Questions for Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith
How do you view the department's role in enforcing immigration law? Do you, like San Jose, pre
fer to keep
local police out of ICE enforcement, or do you think deputies should arrest or report people they
encounter if they are here illegally?
The Sheriff’s Office has no role in enforcing immigration law. We are not involved in ICE
enforcement and neither arrest nor report those that we believe are undocumented.
Do you support Sunnyvale's ordinance, and would you support a similar law county-wide?
I support the gun safety regulations adopted in Sunnyvale. I am actually astounded that
organizations have taken such drastic steps in attempting to block its implementation. It is a law
that is simple and should be the practice of all gun owners. (In actuality I’m not surprised
because I have a very clear understanding of the furor of those that are opposed to any type of
The local cities (and county) association should discuss this matter both by the elected boards
and the city managers group while working with the individual police chiefs. I believe it would
be possible, in this particular county, to enact identical regulations by each city and the county
and I would recommend and support the issue.
While I believe that we could do this locally, the change really needs to be done on a state-wide
level. This county has always been a leader in the state and enacting something here might be a
powerful message within the State and possibly even nationally.
What basic rules do you think would be reasonable for concealed weapon permits?
The current law requires “good cause” and “good moral character” for the issuance of permits. I
have been very circumspect in the issuance of permits and carefully considered these factors.
There is a wide variation of the application of these principals throughout the state. I believe the
law should provide greater clarity to these subjective terms for a great level of consistency. I also
believe that the issuance of these permits should be done by the state as opposed to local chiefs
There are several problems with the permitting process due, in part, to the strong gun lobbies.
For example we cannot require the permit holder to obtain insurance, we have time restrictions,
fee restrictions and other limiting factors. I believe that we may see a shift in the politics of gun
laws because of the organization started by Michael Bloomberg. I would hope that this
organization would be able to counter the strong pressure and political support by gun advocates.
Do you believe open-carry should be permitted everywhere?
I do not believe that open-carry should be permitted anywhere. We had major problems with the
“open-carry” people in Cupertino displaying unloaded firearms on their hips in coffee shops.
Open carry is now illegal in California.
Do you believe background checks should be done before someone is sold a gun?
Yes, I believe the background checks should be done for all firearm purchases along with the 10-
day waiting period. (The only exception is for peace officers as is currently the law. Law
enforcement agencies are notified of all peace officers arrested and/or held for psychiatric care.)
Currently minimal background checks are conducted for all hand gun purchases, but not for shot
guns or rifles.
California law should be changed to require the 10-day waiting period and background checks
for all firearm purchases including shot guns and rifles. I also believe that the background should
be expanded. Currently the person’s criminal record is searched and a determination is made if
the subject has been held for involuntary psychiatric care (5150 W&I.) There should be a more
extensive background that should, minimally, include if the person is currently under psychiatric
Should armed employees be employed by schools to protect them from intruders? Should teacher
s be armed?
We currently utilize uniformed and armed School Resource Officers in the schools, but their
intended primary purpose is not to protect from intruders. Some schools, including those in our
jurisdiction, do elect to employ armed peace officers for security purposes. I believe this is a
decision that should be made by the individual school or district leadership. I am not opposed to
officers in schools for the purpose of security.
I do not believe, under any circumstances, that a teacher should be armed.
Should the sheriff's department have them, and if so, what kinds of uses would you see for them?
We do not have them and should not have them. We do not use them and should not use them.
If you are re-
elected, will you do anything differently in light of the lack of support shown by your department
in this election?
My entire career with the Sheriff’s Office has been fraught with challenges and I have
demonstrated the ability to overcome difficulties. Certainly this election cycle has been difficult
and we have a deeply divided organization. We have experienced significant changes in the last
few years and change can often be arduous.
When I was originally hired in 1973 the peace officer position for women was deputy sheriff
matron. We were full peace officers, went to the same academy and carried a firearm; however,
our duties and pay was restricted. As a result of a federal lawsuit, we were reclassified to
deputy sheriff. Needless to say there was much opposition and we needed to prove that we
could do the job.
