Jan 3, 2018
by Christopher Kerosky, Kerosky, Purves & Bogue, LLP, Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner
The Sheriff’s Department of Sonoma County has been the target of much community criticism in recent years. Since 2008, there has been continuing controversy over the office’s cooperation with ICE in the detention of undocumented members of our community. Then came the shooting of Andy Lopez and the Sheriff’s decision to keep the officer responsible on the streets. Many felt there was a need for a change.
Now there is new leadership in the Department and it’s time to give credit to those who run things there now. Acting Sheriff Rob Giordano has done an outstanding job since taking over upon the retirement of Steve Freitas last summer. He and his top staff members including Deputy Sheriff Randall Walker and Community Engagement Liaison, Misti Harris have made public accessibility and transparency a priority for the Department.
Here’s a few positive developments: First, the Sheriff’s leadership during and after the firestorm that hit our County was extraordinary. Two months on the job when the crisis came, Sheriff Giordano handled a difficult situation exceedingly well. He was up front, directing the dissemination of public information with frequent press conferences and public appearances. He and his staff worked long hours for weeks, carrying out rescue efforts, protecting the public and facilitating delivery of aid to the victims.
The Sheriff made it a point to reach out to the immigrant community and assure the undocumented that they would not be targeted for deportation in shelters for fire victims. He provided commanding leadership during the crisis in a manner that was accessible and with an approach that was sensitive and humane.
Second, the Sheriff correctly spoke out when the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) chose to attack the County’s sanctuary policy, wrongly attributing blame for the wildfires ravaging the County to an immigrant arrested for an unrelated incident 7 days after the fires started. Sheriff Giordano immediately condemned ICE’s action for causing fear in a community already are exhausted and scared. “ICE attacked the Sheriff’s Office in the midst of the largest natural disaster this county has ever experienced,” he declared hours after the ICE
Giordano’s bold response got the attention of the New York Times, which did a feature story on this acting County Sheriff from the wine country who rightfully took to task the federal government’s Director of ICE for politicizing a tragic human event and spreading false rumors about the cause of the fires.
Third, Sheriff Giordano has been a huge improvement on the issue important to those of us who work with our immigrant community – that is, our local law enforcement’s role in the Trump Administration’s campaign to deport large numbers of our undocumented.
Within weeks of taking office, Sheriff Giordano rewrote the office’s policies relating to cooperation with ICE. He cut back on the instances when ICE would be notified of the release of immigrants from custody. Deputy Walker and Ms. Harris have been frequent participants in community forums, clarifying the new policies and listening to concerns from the public. The new leadership made community relations a priority.
Now, in light of SB54, the new state law which strictly limits law enforcement cooperation with ICE statewide, the Sheriff and his team have issued a draft policy which would implement the new law in a way that is faithful to legislative intent. It fairly balances public safety with the priority our County places on protecting our immigrant community.
I recently met with the Sheriff and found him to be very thoughtful and sincere, well-informed yet open to input, and quite simply, a very likeable guy. Most people who know Rob Giordano well feel the same and the new Sheriff has made many fans in our County since taking office.
At that time, Giordano announced that he would not run for election as Sheriff in November. That might be the only important decision the popular Sheriff has made so far that I would take issue with.
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