The California Primary is less than two weeks away, and in Santa Barbara, one of the most competitive primary races is for County Sheriff.
Incumbent Sheriff Bill Brown is facing off against two of his own lieutenants, Brian Olmstead and Eddie Hsueh, who want to shake up a department they say is understaffed and suffers from low morale.
This week, KCRW sat down with all the candidates. Take a listen and find out how they differ on some of the biggest challenges facing the department.
on immigration, ICE, and the sanctuary state law
Hsueh: “I absolutely support the Sancutary State law. I would not be in support of any type of joint task force to enforce immigration. Let ICE do their job, and let us do our job, and our mission is public safety. We have no business [notifying ICE].”
Olmstead: “We work with both the state and federal government on a multitude of things. I mean, we receive a lot of money from the federal government for issues other than immigration. We can’t risk losing those funds, so I think we need to work with both the state and federal government in trying to improve the laws and focus more on the community safety than immigration status.”
Brown: “I continue to believe that SB 54 is bad public policy. The law limits the notification process we can give to ICE, and the problem is there’s a group of people who we are prohibited from making contact with federal authorities about an imminent release on. Repeat drunk drivers, serial thieves, people who are involved with animal cruelty, domestic violence. Our position is that if someone is in custody, and the federal government wants to take that person into custody, that will remove that person and not recycle that person to commit more crimes in the community in the future.”
on mandatory overtime in the sheriff’s department
Hsueh: “We have to recruit robustly to reduce the overtime. There are over 50 positions that are funded but unfilled, so before we go to the Board of Supervisors to ask for more money for more positions, we have to figure out ways to fill our positions that are already funded.”
Olmstead: “For the last five years, we’ve gone over budget on our overtime budget by $4.5 million every year. That’s $4.5 million that either the sheriff’s office or other county departments can’t use to fund other projects. The relationship the current sheriff has with the board of supervisors has gone down extremely. There’s this belief that we’re not taking care of our funding. We’re not spending things on proper items. That’s why I’ve been endorsed by more supervisors than the current sheriff. They recognize that there’s this relationship problem, and they’ve identified someone they can work with.”
Brown: “The county is broke. We’re looking at a $50 million deficit this year and the four years afterwards. If there’s no money, to think someone fresh coming in and developing a new relationship with somebody is going to get it, that’s a very naive thought and approach.”
on mental health services
Hsueh: “I created the Behavioral Sciences Unit in 2015, virtually with zero funding. I wanted to increase the training with officers on how to communicate better with folks who have mental illness and developmental disabilities, and reduce the use of force by teaching officers how to deescalate a situation.”
Olmstead: “If the sheriff’s office is constantly over budget because of overtime and other issues, then that’s less money that the behavioral wellness department can address mental health needs. The more we go over budget the less we have for de-escalation and mental health training, and it seems like training is always the first thing that gets cut in public safety agencies.”
Brown: “I want to make sure we are trying to divert mentally ill people from the criminal justice system. We have to come together as a community to do a better job on that, and we’re working on that with the Stepping Up Initiative.”
On low staff morale and understaffing
Hsueh: “I believe there are people who don’t want to work in Santa Barbara County [Sheriff’s Department]. Our jail is horrendous. Conditions are bad not just for people in jail, but the employees who work in the jail. We’re building the North County Jail. I would then like us to look at some outside the box sources for renovating the jail. Looking at possibly having a specific section of the jail that’s for people with disabilities.”
Olmstead: “I think there’s a lot of people who are tired of working in the agency. They’re frustrated with the working conditions and the relationship with our executive leadership. We haven’t had a critical stress debrief of our employees and we’ve gone through the biggest disaster that our county has every gone through. We need to look at better ways to recruit people. We need to do a lot more outreach in the high schools, community colleges and the university and explain the law enforcement career.”
Brown: “Morale is like a rollercoaster. It goes up and it goes down, and there are some morale problems and issues that are not unique to our organization. The reality is, as a sheriff, I have to make some difficult decisions, and my priorities are not always the priorities of the union. Their primary focus is to deal with benefits and salaries and issues that relate to that, and my primary focus is on delivering the best public safety service that we can given the limited, and in some cases meager, resources that we have.”