Most recall in 1989 when the Sheriff’s Office lost the jails and the County Department of
Correction was formed. The Sheriff and the unions were at odds with the Board of Supervisors
and County Management. The Sheriff’s Office was at an extremely low point and deputies were
leaving and being hired by other agencies. The county discontinued hiring deputies and instead
hired only correctional officers. Most believed that their careers were “dead.” In fact we did not
hire or promote any deputies for 10 full years.
The rebuilding began with a new Sheriff and new administration. I became an assistant sheriff in
1990 and worked to make positive change. In 1998 I was elected Sheriff. As the first woman
sheriff, I once again needed to prove that I could lead a large organization. We worked hard to
rebuild the organization that was at an all time low in terms of morale and respect from other
law enforcement agencies.
The County’s Court system management and judges were unhappy with the service provided by
the Sheriff’s Office and were exploring forming a Marshal’s system. We implemented many
changes and stronger accountability of employees. Currently the Court System is extremely
pleased with our service. In fact, in this county we have a strong and positive relationship
unlike many counties in the state.
The rebuilding was slow and arduous. We established a strong mission and vision along with our
core values. When we did begin hiring in about 1999, we recognized the need to recruit and
hire the best people that subscribed to our culture of service. We began to gain recognition as a
quality organization from those we served, other law enforcement agencies, other county
departments, county management and the Board of Supervisors.
County Executive Pete Kutras, recognizing our strong management and leadership, asked if we
would be willing to assume the management of the Coroner’s Office because of ongoing
problems in all facets of the operation. Change is often difficult and there was public opposition
to this move from employees and outside entities. The Coroner’s employees were unhappy and
some left for other jobs. Eventually, we were able to build the trust in our management and earn
the support of the staff. The Grand Jury has reviewed the operation on two different occasions
and we have been praised for our accomplishments.
We, at the Sheriff’s Office, have accomplished much toward our collective goal and we are
continuing to progress in a positive direction. We are recognized for excellence. We provide
services to three cities (Cupertino, Saratoga and Los Altos Hills) and VTA. We not only provide
high quality services to these entities, but we do so at a fraction of the cost of a separate police
In fact, last year Saratoga had the lowest crime rate of all cities in California with a population
of over 20,000. Cupertino had the third lowest crime rate in the state for cities with a population
of over 50,000 and Los Altos Hills is even lower.
Those that we contract with clearly recognize the level of excellence we have achieved. The
Mayor of Los Altos Hills, Gary Waldeck, recently wrote the following:
“Our Town values the range of services that your leadership has made available to your
clients. That range and growth of options can only come from a visionary leader and more
importantly, a person with the drive to ensure that the objectives are achieved. I’ve noticed
that under your leadership, the Sheriff’s Office has flourished. Your relationship with your
protection clients is excellent and the immediacy of service has been well appreciated by our
Town and its citizens. As a leader, I’ve grown to value the rare talents of vision, leadership and
the ability to execute in civic office. You have consistently demonstrated those skills.”
Recently, the County’s Department of Correction was failing and DOC’s leadership was weak.
They were continually over budget, fraught with labor problems and were in decline. The
organization was viewed as stagnate with managers viewed more as “care takers” than change
agents. The County Executive, Jeff Smith, asked us to submit a proposal for the management of
the jails both to potentially save money and also to improve management. The jails were
transferred to the Sheriff’s Office in July of 2010.
In fact, the DSA president at the time told me that he did not want us to take over the jails
because we would devote our time to them instead of the Sheriff’s Office. Somewhat in jest he
said, “don’t forget your child” and I told him that I now had two children. His response was that
they were my original child and the jail people are only my step-child. We obviously had a
great relationship and I told him that yes, they were my original but I will treat both equally.
This change was monumental, a smaller department taking over the management of a much
larger organization. The proposal that was accepted by the county eliminated the top two
management positions and cut more than $10,000,000 annually in costs. Because of this deep
level of management cuts, we were forced to demote some to their lower level rank resulting in
an overstaffing in the lower ranks. We worked with the county to avoid layoffs any employees
until attrition could correct the overstaffing while working within the same budget allocation.
We needed to earn the trust of those facing job elimination and demotions.
Certainly, there was much apprehension for employees. Some employees had been there for
more than 20 years and overnight they were faced with entirely new management. All of the
policies and processes that had been in operation for years were now changed.
