important institution in our community. I’m looking forward to hearing their input to see if there are areas we can improve on.”
The plan calls for 1% of the Sheriff’s budget—roughly $100,000—to fund the OIG.