The election of the next Riverside County sheriff is on the Nov. 6 ballot. Lt. Chad Bianco is challenging incumbent Stan Sniff. He was the only opponent against Sniff in the 2014 primary and garnered 37 percent of the vote. The June 2018 primary ballot had four sheriff candidates. Bianco received 36 percent of the total vote and was the leading voter getter.
“This year, it is going very well. I’m very happy with the progress of the campaign,” he said. “I have definitely learned a lot since 2014. I was a political novice. Recent poll results show momentum and response from residents is great.”
Bianco has been with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for 24 years. He began in Corrections and has had progressive assignments from patrol, Internal Affairs and supervision, and currently is assigned to the Hemet Station since September 2016, so he is familiar with the issues and problems in Idyllwild.
“I’ve served in every department and area but court services,” he stated. “I have a very broad knowledge of the department under four different sheriffs.”
He was born at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, and moved to California in 1989.
Bianco is married and has four children, ranging in ages from 21 to 27.
Money is a critical element in the sheriffs’ race. The Riverside Sheriffs’ Association had given nearly $850,000 to his election through June and then $130,000 since then.
Other law enforcement groups have contributed nearly another $200,000 to his campaign.
“I think it speaks volumes,” he said proudly. “It shows we do need a new sheriff.”
Bianco has criticized Sniff for the lack of sufficient jail space. Without enough beds, some convicted or arrested inmates who are deemed no threat to the community or other persons are released early.
Bianco does acknowledge that constructing new jails is expensive and takes time. “A new jail could take 10 years and cost $400 to $500 million,” he said. “We need to come up with ways to find more jail bed space to keep the community safe.”
Three options, which he offered, would require more funding, but significantly less time. They involved leasing or renting space.
First, he would investigate whether other jurisdictions — and mentioned Chino — might have excess jail space. Secondly, he suggested seeking secure housing for the less dangerous criminals.
Another avenue might be something similar to the state’s conservation camps, also known as fire camps.
“We have to come up with something different,” he urged. “We need cheaper alternatives than just construction.”
While the sheriff does not have the authority to authorize constructing a new jail, Bianco argued that Sniff did have responsibility to find more options and not simply blame the Board of Supervisors, which does control the county’s spending.
Difference with Sniff
“Primarily I’ll bring a fundamentally different culture — from reaction to pro-action and fully engaged with community policing,” Bianco stated. “We need to work together on quality-of-life issues. As a reactive agency, reports are taken after you call 911. If that is the only time you see a deputy, it’s not safe for us or for you.”
Opening the unincorporated areas to multiple and legal cannabis activities is a horrible idea, Bianco believes. “It’s a desire to generate quick revenue for the county. It’s tunnel vision and from a law enforcement perspective, it’s not good.”
One of his concerns is the possibility of a larger black market in cannabis sales. Although it will be legal, some cannabis entrepreneurs will be reluctant to pay the county fees and comply with the new regulations, Bianco argues.
Recent state law changes, such as Proposition 47 in 2014 and 57 in 2016, reduced penalties and eased parole requirements for many crimes.
“Calling it reform doesn’t make it reform,” Bianco said. “It is simply making crimes not crime. We must address these bills and laws that have been passed. We can’t just sit idly and blame the problem on someone or something else.”
Salaries and wages
The sheriff’s budget has grown over the past decade. The supervisors have had to reduce funding for public safety, as well as all other programs. One of the major drivers of the increases for the sheriff are the employee association contracts.
Since Bianco has benefited substantially from the association, many question his ability to be independent of this issue. But he disagrees.
First, he points out that it is true the supervisors and the Executive Office staff negotiate the contracts, not the sheriff nor his staff. Secondly, deputy salaries have to be comparable to neighboring counties and agencies; otherwise, trained and ready staff will be leaving.
“Being comparable doesn’t have to be the highest,” Bianco says. “Everybody realizes the county is not made of money.”
Consequently, he feels there are potential changes, which will save money for the Sheriff’s Department. “However, it takes a working relationship [with the association] to have an honest solution,” he said. “I’m not for doing it the way we have always done it. That brings complacency.”
He believes he can empower staff to provide public safety and find the means to save money doing this.
Bianco believes 2018 is a perfect storm that will sweep him into office and overturn Sniff. Among the factors influencing voters are the representations of Sniff’s relationship with the Board of Supervisors, and the deputies, as well as other police departments.
“When I meet with the people, it all boils down to a relationship with the Sheriff,” he noted.
His recent polling shows him with a significant lead. The percentage of undecided voters is actually less than the difference between the size of his supporters and Sniff’s, Bianco said.