We have changed state law to allow, correctional officers to become correctional deputies and
be granted limited peace officer authority. This was a purely voluntary conversion that required
a complete state approved background, psychological test, criminal history checks and other
mandatory testing to become a peace officer. We provided great latitude on this conversion;
however, a few did not meet the peace officer criteria. This continues to be a contentious issue
with the correctional officers’ union.
While a majority of the correctional officers have been converted to correctional deputies and
possess limited peace officer authority, we wanted to maintain the pay differential and separate
unions. Much to their dissatisfaction, their pay scale is lower than a that of deputy sheriff and
that we will preserve. Since that time we have returned all employees to their former rank and
we are hiring new employees.
We have established a training academy for corrections and other agencies are sending their
recruits to this academy. Our academies, both enforcement and corrections, are recognized for
excellence throughout the State of California. We have continued to save more than
$10,000,000 per year and have remained under budget each year adding to the annual savings.
The County Executive also asked us to assume management for the security function at Valley
Medical Center. There was the same turmoil with the employees and the top two managers
were replaced with Sheriff’s Office personnel. While we still have challenges, we are proving
to be effective and have implemented major changes within the systems.
We also continue to be challenged with the transfer of the fingerprint function from SJPD to the
Sheriff’s Office. This occurred July 1, 2013 and some of the SJPD employees were absorbed by
the Sheriff’s Office. This was a change that was not necessarily supported by the county police
chiefs; however, the level of service and “turn-around” time on latent fingerprints has been
Our accomplishments are impressive and we have been successful in building excellence. Not
only have we turned around a failing Sheriff’s Office, but we have also turned around a much
larger jail system.
While this is a lengthy history, I believe it is important to demonstrate the amount of change
that we have had in an agency is a relatively short period of time. Change is difficult for
employees and management and needs to be managed well. During my tenure we were faced
with very tough economic times. We have taken major budget reductions, yet never laid-off a
single employee. We managed our vacancies and attempted to anticipate the future, often
through the use of a crystal ball.
We also implemented pension reform, had employees pay a greater share of their retirement
contributions and reduced salaries at all levels and within all unions. I believe that we were on a
road to stability and had turned the corner and had a smooth road on the horizon, but then in
October of 2011 prison realignment happened. This is the biggest change that I have seen in the
criminal justice system in my entire career. This has also created turmoil because of the major
changes and we have much to accomplish.
I know you understand the implications and complexities of realignment and the continuing
challenge. We are looking at a snapshot in time. The confluence of major changes, pension
reform, decreased pay and the potential ability of the unions to choose a new boss has resulted
in major dissention. (We have 7 unions in the Sheriff’s Office and I have strong support from
the other unions, including CEMA and SEIU 521. In fact, many of our employees attended
union meetings to support my endorsement.) We have faced difficult employee problems in the
past and have worked hard to regain their confidence and trust.
Another contributing factor is the union leadership. Many in leadership positions have had
problems including demotions, disciplines, background failures and other serious issues. Their
endorsement process, conducted last June, violated their by-laws and standing rules. Each union
distributed negative and false information to their members then refused to meet with me or
allow me to communicate with their members. The correctional officers’ union had only one
choice to support, explaining why he received 100% of the vote. I have attempted to meet with
both unions and have asked other unions to facilitate meetings and they have refused.
During their announcement of support of Kevin Jensen, a San Jose Mercury reporter (I believe it
was Tracy Seipel) asked what they were unhappy about and she was told that I wouldn’t let
them wear the kind of pants they wanted to wear. For approximately the last year there have
been anonymous blogs that have espoused absolute hatred and dishonesty. I understand that I
am an elected official and am “fair game,” but others in the organization and their family
members have been deeply affected. This blog has done considerable damage to the
organization and people in the organization. Individuals within the organization that have been
specifically named, or had family members named, met with legal counsel today and will
initiate legal action. Coincidentally, the blog was taken down yesterday.
