‘Troubling Cluster’ of Complaints Stem from Jail Graveyard Shift

Correctional officers at Santa Clara County’s Main Jail are more likely to use force against inmates during the graveyard shift, according to data unveiled Wednesday by the Sheriff’s Office.

Some 43 percent—what jail officials called a “troubling cluster”—of this year’s inmate use-of-force complaints have been lodged against guards working the D-shift, which runs from 6pm to 6am Wednesday through Friday and every other Saturday. Thirty-eight percent of correctional deputies self-reported use-of-force incidents generated from the 70 guards who work the night shift.

“As a result of these trends we are taking specific actions to ensure we are providing our custody staff additional training and support as well as adding an additional layer of supervision and accountability onto the D-Shift,” Sheriff Laurie Smith said in a prepared statement.

Inmates have filed 374 complaints with the county's Internal Affairs division since 2010, according to records first reported by San Jose Inside. None have been sustained this year or in 2014, two were sustained in 2013, one in 2011 and one in 2010.

Some of newly proposed actions, Smith said, will include adding a layer of supervision fto the overnight shift. The Department of Correction (DOC), the branch of the Sheriff’s Office that oversees the county’s two jails, will transfer Lt. Vic Delacruz and Sgt. Jennifer Bice to oversee the Main Jail’s “D” team and walk floors throughout the shift.

The jail will also keep at the Main Jail nine deputies trained in crisis intervention who would otherwise have been transferred to Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas. Meanwhile, other D-shift deputies who haven’t received the training will go through the 40-hour course, newly appointed Custody Operations Assistant Sheriff Troy Beliveau said.

In addition, Main Jail lieutenants and sergeants will start using an “activity sheet” to document everything that happens during the D-shift. That log will be routinely forwarded to the division commander for review.

Here's a link to a memo announcing the changes.

“Today’s actions represent well-measured responses to challenges based on data,” Smith said. “We will continue to make the improvements and changes we deem necessary as other assessments are ongoing.”

Jail officials began scrutinizing use-of-force complaints following the beating death of a mentally ill inmate on Aug. 27. Three correctional officers were charged with murder days after Michael Tyree was found lifeless in his one-man cell.

In response to his death, county officials formed a civilian commission to investigate local jails. It also hired consultants and asked for help from federal authorities to evaluate both facilities.

Tyree’s death galvanized long-held concerns that correctional officers are ill equipped to deal with the growing population of mentally ill inmates.Undersheriff John Hirokawa, the county’s jails chief, agreed that his staff needs more training.

“The reality is that our custody facilities … are charged with the care of a much higher proportion of mentally ill inmates,” Hirokawa said Wednesday.

In addition to adding supervisory staff to the night shift, the jail will start to house inmates with psychiatric needs in proximity to one another to “better serve their needs.” Currently, they’re spread throughout the facility.

Clustering these inmates, Hirokawa said, will allow for a quicker delivery of mental health services. It will also allow mental health staff to spend more time with patients instead of walking the entire facility.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

10 Comments

  1. Interesting that John Hirokawa, the jails chief, was not at the press conference. He must be at odds with his headline grabbing boss. Who are the three folks wearing orange shirts—Trustees? YO, Jenn! I corrected you on your last story re SCC jails—it’s The Department of Correction
    (NO “s” Jenn). C’mon Jenn, how difficult can it be to get that right after you have been informed of your error?

    “In addition, Main Jail lieutenants and sergeants will start using an “activity sheet” to document everything that happens during the D-shift.” Amazing that this has not been SOP for major incidents for quite some time. Are they implementing the same thing with the day shift?

    • Are you kidding? No where in the picture does it say that it was taken at the press conference, and the credit to the Morgan Hill Times should have tipped you off that the girl in the picture on the easel is Sierra Lamar. It’s very common for the media to use old pictures of the subject being discussed in the article. Hirokawa was indeed at the press conference. Get a clue.

      And, GOOD FOR YOU, you caught a ridiculously minor error in Jen’s story. I’ll be sure to nominate you for a Pulitzer.

      I wonder if some of you clowns who peruse these stories actually read them for their factual value, or just go though them looking for a way to tear down people you disagree with. Perhaps it’s time for some of you to consider rethinking your baseless opinions, and start basing them on actual information instead of just long-held beliefs. Only then might these comments morph from the silly to the serious and add some value to these stories, but I’m not holding my breath.

      • So, Tired, how was I or anyone else to know that the photo was not of a press conference about the article it accompanied? It was not identified as a file photo. In fact, the caption certainly would lead any rational person to conclude the photo was of a press conference about the issue in the article, since it by referenced the subject of the article. Time 4 U to take a nap tired boy.

        • I don’t know…the picture of the Sierra Lamar? The credit to the Morgan Hill Times? But you are too busy to notice these things as you try to find the most nit-picky of details to critique Jennifer, the Sheriff, Hirokawa–basically anyone who isn’t you. Sounds like there are some anger issues you need to work out John boy.

  2. So, Jenn, I see you corrected your Department of Corrections spelling error. However, in an apparent attempt to make me look bad you didn’t note anywhere that you acknowledge your error and have corrected it. If you had gone to journalism school you would have known that is the proper and ethical procedure. So, now will you or Josh delete this comment proclaiming your lack of professionalism?

  3. All the newbee’s get dumped on to grave yard along with the wort supervisors every where I ever worked.
    Could that be the problem?
    Give you a dollar if I’m wrong!

