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New San Diego Sheriff discusses what’s in store for Department

 January 6, 2023 at 4:09 PM PST

S1: A sit down with San Diego County's new sheriff , Kelly Martinez.

S2: It is my responsibility as a sheriff to keep people safe and to provide them the health care that they need while they're in our custody.

S1: I'm Jade Hindman. This is KPBS midday edition. From jail deaths and use of force disparities. We talk about how Sheriff Kelly Martinez plans to address department issues.

S2: We're looking at best practices around the country to see if there's things we can do differently. We're enhancing the medical and mental health care that we're providing right now , and we're looking to renovate and change some of our jails.

S1: Plus , we'll tell you what's happening on the art scene in your weekend preview. That's ahead on Midday Edition. San Diego Sheriff Kelly Martinez is just a few weeks into the job as the county's top law enforcement leader. The San Diego native began her work for the department in 1985 as a deputy in the county jails and as the department's 31st sheriff. She is tasked with bringing change to a jail system with some of the highest numbers of in-custody deaths in the state. I spoke with Sheriff Martinez about her plans for the department , and we began with how she hopes to bring down deaths within county jails.

S2: You know , we've already made a lot of changes in the last year. I welcomed the audit from the state auditors that was directed by the jailer last year. And we've really taken all of those recommendations to heart. Today we came out with the press release , which you might have seen with a lot of the improvements we made while I was undersheriff last year. We still have more work to do. I think one of the things we did that has helped is the better medical and mental health screening at intake , doing the urine screening at intake , which helps us identify what drugs someone might have in their system to help them with their withdrawal symptoms. And what , you know , we should prescribe as part of the medicated assistant treatment. And some of those things help to have more naloxone in the jail and available in the jails has helped certainly reverse some of the overdoses and things that are happening.

S1: How does the sheriff's department take on that , that kind of responsibility ? The jail is not a mental health facility.

S2: The jails were built , a lot of them 40 and 50 years ago. They were built with a different idea in mind about how we incarcerate people and also a different population that might not have been as had as many mental health issues , medical issues as some of the people that are coming into our custody today. But it is my responsibility as a sheriff to keep people safe and to provide them the health care that they need while they're in our custody. So we're looking at best practices around the country to see if there's things we can do differently. We're enhancing the medical mental health care that we're providing right now , and we're looking to renovate and change some of our jails in coming years.


S2: I think it must be terrible to have a loved one in a jail. And you don't have access to that person. You don't know what happened. We instituted last year a more robust family liaison protocol where we have people assigned specifically to work with the families and to help them understand what happened when we can. One of the things that takes a long time and it's really because of workload is the medical examiner can't give us answers right away as well. It takes a while for them to get the toxicology reports back and to get us the answers to what was really happening with the individual. And that's just really nothing. The medical examiner can help. It's just his workload is also increased , particularly with the fentanyl overdoses and the deaths in the county.

S1: Yeah , and you mentioned drug overdoses. I mean , within the jails , they have also been a major problem.

S2: People at intake , we're taking we're covering a lot of drugs that are on people when they come into intake. We're also recovering some. When people swallow it , they body pack. They do a lot of different things. Drugs are granular , the drugs are granular in nature. And so it's very difficult to find. But we have body scanners that help us. Sometimes when we see anomalies , we can , you know , investigate if the person has drugs in their system or , you know , bulk drugs in their system. We're finding it in the mail. People mail it in. So we have changes the way that we process our mail now so that we're more efficient in finding drugs that come in through the through the mail system. People go to court and they get drugs passed to them in court. So we have have to have a robust system of searching people when they come back from court. We're adding more body scanners , which will help. But the body scanners aren't perfect. They break down , they don't work , they don't always pick up the drugs. And so we do it. We have a lot of investigative techniques. We have more canines. So we're doing a lot to try to prevent the drugs.

S1: I mean , our deputies or jail employees bringing these drugs in.

S2: We don't have any evidence of that. If we get any idea and we have a lot of ways to find out if they are. I mean , all of our you know , people will tell us a lot of times. And so we would investigate that if it happened. And we haven't seen any evidence of that.

S1: Last year , the department rejected a recommendation from Clare to have all jail personnel scanned upon entry.

S2: It's not going to catch all the drugs that are coming in. But we can't body scan our employees several times a day. It's just not healthy. It's not safe , and it's not really an effective way to find drugs that are coming in the jail all the time. We can't ever be 100% sure. But right now , with the resources we have , we're going to focus where we know the drugs are coming in and work on that. And if we find evidence otherwise , then we'll look at that.

