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Among the choices voters will make June 3 at the polls is who should serve as Riverside County sheriff-coroner for the next four years.
Temecula Grapevine recently caught up with the two candidates, incumbent Sheriff Stan Sniff and sheriff’s Lt. Chad Bianco, to ask each of them why they should be the one elected for the position that comes with a $223,166 salary.
Below are excerpts from their interviews.
Sheriff Stan Sniff
Sniff, 64, said he’s still the man for the job and wants to keep the momentum going.
“The public perception has probably never been higher of the sheriff’s department,” Sniff said. “I don’t think there are a lot of issues out there.”
Sniff first took office in 2007 when he was appointed to fill the vacancy created when then-Sheriff Bob Doyle took another job just eight months into his term.
“There were a lot of issues going on in the department…I think I hit the ground running,” said Sniff, a Coachella Valley native who worked his way up to assistant sheriff after starting as a deputy in 1979.
Sniff went on to win election in 2010 and said that during his first full term, he has maintained a nearly $600-million budget through very lean budget years and built a more diverse (gender-wise and ethnically) 4,000-member workforce.
“We are the fifth- or sixth-largest sheriff’s department in the state so it’s pretty complex,” Sniff said.
The sheriff’s department handles policing in unincorporated areas of the county and by contract, 17 of the county’s 28 cities, including Temecula. The office’s purview also includes county jails, courthouse staffing and coroner’s responsibilities.
There has always been the issue of overcrowding among the county’s five jails. That worsened when realignment went into effect in 2011 in California. The legislation, Assembly Bill 109, shifted the responsibility of housing lower-level offenders from the state to counties.
Sniff said he has done the best with what he was dealt.
“We are in pretty bad shape here—our jail system is probably half the size it should be—so when realignment hit in 2011, that really was the coup de gras that has caused the jails to burst at the seams,” Sniff said.
But his office worked to secure grant funding for jail expansion and modernization, he said. Construction is underway to add between 1,200 and 1,300 inmate beds to the Indio jail by 2017.
He also touted the millions in federal and state grant monies the department has secured during his tenure to put toward Community-Oriented Policing.
Sniff described the department’s community-oriented policing as primarily a collaboration between public and private agencies, allying to prevent crime.
“Rather than having a piecemeal approach, all our agencies have a much more holistic approach with long-range problem solving and task forces that have regional impact,” Sniff said.
Evidence that it is working, he said, is that in 2012, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Tribal Liaison Unit was recognized as a finalist for the national James Q. Wilson Excellence in Community Policing award.
“We are rebuilding…from southwest county to the river, the sheriff’s department is doing a great job,” Sniff said. “Crime is down…this county is very lucky compared to other counties. And I think that resonates with the public.”
Lt. Chad Bianco
Bianco, 46, sees something different when he looks at the inner workings of the department.
“I have been in management for the sheriff’s department for nine years and it is just completely apparent that we do not do the most that we should be doing to serve our citizens,” Bianco said.
“We got an award because we had a tribal liaison unit; that is not community-oriented policing, that has nothing to do with us engaging,” he said.
“It’s the deployment of our officers—the biggest thing is community-oriented policing. We as a department do not employ anything that resembles community-oriented policing. It is the concept of how you do police work and how you to relate to the public—the working relationship between residents, business owners and law enforcement to eliminate crime.”
Bianco said that while some contract cities pay extra for dedicated community-oriented deputies, he does not see it being implemented county-wide. He said sheriff’s employees are currently transferred too often, hindering long-term community involvement.
The Riverside resident who serves as a lieutenant at the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning says he wants to change how and where deputies are deployed.
“I believe the people should want to elect someone who is actively engaged in providing public safety,” Bianco said.
He described his campaign as grassroots, with about 300 steady volunteers.
“This isn’t ‘I just woke up one day and decided to run for sheriff,’” he said. “Being the sheriff doesn’t impress me one single bit, but what I realized was that the only way the department can change is if I am a sheriff, and I have the guts and the determination to do it.”
Bianco said something else he would strive for if elected is transparency.
“Law enforcement is historically secretive, we don’t tell the public anything,” he said. “We are supposed to be transparent, but yet whenever anything bad happens what do the police say? ‘We can’t comment.’”
He said he has historically rallied for change in the various positions he has held in his 21 years with the sheriff’s department. Now, he would like to effect that department-wide.
“Four more years of what we have had for the last six is not going to bring change,” Bianco said.