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Sonoma County sheriff’s watchdog moving ahead with hotline, policy on body-worn camera footage

Four months after Sonoma County voters bolstered the authority and budget of the county’s civilian law enforcement watchdog, the office’s director said several of the changes outlined in Measure P — such as the creation of a law enforcement whistleblower hotline and body worn-camera posting program — are underway.

Karlene Navarro, the director of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, or IOLERO, also said her office was preparing for the arrival of two attorneys to help her clear a backlog of audits into allegations of wrongdoing within the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Navarro shared updates the before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors during a public board meeting Tuesday morning, a presentation intended to help county leaders and community members understand the progress her office has made in implementing the Evelyn Cheatham Effective IOLERO Ordinance, which 65% of Sonoma County voters backed in November.

The ordinance, which originated from a group of activists who sought to strengthen the county’s law enforcement auditor’s office, included mandates to allow Navarro to access the Sheriff Office’s body-worn camera footage, and the ability to publish the video in cases where deputies use force on an individual.

Representatives from the Chicago Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which Navarro identified as the only other civilian oversight board in the country with the authority to share body-worn camera footage, have shared their expertise with Navarro and spoke on the topic during a November community meeting her office organized, Navarro said.

Her office’s body-worn camera footage program will need to work through legal considerations related to posting the footage, which include citizens’ privacy concerns and the preservation of active, criminal investigations, Navarro said.

She’s looking into contracting with a third-party vendor to set up a whistleblower hotline also outlined in the measure, Navarro said. The hotline is intended to allow Sheriff’s Office employees to file confidential complaints with the auditor’s office.

Next month, her office will get additional help in the form of a second attorney, who will be able to help review the Sheriff Office’s internal affairs investigations into certain allegations of wrong doing, Navarro said. A potential third attorney was undergoing a background check as of Tuesday, she added.

The resources will be instrumental in clearing a backlog of audits — more than 30 as of October — that have mounted at the office over several years because of low staffing, she said.

“The most important and urgent need of the office is stabilizing the backlog of audits,” Navarro told supervisors.

Much of the meeting focused on the future of the Community Advisory Council, or CAC, which was initially established to serve as the community arm of the independent watchdog’s office.

Its members, who hold monthly meetings with the community to discuss topics related to policing in their communities, were previously advisory to the law enforcement auditor’s office, though language in the voter-approve measure specifies that the two shall function as independent bodies that work collaboratively, Lorena Barrera, the CAC’s current vice chair said during the meeting.

Barrera, who read from a prepared statement drafted by her and Evan Zelig, the council’s chair, said the group’s independence was compromised in its current form because it relied on the auditor’s office for support and funding.

“The CAC would like the (board of supervisors) to either provide the CAC with its own staff and budget ... in order for the CAC to be truly ’independent’ from IOLERO or provide sufficient identification of a portion of the IOLERO budget and resources,“ Barrera said.

Navarro warned taking money out of her office to fund the community council could hinder her office’s efforts to carry out the mandates laid out in the measure.

Kimmie Barbosa, a local activist who organized support for the measure, was one of several community members who said they wanted to see the county ramp up their efforts to get applicants for the CAC, particularly those from diverse backgrounds.

Several public speakers, including Barbosa, also advocated for a stipend for the members of the community council.

Supervisor Susan Gorin urged the board to revisit the conversation on stipends as it applies to the numerous commissions it oversees, some of which offer stipends and others which do not, a proposal that Supervisor David Rabbitt and Board Chair Lynda Hopkins backed.

Hopkins said she wanted to attend a CAC meeting to hear what the council’s needs will be as an independent body, which Supervisor Chris Coursey said he was also interested in doing. Hopkins requested that a member of the council be included in upcoming budget conversations.

“We need to, in this case, really think through how we are going to move forward,” Hopkins said.

While many aspects of the measure are in progress, a pending decision by the California Public Employment Relations Board has stalled the completion of revised protocols that outline how the Sheriff’s Office and the watchdog’s office work together, Navarro said.

Complaints filed with the state employee board by the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association allege the county violated labor rules when it failed to confer with the unions before placing the ordinance on the ballot.

The complaints will need to be resolved before her office and the Sheriff’s Office can agree on a final version of the protocols, Navarro said.

A final decision could come within the next couple months, Felix De La Torre, a California Public Employment Relations Board spokesman said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Editor’s note: Lorena Barrera, the Community Advisory Council’s vice chair, read a statement drafted by her and the council’s chair during Tuesday’s Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting. A previous version of this story misstated who wrote the statement.

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