7.12.2008

Gallegos bemoans lack of authority over code enforcement

Gallegos bemoans lack of authority over code enforcement

EUREKA -- District Attorney Paul Gallegos told the Code Enforcement Task Force Friday that he is no longer comfortable with deputizing code enforcement investigators if they are not his employees.

He and his Chief Investigator Mike Hislop reviewed the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office's involvement in the code enforcement process, which has been at the heart of a political firestorm in recent months.

Code enforcement investigators are deputized under his office, but Gallegos told the task force that because they are not his employees, he has little authority over them.

”I see it as analogous to the Sheriff's Department and the tribal police,” Gallegos said.

Tribal police officers are deputized by the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, but are not department employees, and are therefore not supervised by the department command structure.

When the code enforcement investigators set up an operation, they submit a “raid plan” to Hislop that delineates how many officers will be on site, contingency plans and other surface details. That plan is reviewed and approved by him, but it does not outline the manner in which the raid will be conducted, Hislop said.

Prior to his arrival at the District Attorney's Office two years ago, there wasn't even that level of oversight from the office, Hislop said.
After such operations are completed, there are no reviews by the office of how the action went down.

Gallegos said he'd be willing to accept oversight of the program, and thereby take it away from the County Counsel's Office, if the Board of Supervisors requested it and if he were given the resources to meet the demand.

”I cannot afford to subsidize code enforcement by pulling people off of other law enforcement responsibilities,” he said.
Gallegos has temporarily suspended the deputization of code enforcement investigators while the task force looks into alleged excesses, including the unnecessary drawing of weapons.

Asked under what circumstances Gallegos would be comfortable deputizing those investigators again, Gallegos said that they would need to be his employees.

Fifth District Supervisor Jill Geist said that the current formulation of the code enforcement program, with the responsibility emanating from the County Counsel's Office, preserves the Board of Supervisors' nuisance abatement process and helps keep violations out of the realm of law enforcement.

The solution to the county's code enforcement conundrum will likely have to be a hybrid approach to preserve that process, and therefore not a wholesale transferring of the code enforcement authority to the District Attorney's Office, she said.

”The board recognizes that there were ... some deficiencies in this program,” she said, adding that the board is committed to working out the kinks, so the program can function as intended.

Toward the end of the meeting, Liz Davidson, one of three members of the task force from the Redway-based Civil Liberties Monitoring Project, asked fellow task force member -- and former code enforcement investigator -- Jack Bernstein if the investigators could effectively do their jobs without deputization.

Given the various roles code enforcement investigators play in this county, Bernstein said, the answer is no.
”For your safety, you have to have the police authority,” he said.

The assertion was vehemently challenged by task force member Bonnie Blackberry, also of the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project: “We need guns here ... because why?”

Code enforcement investigators can ask for assistance at any time from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, she said, so why do they need guns?

”I don't think I could say anything to you that would convince you that anyone should ever carry a gun,” he said.

But given the role the investigators play -- and the often dangerous situations they find themselves in -- they need to be able to protect themselves, he said.

James Faulk can be reached at jfaulk@times-standard.com or by calling 441-0511.

Times-Standard
Article Launched: 07/12/2008 01:30:41 AM PDT
James Faulk/The Times-Standard