Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero this week cut access to his office's central records system, affecting several agencies and personnel in the county, including Lakeport police and the probation department.
Rivero contends he is cleaning up a sloppy system he inherited after years of lax oversight with too many people digging through records.
But the change means police officers can no longer immediately view dispatch records of their own activities, although they still have emergency support provided by dispatchers, police officials said.
Lakeport pays the county to dispatch calls for the city.
"It is key to the everyday operations of this agency," Lakeport Police Lt. Jason Ferguson said of the sheriff's database. "It is absolutely necessary."
The sheriff's computer-based records information management system had for years been used among police agencies in the county as well as the probation department and District Attorney's Office.
Chief Probation Officer Rob Howe said the sheriff introduced a cumbersome process involving formal record requests and waiting for faxes in place of the computer system.
"What is the necessity of this? What prompted it? If an employee did something wrong and misused it, I would want to know about it," Howe said.
Rivero, reached by phone Wednesday, said that too many people outside of the Sheriff's Office have had access to its records, inviting snooping and risking the improper release of victim and investigatory information.
"The system has sensitive information, criminal history, contacts, children. I have to secure it so it can't be inappropriately accessed and abused," Rivero said.
Rivero's decision to remove access without warning is another example of his in-your-face management style that has stirred angst among county agencies and even within his own department.
In 2011, Rivero cut off the District Attorney's Office from accessing the record system after saying investigators, who were also part-time dispatchers, abused their access.
District Attorney Don Anderson said an internal investigation showed they did nothing more than update addresses and make other improvements to records. Anderson said Rivero has yet to live up to an agreement to reinstate read-only access to the department that he promised nearly two years ago.
"Before Rivero became sheriff, all the law enforcement agencies shared information very well," Anderson said.
Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown criticized Rivero's actions and said it's another example of a controversial decision by the sheriff sending the county into a tailspin.
"We've been dealing with that all day," Brown said.
Last month, the Board of Supervisors asked Rivero to resign. Some of Rivero's opponents over the weekend began gathering signatures for a recall petition.
"We're going to look at what our options are, we are going to look at whether what he did is legal, and what authority the board has to compel him to do the right thing," Brown said.
"No one can understand what (Rivero) is doing; nothing he does makes sense," Brown said.
Rivero said that when he took office, he inherited a records system with a massive phone-book-sized list of people with access, including people well outside law enforcement.
And further audits of the database required by law unearthed what appeared to be inappropriate searches and changes made by people from several outside departments, according to Rivero.
"I'm required by law to protect that information," Rivero said.