Of­fi­cers al­lege jail changes en­dan­ger them

The Mercury News - - Local News - By Tracey Kaplan and Robert Sa­longa Staff writ­ers

SAN JOSE » The union that rep­re­sents Santa Clara County jail of­fi­cers has filed an un­fair la­bor prac­tices com­plaint claim­ing Sheriff Lau­rie Smith’s ad­min­is­tra­tion failed to give no­tice of a dozen work­place changes that jeop­ar­dize their safety.

Among the con­tested changes is al­low­ing in­mates to wear deck shoes rather than slip­pers out­side their cells. Deck shoes of­fer vi­o­lent in­mates a tac­ti­cal ad­van­tage in fights be­cause they pro­vide a bet­ter grip than the usual flipflops in­mates wear, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint to the state Pub­lic Em­ploy­ment Re­la­tions Board.

Jail of­fi­cials noted that San Ma­teo County in­mates wear deck shoes with­out any ad­verse im­pact.

The la­bor com­plaint makes 11 other claims and re­quests an in­junc­tion to bar the changes. One of the union’s al­le­ga­tions is that Smith’s ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently changed pro­ce­dures for when a deputies’ ra­dio sys­tem goes

“We sup­port the re­forms in the jail. How­ever, they have to en­sure the safety of staff and in­mates while these changes are be­ing made. And that is not hap­pen­ing.” — Amy Le, pres­i­dent of the Santa Clara County Cor­rec­tional Peace Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion.


In the past, the jail would be locked down be­cause of­fi­cers would have no way to call for help if an in­mate at­tacked some­one. Now, the guards have been di­rected to con­tinue mov­ing in­mates, in­clud­ing bring­ing them to med­i­cal and out­side ser­vice-provider vis­its.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that it had to come to this,” said

Amy Le, pres­i­dent of the Santa Clara County Cor­rec­tional Peace Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion. “The CPOA made many at­tempts to work with the depart­ment, but the jails have got­ten so dan­ger­ous we had to take ac­tion.”

“We sup­port the re­forms in the jail,” Le added. “How­ever, they have to en­sure the safety of staff and in­mates while these changes are be­ing made. And that is not hap­pen­ing cur­rently.”

Some of the changes the union ob­jects to were

called for by a blue-rib­bon com­mis­sion con­vened to eval­u­ate the jails af­ter three guards beat to death men­tally ill in­mate Michael Tyree in Au­gust 2015. Law­suits filed by dis­abil­ity and in­mate rights groups also prompted some of the changes.

Smith re­sponded to the la­bor com­plaint by say­ing the new prac­tices are aimed at bring­ing the jails into step on many of com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions for re­form.

“As Sheriff, I along with our new chief of cor­rec­tion, am firmly com­mit­ted to both en­sur­ing the safety of all cus­tody staff and en­sur­ing that in­mates are treated fairly and ac­corded the ap­pro­pri­ate level of priv­i­leges,” Smith said in a state­ment. “These com­mit­ments re­quire trans­for­ma­tive change to move beyond the old mind­set of ‘lock them up and throw away the key,’ and we will con­tinue to bal­ance our pri­mary mis­sion of safety for our deputies while pro­vid­ing a more re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive cus­tody en­vi­ron­ment.”

The union con­tends that

the sheriff also has elim­i­nated so-called “cus­tody in­puts,” writ­ten cards that cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers fill out to doc­u­ment in­mate con­duct, in­clud­ing any gang ties or men­tal health is­sues. The cards helped de­ter­mine where in­mates were housed, and the union claims that elim­i­nat­ing them im­per­ils their mem­bers. The Sheriff’s Of­fice dis­putes that claim, and says that “CI’s” are just be­ing more care­fully screened.

Smith ac­knowl­edged that there are vi­o­lent in­mates who “re­quire much more strin­gent oversight by our deputies.” But she also noted that “the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of in­mates in our cus­tody will be re­leased back into so­ci­ety and we can ei­ther do our best to safely pro­vide pro­grams and op­por­tu­ni­ties to them while in our cus­tody, or con­trib­ute to a re­volv­ing door of a crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that makes our neigh­bor­hoods less safe.”

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