Alameda County sheriff to be audited, Berkeley City Council orders

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David Rodriguez/Staff

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Berkeley City Council passed a resolution Tuesday for an independent audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, amid concerns over the office’s spending.

Throughout the past 10 years, the Alameda County jail population has decreased by 44 percent — the sheriff’s budget, however, has doubled, totaling $404 million this year, according to Tash Nguyen, senior advocate and organizer at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

The people in the Berkeley City Council chambers reflected this concern, as they crowded in with “Audit Ahern” signs and cheered after the resolution’s passage, a press release from the center stated. Many members of the East Bay community have insisted on more oversight of Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, according to the release.

In order to understand the sheriff’s “ever-increasing” budget, Nguyen said an independent audit should assess specific policies and practices. These include the use of corrections facilities, areas of overspending and the staffing of deputies across correctional facilities.

“Our goal is reinvestment,” Nguyen said in an email. “That means spending less money on things that criminalize our communities and more money to support opportunity.”

According to Nguyen, City Council members — among them Cheryl Davila, Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn, who drafted the resolution — unanimously voted to support an independent audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office because the council recognizes that the department “needs monitoring and oversight, not more money.”

The average annual cost of incarcerating someone in Alameda County is $49,275, Nguyen said in an email.

In addition to budget concerns, George Perezvelez, vice chair of the Berkeley Police Review Commission, cited poor and inhumane conditions in the sheriff’s jail and abuses of force among the allegations to be investigated by an independent auditor against the sheriff’s office.

Response to this concern has been spearheaded by several organizations, according to Perezvelez, including not only the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, but also the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County, a network of community-based organizations, and Causa Justa Just Cause, a local grassroots justice organization.

Growing awareness on these kinds of allegations are likely related to inmates who make phone calls to their family members and speak out about their living conditions, Perezvelez said.

Perezvelez also highlighted that the audit may examine whether or not the sheriff’s office is in violation of sanctuary city statutes.

“The question remains, then, how many times (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) interrogations have been allowed and how many people have been turned over to ICE,” Perezvelez said.

Ahern could not be reached for comment.

“Increasing the Sheriff’s budget has meant less investment in resources that our communities really need, like access to affordable housing, job training, youth development services and healthcare,” Nguyen said in a press release.

Contact Nicholas Olivares at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nicholivares.