S1: The County Law Enforcement Review Board has made several recommendations for the sheriff's department in recent years.

S2: We have a good relationship with them. I have a whole team of sergeants and a lieutenant that are dedicated to working with the board , to attending their meetings. They listened to the recommendations , they researched the recommendations and the viability of us putting them into practice. They've given us some good recommendations and there's some we've already implemented before they make the recommendation , they just aren't aware we're doing it. And there's some that we don't do for a whole host of reasons.

S1: You will be San Diego County's first woman chair , though this was not part of your campaign.

S2: I've been with the sheriff's department for 37 years. I've worked every rank on this department at every level. I was a detective and deputy for 22 years. I was the undersheriff running the day to day operation since last year. So I really think and I hope that the voters focused on that and not my gender.


S2: Currently , we have an assistant sheriff who's a woman and some two commanders that are women. I think based on qualifications and ability to do the job is what's really important. But I do also believe in diversity , and I think that women need to have the same opportunities as anyone else on the department.

S1: KPBS has reported about instances of sexual harassment within the department and in some cases , its failure to address them at the time. How do you plan to address incidents of sexual harassment and really change the culture around that ? No.

S2: I hope having a woman in this role will make it easier for people to come forward. We're certainly having a lot of those conversations about how we make it safer or easier for people , anyone to come forward who believes they're being harassed or there's some sort of bias in the workplace or something that's unfair. We currently have trainings and we train our supervisors , but that clearly has not been enough to make people feel safe to come forward. So hopefully moving forward , we'll be able to get that message across and people will do that.

S1: You know , a recent study by the ACLU and Catalyst California that looked at the San Diego County Sheriff's Department found that 80% of patrol time is spent conducting officer initiated stops , while 18% of this time is spent responding to calls from community members. And they found that black people are more than twice as likely to be subjected to an officer initiated stop than a white person.

S2: And I hope that people who feel that they've been treated unfairly or wrongly by law enforcement , by the sheriff's department , again , will come forward and tell us about it.


S2: And I think we have a lot of mechanisms in place in areas where people can report that that something like that is occurring , including , you know , not only on our department , but also the clear board that you talked about before and other other entities. So I think there's a lot of safe places for people to report it. We just need to make sure they're doing it.


S2: I don't think that it's necessarily a bad thing to make a car stop and conduct an investigation based on the circumstances , depending upon what's going on. We solve a lot of crimes that way. We keep our communities safe that way.

S1: Staffing remains a major priority for the department.

S2: We have an incredible advertising campaign going on right now. Where we're at right now is not we're doing really well with our law enforcement numbers , but we have about 174 job classifications on the department. And so we really need to hire more nurses , more mental health clinicians. We need food service workers , dispatchers , a lot of other positions as well , detentions , deputies. So hopefully people will come and come in the door and apply.

S1: And I want to talk about gun violence. Last month , Dave Meyers , who is a retired commander in the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and a former candidate for sheriff , wrote an op ed in the Union-Tribune saying the county sheriff had initiated four gun violence restraining orders this year , compared to 63 by the San Diego County or San Diego city attorney , rather. He quotes you as saying you don't think Guevara's should be standard operating procedure.

S2: I said that we we take a lot more guns away from criminals than the use of virus. We do use them when they're appropriate. We know how to use them. It's a civil process where we enforce a lot of criminal laws , which is different. And we've just had more opportunity and success with the criminal law violations.


S2: I think it was the most one of the most recent ones that we did where deputies , a man pointed a gun at deputies and threatened them. They weren't able to. They arrested him and charged him with that as a crime. It wasn't filed by the district attorney. So they cited Guevara because he was obviously a threat and the danger with. His weapon and they were granted that bureau.

S1: As we've been discussing , you are assuming leadership of a at a really critical time for the sheriff's department.

S2: We're trying to be as open and transparent as we can be and accountable. So meet with your local sheriff. If you're in sheriff's jurisdiction , with your local leadership at the station , if you have an interest in knowing more about what we do and why we do it and who's patrolling your.

S1: Area , that was San Diego County Sheriff Kelly Martinez. She will take her oath of office and be sworn in on Monday. You're listening to KPBS Midday edition. I'm Jade Hindman. For our Weekend Arts preview , we have a special performance exhibition , Shadow Puppets , classical music , and even some ways to kickstart your own creativity in the New Year. Joining me with all the details is KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , welcome.

S3: Hi , David. Thanks for having me.

S1: So let's start with the Shadow Puppets. This one is actually an author event at a bookstore , huh ? Yeah.