  4. “Thirty-eight percent of correctional deputies self-reported use-of-force incidents generated from the 70 guards who work the night shift.”

    This sentence had me confused until I realized it made sense if I read “deputies” as “deputy’s.”

  5. With her dog-and-pony show press conference yesterday, Sheriff Laurie Smith demonstrated the analytical maturity one would expect to find in a kid in a candy store — all impulse and no consideration. And, true to form, our local cadre of cognitively-limited news reporters was nonetheless wowed.

    What good is it to contrast the statistics of the overnight D-shift against those of the other three shifts if we have no idea of their work hours? If you’re going to try to play grownups with data you need to include the uh… uh, oh yeah, comparative information. Are we expected to assume that factors associated with circadian rhythms, jail activities, and days of the week are immaterial? Officers working daytime hours are biologically in sync with their charges: they supervise inmates who are absorbed in routines and activities (visiting hours, meals, court appearances, etc.); there is no expectation of peace and quiet. Not so from 6PM to 6AM, where for most of the shift the inmates are undistracted (with plenty of time to reflect or freak out) and it is the C/O’s job to keep the few from disturbing the many (something the loud and disruptive few understand and exploit).

    The sheriff seems determined to scapegoat one of the two overnight shifts (and, hopefully, make herself look like a reformer instead of a hack politician). But here is the problem with her approach: the raw data behind which she seeks to hide represents individual complaints that were, presumably, investigated according to standards she herself set. So what she’s asking is that the public embrace as evidence a raw, untested number, and ignore that it’s value as evidence has been refuted by way of fact-based investigations. If there are problem individuals, why hasn’t her administration already identified them?

    Anyone who knows anything about law enforcement knows that young officers typically possess levels of energy and dedication to duty that veterans admire but know to be frequently counterproductive and occasionally politically hazardous. But one can’t learn from a book which violations are best left ignored, how to maximize results from minimal effort, or how quickly good intentions can produce bad results. The statistical cluster on D-shift is only “troubling” to the sheriff because it’s politically expedient for it to be so. The day a jail or police department’s youngest shift of officers doesn’t generate the most notice will be a day of victory for society’s champions of cowardice and sloth.

    Lastly, I happened to notice an anomaly in the sheriff’s statistics, that being the discrepancy between self-reported force incidents and those alleged by way of complaint. It seems that the A, B, and C shifts self-report the use of force at significantly lower rates than do complaining inmates (50% less, 18% less, and 20% less, respectively), while the much disparaged D-shifters — the young officers the sheriff depicts as out of control, self-report at a rate 13% higher than complaints received. These numbers show that, yes, the D-shifters may be more attentive and aggressive than their coworkers, but they are reporting their activities with a high degree of honesty; a sure sign they believe they are doing their jobs responsibly and professionally.

    • FINFAN

      While I generally disdain pull-quotes and avoid them when I can, there are some things that just cannot be better said. Your second to last paragraph contains the insight of a serious student of human nature and concepts worthy of a philosopher and not just commentary, to wit:

      “… young officers typically possess levels of energy and dedication to duty that veterans admire but know to be frequently counterproductive … one can’t learn from a book which violations are best left ignored…how quickly good intentions can produce bad results…”

      Whenever the first impulse of an organization is to use administrative review and formal discipline as a way of dealing with employee problems or mistakes, the result will invariably be an organization whose employees spend the majority of their time protecting themselves from their supervisors rather than contributing towards the goals of the organization. This is particularly corrosive to a law enforcement agency since success so often depends on the willingness and ability of officers to expend more than the minimum effort towards accomplishing the goals of the organization. This always requires leadership, not extensive second-guessing; the crushing weight of nit-picking Administrative review; and formal discipline.

      Administrative position or “formal rank” is not enough to solve problems and motivate people. One cannot demand by rank what one cannot earn through credibility and respect. “Rank without respect” results in supervisors who have authority over, but no ability to control or motivate, their officers.

      Enter then, the “veteran officer”. This designation is reserved not for someone who has simply put in their time but for someone whose actions, self-discipline and proven record, at the street level, and who has maintained dedication to the profession despite years of Administrative buffoonery, has made them a person whose respect a younger officer finds worth earning. The veteran officer then is in a unique position to provide motivation and training of the type that no agency or Politico-Administrator would ever understand, much less provide. This phenomenon could fill a novel but I will try to be brief.

      A veteran officer’s teaching methods and tactics are often as effective and street-proven as they are insensitive by conventional standards. Grabbing a rookie officer by the sleeve or collar and telling them, “Hey idiot, that’s not the way you do it. You do this if you don’t want some sh*t-head to kick your ass”; An explanation or a quick, demonstration of a proven technique, one that is extremely effective and almost certainly never taught in the Academy, then follows.

      One of the greatest motivations of any younger officer who wishes to succeed is to earn the respect of those whose respect is worth earning and to learn from them the tactics and techniques that have proven most effective in the crucible of actual conflict. Such a lesson taught by a veteran officer fosters in the younger officer the enthusiasm for self-improvement rather than the motivation to avoid conflict by doing less and less. This is how professionalism and leadership grows in an agency but veteran officers are not indestructible, do not grow on trees and tend to leave and go elsewhere if ill-treated. If the sheriff continues down the path of administrative second-guessing, endless and unnecessary internal scrutinizing and scapegoating, she might as well just let the inmates run the jail. It seems she gives the inmates more support.

  6. I think you both put my observation and experience into a very large and eloquent nut shell, well done!