Our management team has met several times in order to discuss our course of action, both before
and after the election. We have developed several ideas including bringing in an outside
consultant to survey the organization in order for us to implement change. We have also
reviewed morale factors and have referenced an article appeared in the October 2013 magazine,
The Police Chief a publication of the International Chiefs of Police (IACP) entitled Recognizing
the True Cost of Low Morale. The article outlined the “Real Impacts of Low Morale.” The
following five impacts are listed:
1. Turnover 2. Absenteeism 3. Low Productivity 4. Civil Liability 5. Officer Suicide
We have reviewed each of these factors and are in the process of quantifying the data for
comparison. It is our opinion that our agency lacks any of these negative factors. While not
applied to data for comparison, we researched the turnover rate for sworn staff and found the
following: For five (5) years for the rank of deputy sheriff and three (3) years for the rank of
correctional officer/ correctional deputy (from the time the S/O began running the jails) we have
had nine (9) leave the Sheriff’s Office for other police agencies. (This does not include the two
(2) that were hired by the DA’s Office considered a County promotional.)
Having a sworn staff of 1,300, this number appears extraordinarily low. There seems to be a
dichotomy between the state low morale and those seeking other employment. Our discussions
have included improvements that we can implement and we have a commitment of the
managers to being the implementation of this process after the election. Many studies have
shown it is not wages or status that motivates employees on a daily basis. It is appreciation of
work done and feeling “in” on things.
Conversely, the number one complaint from employees is not money but feeling their work is
not valued. Important factors in positive morale includes the following:
• Communication and openness – These involve both self-reflection (i.e., being honest with
oneself about a situation) and participatory reflection (i.e., pushing the group to clarify and
evaluate the assumptions underlying how work gets done within the organization). It also
involves communication that flows as much from the bottom of a hierarchy to the top and vice-
• Inquiry and feedback – Inquiry allows individuals to become adept at questioning things as a
normal course of their work. Positive feedback involves activities that are designed to let people
learn from their inquiries, to build a personal knowledge base that is defined by proactive rather
than reactive of defensive thinking. It involves those with more experience helping those with
less experience learn.
• Adequate time – Communication, reflection, feedback, flexibility, and inquiry depend upon
individuals having adequate time to engage themselves and others in meaningful dialogue and
• Mutual Respect and support – These involve treating co-workers, supervisors and employees
equally and consistently with respect to one’s ability to contribute positively to the
organization, regardless of where that person is located in the organizational hierarchy.
Providing the organization with the environment to learn is an important principle.
The manner in which we have approached the Sheriff’s Office in terms of building morale and
relationships will, most likely, continue to build a strong agency. Because we are a dynamic,
ever changing agency, we do have to continually assess what it is we are doing and has it been
Not everything we have implemented has been successful, we recognize that and continually
make changes and modifications. All of that said, I have an open door policy that will not
change once elected. Moreover, I intend to use accepted management practices in surveying the
office and getting feedback from our employees on ways to improve the organization, how to
foster better communication and to address any real and legitimate complaints that may exist.
The goal of my administration has always been to provide first-class public safety services to
our county. In addition to curing the organization internally, we will attempt to assess the
impact to our reputation both within the community and the law enforcement community.
We have implemented high standards for our officers and we have full and fair discipline
policies for our employees. Recently employees have come to us and virtually apologized for
the action of the union. It is my hope that the membership will recognize the actions of their
union leadership and elect ethical leaders for the future. While that may not be possible, I
remain committed to work with the current leadership for the good of the organization.
While we all like to be liked, it’s not always possible in a large and complex organization. The
job is difficult and often tough decisions are necessary. The decisions should be based on
fairness, impartiality and the best for achieving the goals of the organization. “Effective
leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not
attributes.” – Peter Drucker.
But, we can always improve. We will work with all concerned to make our Sheriff's Office the
best law enforcement agency in the state, that is my pledge. I care very much about the agency,
the people and possess a passion for our shared vision.
I have worked for the Sheriff’s Office for more than 40 years, it has been my life’s work. The
leader of any organization truly makes a difference in the success or failure of that organization.
I have worked my entire career to build a fine organization and personal reputation and will not
be satisfied until this is regained.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to meet with your organization and answer your questions. At
this stage in the election process, your endorsement has become an extremely critical factor in
determining the next Sheriff of Santa Clara County. I would be honored to earn your trust and
endorsement. I thank you for your time.