Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff was in Idyllwild last week. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff was in Idyllwild last week.
Photo by J.P. Crumrine

Stan Sniff, has served as Riverside County’s sheriff since October 2007 and was first elected in 2010. He is running for re-election against a challenger from within his ranks, correctional Lt. Chad Bianco. Sniff also serves as coroner-public administrator since the Sheriff’s and Coroner’s departments were merged in 1999. As sheriff/coroner, Sniff oversees countywide patrol operations, jail operations, court security and coroner investigations.

A retired U.S. Army colonel with a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Riverside, and a master’s from the University of Redlands, Sniff runs a large county department, with more than 4,600 full-time staff, 1,600 volunteers and an annual budget of more than $602 million for the current fiscal year. In addition to providing law enforcement in all unincorporated areas of the county, the department provides contract policing for 17 of the county’s 28 cities, serving 1.4 million of the county’s 2.3 million residents.

Sniff cites his previous command assignments and experience as qualification for administering a large and multifaceted department – captain of the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, the Banning Sheriff’s Station and the Ben Clark Training Center. As chief deputy, Sniff supervised departmental training and personnel and East and West county patrol operations. As assistant sheriff, he oversaw all county court, jail and patrol operations.

As sheriff, Sniff instituted educational incentives to better the quality of serving personnel. He expanded educational requirements for advancement to include degrees not only in administration of justice or criminal justice, but also in liberal arts, sociology and other courses that emphasized communication, understanding diversity and critical-thinking skills. In 2010, Sniff imposed a requirement that anyone promoted to rank of captain must have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, given the administrative complexity of overseeing department bureaus, facilities or stations.

In his statement in the Registrar of Voters Sample Ballot and Election Pamphlet, Sniff’s challenger Bianco promises to add 350 sworn deputies to patrol stations while saving taxpayers $10 to $15 million per year through operational efficiencies; expand efforts to prevent early release of inmates; and create and implement a community-oriented policing program to proactively combat crime in the county. He faults Sniff for not instituting community policing and for maintaining a department with fewer sworn deputies than are necessary to provide effective countywide policing.

In the registrar pamphlet, Bianco states, “Real community change requires more than just a political figurehead. I am a motivated leader, actively engaged in the daily operations of the Sheriff’s Department and fully committed to your safety.” In the pamphlet, Bianco noted that he “led the nation’s most successful sting operation televised on NBC’s ‘To Catch a Predator,’ taking 51 child sexual predators off the streets.”

Bianco did not respond to requests for interview for this article but Sniff met with Town Crier management and editorial staff, something he has done annually since taking office.

In noting Bianco’s charges and proposals, Sniff emphasized that although he proposes a departmental budget, it is the county Board of Supervisors that decides at what levels his department will be funded. Sniff has gotten BOS authority to begin up-staffing to 1.2 deputies per 1,000 residents in the unincorporated areas. “They’ve approved me spending red ink,” said Sniff, noting that this year there would be no budget surpluses and that there still remains a $20- to $25-million gap in department funding that needs to be bridged. Given that reality, Sniff questioned how Bianco could either find or fund 350 new deputies. Sniff noted the difficulty of finding fully qualified sworn deputies — the significant training expense and years from sheriff’s academy graduation to becoming a “turnkey” deputy as impediments to quickly increasing qualified deputy staffing.

Sniff pointed out that in 2007, when the department was last at 1.2 deputies per 1,000, the BOS, responding to emergent financial necessities caused by the economic downturn, ordered Sheriff’s Department downsizing. And at that time, before downsizing, community policing was and had been in place in the unincorporated areas. While in effect, there had been two sheriff’s cars on the Hill at all times and deputies spent six months on assignment before being rotated out, getting to know Hill communities, their residents and learning who were the upstanding citizens and who were the miscreants.

Sniff called Bianco’s charges regarding no prior community policing “bogus” and noted that under his administration the department had received several large federal grants because of its successful community-policing programs. “We had won a lot of awards and community policing was our gold standard,” he said. Regarding downsizing, that did disrupt existent community-policing programs in the unincorporated areas, Sniff said, “It was a budget decision [from the BOS] and my forced choice.” He noted that community policing is still in place in contract cities served by the department because of greater municipal budgets.

Regarding early release of inmates forced by implementation of AB 109 and court decrees to reduce California prison populations, another area Bianco said he would address, Sniff noted that those decisions are not made by his department, but by the district attorney and the judicial system. He pointed out that early release is forced by current lack of adequate county jail bed space because of court-ordered transfer of state prison inmates to county jails. Sniff noted that expansion of the Indio jail facility will not be completed until 2017 and even when those beds are added, the number of beds will still be inadequate.

Sniff said the challenges of running and administering a large department complicated by financial difficulties and lack of adequate jail beds, require both administrative experience and significant field background. Of Bianco, a current lieutenant, not an administrative captain, Sniff said, “It’s easy to throw jabs when you don’t have a lot of credentials.”