Credit: Illustration by Chris Allen, VOICE

Gail Fry | IE Voice

Official records obtained by the IE Voice/Black Voice News, indicate for the past 12 years, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has appointed the county sheriffs from the upper ranks of the Sheriff’s Department as endorsed by the retiring sheriff and approved by the board of supervisors over the objections of voters who wished to have their say in the selection. 

From January 28, 2009, when San Bernardino County (SBC) Sheriff Rod Hoops was appointed through the most recent appointment of Sheriff Shannon Discus, this has been the selection process. However, the in-house selection of county sheriffs appears to have begun even earlier. 

What history tells us

Times are changing and the Black Lives Matter movement has focused more attention on who fills these positions. 

An examination of official records and historical news articles, uncovered evidence of how Dicus’ appointment on July 7, 2021, followed a decades-long pattern. 

The 2009 appointment of Hoops appears to be a continuation of a model that apparently began as early as 1983 with then SBC Sheriff Frank Bland, and has continued with the appointment of  sheriffs from the upper ranks of the department since. 

Sheriff Employees Benefit Association (SEBA) typically endorses and provides financial support to individuals selected to fill the role of San Bernardino County Sheriff. (paulcook.org)

As noted, a favored, high-ranking sheriff employee receives the endorsement of the sitting sheriff, is appointed by the political establishment, supported by the Sheriff Employees Benefit Association (SEBA) and subsequently receives generous campaign funds which typically ensures a successful election. 

Each sheriff since Bland, who retired in 1983, has promised to continue the legacy of the department and once appointed by the Board of Supervisors (BOS), is basically guaranteed the advantages of incumbency in the next election—essentially ensuring a successful campaign.

Political experts advise

“If your party serves the powerful and well-funded interests, and there’s no limit to what you can spend, you have a permanent, structural advantage,” said political advisor David Axelrod during a 2012 interview with UC Irvine’s New University news publication.  

“If endorsements weren’t important, politicians would have ceased seeking them decades ago,” said Joshua Stockley, political science professor at the University of Louisiana in Monroe.

A Los Angeles Times report further highlights how, “In politics, incumbency almost always provides a crucial boost.  Its benefits are immeasurable: a battle-tested army of aides, ready attention from the media, and that most important political asset of all, access to money.” 

“If endorsements weren’t important, politicians would have ceased seeking them decades ago,” said David Shockley, political science professor at the University of Louisiana in Monroe. (source: .ulm.edu)

Back to SBCSD history

Over the last 12 years, residents of San Bernardino County, including those in unincorporated areas as well as those in the 14 contracted cities patrolled by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (SBCSD), have read news reports and/or watched videos of their law enforcement officers involved in questionable interactions or deadly encounters with citizens, or being accused of criminal activity.

In one example as previously reported by the IE Voice/Black Voice News, most residents were not aware SBCSD used a surveillance device without a search warrant over 300 times beginning in 2013, between January 2014 and May 2015.  The device known as Stingray, simulates a cell phone tower capturing cell phone data and/or communications within range of the device.

On October 8, 2015, California’s Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) was signed into law amending penal code section 1546, adding sections 1546.1, 1546.2 and 1546.4, requiring law enforcement to obtain a search warrant to compel or access electronic communications.    

Currently San Bernardino County residents have little ability to discover if their phone data and/or communications were or are being captured by a Stingray.  And, although the Privacy Act calls for public disclosure regarding how the technology is being applied locally including guardrails surrounding its use, that is yet to happen in San Bernardino County.

SBCSD was one of the three biggest organizations purchasing surveillance equipment in the State of California in 2014.

In 2016, the IE Voice/Black Voice News also reported on SBCSD’s secret collection of biometric information. “In 2013, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties began quietly collecting iris scans as part of a pilot program with the FBI. At the same time, it also incorporated the capture of facial scans to add to the FBI database—neither the iris pilot nor facial scanning programs have privacy impact assessments.”

In 2013, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties began quietly collecting iris scans as part of a pilot program with the FBI. At the same time, it also incorporated the capture of facial scans to add to the FBI database. (source: youtube.com)

The report noted that although the Memorandum of Understanding stated it was to be a one-year pilot program, three years later it was still ongoing without any discernible public disclosure and to date there is no public clarity around its use. Yet, in 2016 SBCSD received the FBI’s Biometric Identification Award that is presented annually to “an outstanding officer or agency” for using the FBI’s next generation identification system. 

Most county residents are within SBCSD jurisdiction

Although some of the officers/deputies may wear uniforms unique to a contracted city they are actually SBCSD deputies and not members of a unique police force. (source: sbcounty.gov).

Although some of the officers/deputies in the following cities may wear their own uniforms, SBCSD is contracted by the following cities and provides law enforcement in these communities including: Adelanto, Apple Valley, Big Bear Lake, Chino Hills, Grand Terrace, Hesperia, Highland, Loma Linda, Needles, Rancho Cucamonga, Twentynine Palms, Victorville, Yucaipa, and Yucca Valley in addition to the unincorporated areas of the county. 

The question before the voters in this year’s election, is whether they want the same type of law enforcement this county has experienced for the past 39 as selected by SBCSD leaders and approved by the board of supervisors or will they vote for something new? 

The position of sheriff is one of the most powerful elected positions in any county, and as it currently stands, that position is being chosen for voters in what critics perceive as a “rigged process”. 

Watch for Part 2 of this story 

In the coming days Part 2 of this two-part series will provide some background regarding San Bernardino County sheriffs over the last 39 years, including how they came to office and subsequently passed the baton to their successors. Part 2 will also include an associated timeline where you can learn about some questionable and illegal actions that occurred in the county under their leadership. 

Source:  

MacDuff, C. (June 8, 1994) Money: Gas that Drives Campaigns, The Sun 

Hasten, M. (September 14, 2014) Do endorsements help candidates? News Star

Shuster, B. (April 7, 2001) Being an Incumbent Has Many Benefits, Los Angeles TimesHenry, J. (November 5, 2014) ACLU:  Southern California cops are putting spy tool in place quietly, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Gail Fry

Gail Fry is a legal assistant who acted as a self-appointed government watchdog in San Bernardino County during the early 2000s. Over those years she sought public records, was critical of county-paid benefits for state judges, expressed concern over the perceived creative financing for court construction and played a key role in the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s formal warning to former San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod for violating the Political Reform Act for failing to disclose ownership of several properties over many years. Fry then served eight years as a reporter for The Alpenhorn News, a biweekly newspaper covering the San Bernardino Mountain communities. Fry remains committed in her quest to hold government officials accountable to the people they represent through her articles in Moffatt Media, The IE Voice, Black Voice News and The San Bernardino American News, as well as her work with various law firms on issues she believes will shine a light on government corruption.