RIVERSIDE – Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff is standing on a record of fiscal discipline and less crime as he bids today for a second full term as the county’s top law enforcement officer, but he is challenged by a subordinate who says the incumbent has failed to meet public safety commitments and plays inside-politics to protect his position.
Riverside County voters will decide whether Sniff, 64, will serve another four years or be replaced by sheriff’s Lt. Chad Bianco, 46.
Sniff was appointed to the position in October 2007 following the resignation of then-Sheriff Bob Doyle, and later elected during a 2010 campaign in which he handily beat former Chief Deputy Frank Robles.
Sniff’s campaign has touted ”decreased crime,” raising ”standards and morale” within the sheriff’s department and a ”balanced budget” as bases for returning him to office.
The sheriff, who has been endorsed by the deputies’ union and most of the area’s police chiefs, has boasted of a 16 percent drop in crime in areas patrolled by sheriff’s personnel. The department handles law enforcement throughout the county’s unincorporated communities, along with 17 cities.
Local statistics published by the agency indicated most Part I crimes, including robberies and aggravated assaults, declined by double-digit percentages in 2013. However, the data also showed a corresponding increase in the number of murders and rapes.
On the budget front, Sniff has been able to return millions to the county general fund over the last two fiscal years, despite beginning each year projecting a sizable deficit. The sheriff’s department was expected to end the current fiscal year close to $10 million in the hole, but the Board of Supervisors appropriated funds earlier this month to fill the gap.
Budget excesses have largely been driven by board-directed recruiting efforts that seek to make up for a draw-down in unincorporated patrols that began five years ago as the county implemented austerity cuts to control spending.
The patrol deputy-to-residents staffing ratio bottomed out at 0.75 per 1,000 in 2012. The goal is to bring it back to 1.2 per 1,000 within four years by adding 500 deputies.
Bianco has said that, if elected, he would immediately transfer 350 deputies from the county’s five jails to the unincorporated communities to bolster patrols and animate the concept of ”community-oriented policing,” putting deputies closer to the residents they’re duty-bound to protect.
In a recent debate between the candidates, Sniff said shifting gun- carrying deputies from jails to stations would be untenable since there wouldn’t be sufficient resources available — including patrol cars — to support them.
According to Bianco, the sheriff’s ideology is steeped in having a ”reactive” as opposed to a ”proactive” law enforcement organization, which would require deputies to become more integrated in the communities they serve, partnering with businesses, educators and faith-based groups to combat crime.
Bianco has also assailed how the sheriff’s hierarchy handles inmate releases. According to sheriff’s figures, as a result of overcrowding, more than 16,200 jail detainees were put back on the street before finishing their sentences or having their cases adjudicated in 2012 and 2013.
So-called public safety realignment has been blamed for the ”kickouts.” Under realignment, many convicts previously sent to prison are now allowed to serve their time in local detention facilities, taking up already scarce correctional space. Bianco advocates increased monitoring of inmates who qualify for early release and said the county needs a sheriff who will be aggressive in pushing for wider use of ”work-release” programs that keep inmates busy while providing a public benefit.
The challenger alleges Sniff has created a climate of fear, using intimidation to stifle criticism and isolate anyone who disagrees with his policies. Bianco used himself as an example, noting that after he declared his candidacy, he was transferred from a supervisory patrol position to working in a jail.
The career law enforcement officer has said his public support among fellow deputies would be greater if they didn’t fear retribution.