The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors held another hearing on advancing racial equity and inclusion in the county and making changes to its criminal justice system at its Tuesday meeting.
During the meeting, the board received updates on recommendations for how to use funds allocated toward these aims.
This was the board’s third hearing on racial equity and law enforcement reform, which were kicked off in the wake of the death of George Floyd in May.
Four supervisors present at the meeting voted to accept the updates, revisit the item at a later date for more updates, to give greater discretion to staff in determining how to distribute $20,000 to BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) artists and culture programs, and add additional phrases to the county’s proposed statement of commitment to advancing equity and inclusion.
Tuesday’s special meeting was not initially put on the calendar. Fourth District Supervisor and Vice Chair Peter Adam was not present due to a prior commitment.
According to the meeting’s board letter, the $20,000 for BIPOC artists is part of an effort to “develop greater cross-cultural understanding, support, and respectful communication practices” by “listening and learning” from the county’s minority communities. It is the majority of $30,000 set aside for this purpose, with the remaining $10,000 for “the broader community in conversations beyond the arts.”
First District Supervisor Das Williams recommended giving staff from the county’s Community Services Department greater discretion in determining what amount of money a certain arts group should receive.
While in favor of the drafted statement of commitment toward promoting equity and inclusion, 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann floated the idea of adding a phrase answering why the county is adopting the statement.
While she acknowledged an explanation may go against the idea that the principles in the statement are “self-evident,” Ms. Hartmann said she believes this addition will create trust, commitment, a sense of pride, and “investment in the mission.”
During the meeting, decreasing the average daily jail population was a frequent topic, which Board Chair and 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart called the “linchpin” of the board’s efforts to promote racial equality and reform law enforcement.
Strategies recommended to the board for reducing the average daily population of the County Jail included conducting a review of pending citations and determining which ones are appropriate for continued citation.
According to the update in the meeting’s agenda letter, of the 2,480 pending citation cases for the period between March 1 and July 15, the District Attorney’s Office has disposed of 49% of them using its “discretion to reject, divert, or dismiss.”
Though not a major topic of discussion among the supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Hartmann raised the subject of a civilian oversight committee for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. She said it has been the “number one request” Black Lives Matter has made to the county regarding criminal justice reform.
Later in the meeting, Sheriff Bill Brown addressed the subject and remarked that an oversight committee is unnecessary and would divert funds away from the Sheriff’s Office and eat up precious staff time. The sheriff added that his department is already understaffed and underfunded.
“These are functions which don’t come for free,” he said. “They don’t come cheap, and my fear is that they would divert precious funds that could be and should be used to bolster what is being done in terms of progressive law enforcement in our community.”
In addition to being a great expense that the county can’t likely afford, Sheriff Brown said that the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t been involved in the incidents of misconduct that normally lead to the formation of such oversight committees, and that many of the worst law enforcement misconduct incidents have happened in places that have such committees.
“We have seen example after example of where some of the most disturbing law enforcement-related incidents have occurred in communities that have these types of oversight groups,” he said.
One method of holding the Sheriff’s Office accountable, he said, occurs every four years.
“I would submit to you that we have the ultimate oversight… That the sheriff has to be elected every four years just to keep his or her job in the community,” he said.