The sheriff downsized from 15 to eight the staff that conducts in-house reviews of the jail's compliance with state regulations for living standards. Hickman also disbanded the unit that proactively examines internal affairs matters in the department, opting instead for what he called a "reactive" team.I guess it's easy to pretend problems don't exist if you fire the staff assigned to look for them. "See no evil, hear no evil" should be the department's new motto.
MORE: The Houston Chronicle, while not mentioning this post, followed up Jan. 24 with a full-blown article elaborating on this change and quoting critics decrying it. They reported that Sheriff Hickman:
reduced the jail's Compliance & Inspections Unit from 15 to eight members, transferring inspectors to other assignments. Inspectors in that unit were the first to discover the neglect of jailed mentally ill inmate Terry Goodwin in 2013. The inmate spent weeks without leaving an isolation cell littered with empty food containers, human waste and insects. His family negotiated a $400,000 settlement with the county.Without these inspectors, would the Goodwin case ever have been discovered?
We also get a little more backstory on the policy Hickman is changing:
Former Sheriff Garcia abandoned the process of having jail supervisors screen inmate complaints in 2014.With all the problems at the jail, this should be a general election campaign issue for the Democratic nominee. It's exactly the opposite of what a responsible manager should be doing given the jail's recent history.
Department statistics show that between 2009 and 2013, when jail supervisors screened grievances of jail abuse before deciding which to refer to internal affairs investigators, only about 88 cases were sent up for review. But in 2014, when Garcia implemented a policy that required an internal affairs division review of all inmate grievances, the number of referrals rose to 236. The number of complaints sustained by internal affairs also increased slightly. The Chronicle's review of jailhouse disciplinary actions showed that investigations of allegations of jailer misconduct took an average of eight months to complete.
Gonzales said the changes are part of Hickman's department-wide effort to upgrade procedures and improve technology.
He said the changes will include an $877,000 installation of upgraded surveillance cameras in the 1200 Baker Street jail, which currently cannot archive any video footage. Video footage, which is available in another jail building, has been key in several misconduct reviews, records show. Those upgrades, records show, began under Garcia.
The department also is testing a pilot system of electronic monitors to confirm jailers actually visited cells for state-required checks of inmates, and biometric technologies are also being explored. Falsified cell checks have been detected in department reviews of inmate neglect and of misconduct linked to inmate suicides.