Supervisors, protesters overlook Grand Jury report calling for increased Sheriff, police staffing in Contra Costa

Supes close to forming Office on Racial Justice and Equity; hear from County Clerk-Registrar of Voters urging vote-by-mail for November Election

By Daniel Borsuk

While critics of Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston and his department again blasted the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors with complaints over the $2.8 million in proposed increased funding for the 2020-2021 fiscal year at their meeting Tuesday, no one paid any attention to an important Grand Jury report on “Police Department Staffing” that supervisors unanimously approved as a consent item during the same meeting.

In other action, Supervisors Federal Glover of Pittsburg and John Gioia of Richmond announced the potential formation of a County Office of Racial Justice and Equity for the upcoming 2020-2021 fiscal year. The board also received a progress report on the 2020 November election from Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Debi Cooper that heavily endorsed voters to mail ballots.

Grand Jury Report on Police Staffing

“The Grand Jury found that relatively low authorized sworn officer levels and ongoing unfilled officer positions contribute to mandatory officer overtime, reduced level of police services such as traffic enforcement and school resource officers, and longer response times,” the Grand Jury report stated.

The Grand Jury report found that the Sheriff’s Office and 15 municipal police departments have difficulty recruiting, hiring and retaining officers. “Fewer applicants than in the past are applying to law enforcement due to different career expectations, the availability of less dangerous jobs, and negative perceptions of policing,” the report stated.

The Contra Costa Herald contacted Sheriff Livingston’s office for comment about the Grand Jury’s findings, but there was no comment from the Sheriff’s Office by deadline

“Accountability is needed,” demanded Pittsburg resident Don Hernandez. “You guys (i.e., the Board of Supervisors) need to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

Hernandez was one of more than 18 speakers opposing increased funding for the Sheriff’s Office, but one unidentified caller supported extra funding for the sheriff saying without extra resources sheriff deputies will not be able to properly respond to emergencies when they arise.

County worker Christopher Brown said “Racism is systemic. Something needs to change. Mental health is a huge issue. Mental health deserves to be a bigger part of the budget, not the sheriff.”

“We need a criminal justice system that does not go backwards. We need a system that solves problems.” said Walnut Creek resident Karen Perkins. “I urge you to drive away funds from the Sheriff’s Office and form a racial justice commission.”

Based on 2019-2020 data, the Sheriff’s Office and 15 cities are below the state ratio of 1.48 patrol officers per 1,000 residents. Only the cities of El Cerrito with a 1.77 ratio and San Pablo with a 1.85 ratio were above the state average. The Sheriff’s Office had a 1.06 ratio.

The report also found that every police department except Clayton, Moraga, Oakley and Walnut Creek had unfilled positions mainly as a result of retirements, officers on leave, lateral transfers of the department and resignations.

The Sheriff’s Office had the most number of unfilled positions due to resignations at 65, with Richmond having 15 unfilled positions, Antioch 10 unfilled positions, Martinez and Concord each six unfilled positions, El Cerrito 5 unfilled positions, Brentwood and San Ramon each 4 unfilled positions, Pleasant Hill 3 unfilled positions, San Pablo 2 unfilled positions, and Pinole, Pittsburg, Lafayette and Danville with 1 unfilled position each.

Even then, supervisors received a number of complaints from citizens that the sheriff does not deserve a proposed $2.8 million increase in 2020-21 funding, even though later on during the meeting County Administrator David Twa forecast that the Sheriff’s Office might lose $13 million in state Proposition 72 funds later this year.

“The sheriff will have less money next year,” said Twa, who gave a gloomy fiscal forecast. The District Attorney Office’s budget might be down $6.2 million, he predicted. The county hospital is losing $60 million in revenue and earlier this month the county laid off 30 library workers.

Yet, with all this gloomy financial news, Twa announced that after two years of labor negotiations, the county and the 9,000 members of the In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority and SEIU Local 2015 have agreed to a new labor pact that ends in 2022.

Proposed Office of Racial Justice and Equity Moves Forward

After listening an hour-long presentation from supporters for the formation of a County Office of Racial Justice and Equity, Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg and John Gioia of Richmond said they plan to soon present to the full Board a new Office on Racial Justice and Equity.

Both supervisors serve on the Public Protection Committee where the proposal to form an Office on Racial Justice and Equity Is taking shape.

“One thing we will bring is the discussion of the formation of an Office of Racial Justice and Equity. Your voice has been heard. We plan to bring this proposal before the Board in the near future,” said Glover.

Gioia said it is possible supervisors can consider a proposed office at its next board meeting on July 14. “It’s a matter of listening to the community in Contra Costa County. There should be a community process on how it should be done. There will be a lot more community input.”

In what is shaping up to be a difficult fiscal year, proponents of an Office of Racial Justice and Equity called on Supervisors to defund the Sheriff’s Office and transfer those funds to the new office to assist residents of color with a 14.5 percent unemployment rate in Contra Costa County on April 2020 compared to 3.1 percent on February 2020.

Additionally, 45 percent of African Americans, 57 percent of Latinx, 26 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders, 29 percent Native Americans and 20 percent White households were financially precarious before the pandemic, according to an Insight Center study.

County Recorder-Registrar of Voters Urges Vote by Mail

Contra Costa County Recorder-Registrar of Voters Debi Cooper informed supervisors it is untrue that voting by mail promotes fraud. “Despite what you hear, voting my mail does not increase fraud, she said. Outreach and education to vote by mail has been increased. The postage is free.”

Cooper described how the department she leads that will have 45 drop boxes and six polling locations throughout the County on Nov. 3. She said voting by mail will be the safest way to vote because COVID-19 will still be present.

Cooper expected to mail 700,000 ballots and more than 500,000 ballots will be returned by voters.

“I find it unacceptable to have six polling locations in the county,” said supervisor Gioia of Richmond. “I would reevaluate churches. Churches would be willing to be polling locations and to have equipment on locations for four days.

County elections officials expect about 150,000 voters will show up at the polls to cast ballots. There were 85,000 voters at the polls in the March election.

Bowling Alleys, Bars, Hotels to Open July 1 – Possibly

With word that the Contra Costa County Department of Public Health reported 34 new COVID-19 cases last week, department director Anna Roth said the county is still moving ahead to open hotels, bowling alleys and bars on July 1 and starting on July 15 movie theaters, card rooms and banks will open.

But the news was not all that great. The county is on the state watch list because of a spike in cases. Last week the county reported 34 new COVID-19 cases bringing the county’s grand total to 2,454 cases. There have been 52 deaths in the county. “Clearly there’s been an increase,” said Roth, who attributed the rise to persons in low income communities and living in long term care facilities.

Deputy County Health Director Dr. Sarah Levine said there has been an increase in the number of young patients being diagnosed positive with COVID-19 mainly because they do not practice the main hygiene principles – constantly washing hands, covering mouths, social distance, and staying home.

However, based on the announcement by the Contra Costa Health Services on Friday, that date for those activities is in doubt. (Please see related article).

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