Alameda County supes approve sheriff’s $106m funding request to hire deputies

Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle at a meeting in Oakland in early May.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved a $106 million request by the sheriffs department to fund the hiring of up to 265 new deputies during a lengthy meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The narrow, 3-2 decision, was decided by Supervisor Richard Valle, a vote that stunned progressives and police accountability activists. On major issues concerning the sheriff’s department, Valle has often cast opposing votes.

Alameda County beatValle offered few words behind the reasoning for his tie-breaking vote  other than to preface his decision by reading from a non-partisan consultant’s report that recommended increased staffing at the sheriff’s department in order to offer better services to inmates suffering from mental illness.

Valle pushed to add a clause in the motion to direct the sheriff to begin reducing the number of mentally ill inmates at Santa Rita Jail over the next three years.

The surprising vote by Valle, which broke a 2-2 tie, met immediate reaction from the public. During time reserved for public comment on items not on Tuesday’s agenda, a number of speakers from earlier in the day returned to blast Valle. But Valle, who also serves as board president, repeatedly cut off several speaker’s time once it became clear they were rehashing the sheriff’s department item.

The $106 million doesn’t exist.-Supervisor Wilma Chan voting against the sheriff’s proposal to hire additional deputies.

Alameda County Supervisors Wilma Chan and Keith Carson both opposed the expenditure to hire additional deputies. Chan was vehement in her stance, which comes at a time when the county is looking at $72 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year that is almost assuredly much larger due to covid-19.

“The $105 million doesn’t exist,” Chan said. She added, “This is not a good time to make this decision.”

While the votes by Supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty to fund additional deputies is not surprising – each of them is viewed on the board as the most supportive of Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern – Valle’s support appeared greatly informed by comments made Tuesday by Alameda County counsel Donna Ziegler.

The request by Ahern to seek to hire 265 new deputies, 84 non-sworn employees, and 107 behavioral health care workers at Santa Rita Jail follows civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff’s department alleging inadequate handling of inmates with mental and behavioral issues.

Ziegler advised the board they could choose to fully or partially fund the entire request by the sheriff. But voting against the request in light of lawsuits, “will not move you closer to resolution to any litigation you are facing,” she added.

In effect, while the sheriff’s funding request has many detractors in the community, the funding proposal was created to satisfy lapses in the sheriff’s department’s ability to serve mental ill inmates.

“The problem that is designed to be fixed, will not go away,” Ziegler told the board. In addition, Ziegler advised the board that plaintiffs in civil rights lawsuit could use opposition to hiring more deputies and other employees against them, and possibly seek an injunction against the county , Ziegler said.

A number of speaker asserted that Ahern, long-despised by progressives in Alameda County, was attempting to further an agenda to strengthen the sheriff’s department by increasing its ranks.

There was no agenda, Miley said. In fact, the conversation to hire more deputies has been discussed for more than a year and included a consultant’s report recommending additional deputies. “It just boggles my comprehension,” Miley said of the assertion made by several speakers. “It was not predetermined. We did a joint study and this was the result.”

The Board of Supervisors is now be tasked with trying to find large amounts of funding at a time when a dramatic shift in the county’s priorities due to covid-19 threatens to drain its reserves and precipitate devastating cuts to social safety net services and programs for the less fortunate in Alameda County. “Where are we going to get this money from?” Chan said.