S3: This is the book Catapult in South Park. And they're bringing in General Nethercutt , who , as a writer and a folklorist , she lives in Vermont. And apparently , she's also a puppeteer. She has a new book out. It's her debut novel called This All Fit. It's a modern fairy tale that follows two estranged siblings. One is a woodworker and another is a street performer and a con artist. There is also a mysterious figure called The Long Shadow Man and a sentient house that walks around on chicken legs. And you can also expect a shadow puppet interpretation. Jenny Rose never brings a shadow cranky box to readings. It's like a little theater with spools and a scroll inside. There's paper cut illustrations and text from the book and kind of shadow puppets through this story. And this is Sunday at 5:00 at the book Catapult.

S1: All right. And let's combine some more artistic formats. Project Blank has a special event that pairs music , performance art and visual art.

S3: It's part exhibition , part performance. It's all installed at St Paul's Cathedral near Balboa Park in Hillcrest for visual art. They'll be painting , sculpture , installations , light art , some sound installation and video art. And one of the artists I followed a bit recently is Beck Haverstraw , who has these photographs of composite faces that are actually the result of this layered process. Haverstraw made casts of friends faces , and then vacuum formed them with plastic , then kind of reconstituted the faces using artificial intelligence generated faces. So basically , these are faces that never existed. And this combination of the venue , the church , a sacred space , as the container of all of this was significant to have Haverstraw especially thinking about how air generates images.

S4: A lot of storytelling in churches and is in some ways trying to make sense of this thing that is beyond human comprehension. When I think about something like artificial intelligence and machine learning , it's really something that is like beyond the capacity of an individual to to comprehend or even see , you know , like 5 billion images were used to train that. The lens , the app that's like making the cartoon faces of people that's been going viral. You could never look at 5 billion photos and as a person.

S3: And the first hour of the event is just for browsing the installations. And then at 7:00 , the performances begin. There is classical musicians , experimental musician , sound artist , performance artist. One artist is journeymen who will do a live performance of this absolute transition of their body from male presenting to female presenting. And that's going to take place at the main altar of the church. This is all tonight and Saturday at 6:00 at St Paul's Cathedral.

S1: Across town in La Hoya is a special classical music concert. Tell us about Litherland musics.

S3: Yeah , listen , the music is this intimate concert series. It's held at the Lower Woman's Club and it's intentionally done without a stage so that the musicians and the audience are at the same level. And then a Q&A with a musicologist and the musicians happens before and after. So you can get to know the works that you're going to hear. And for this January concert , they're performing Franz Schubert , Winterreise , which means Winter Journey. It's a song cycle for a solo baritone voice and piano , and it's the setting for 24 Poems by Wilhelm Mueller , who's a German poet.

S4: Woven tools. So for. Oh , boy.

S3: It's a song cycle. Is this form of classical music that Schubert was pretty well known for , particularly the German later or story form. And Vinter , I think is one of three that Schubert wrote. It's this really lovely and sweeping piece , and it's also very moody because it's almost entirely set in the minor keys , and the poems are also pretty moody. There's lots of wintertime , loneliness and despair , but also a little bit of dreaming about springtime. This concert is Sunday at 4:00 at the La Hoya Women's Club.

S1: Okay , so it's the new year and we're all making New Year's resolutions.

S3: The MENÉ has a creativity challenge for January. So when you sign up , they'll send you an email every Monday starting January 9th with short creative prompts. Things like drawing something from their their permanent collection or writing a haiku , and then you can share it online if you want , or just keep it to yourself. And if you need a place to make stuff. The brand building in City Heights has a free weekly open studio every Wednesday night from 5 to 10 p.m.. They have tables , easels , tarps , a printer , even a screen printing press , photography , backdrops and deejay gear that you can use. The San Diego Public Library also just launched a winter reading challenge that's for all ages. It's called All the Fields. And if you read five books or read four or 5 hours in January , you can win a prize. And if you want to write more this year , the Oceanside Library has a free monthly creative writing workshop. It's on the third Wednesday of each month. And one more. This is a little off the wall and niche , but I love it. Moxie Theatre's holding a photo and story contest this month. It's neat because it's about birding. It's a build up to their production of Birds of North America that I play next month , which it's a new play about a father and daughter who are birders , and it's also about climate change. And Mark is looking for stories or photos about you or someone you know that has fallen in love with birding. These are due February 1st , and you could win tickets to the play and also to the San Diego Bird Festival.

S1: You can find more ways to get your creative fix from the KPBS arts calendar at KPBS Sawgrass Arts. You can also sign up for Julia's weekly arts newsletter there. I've been speaking with KPBS arts producer Julia Dixon Evans. And , Julia , thank you.

S3: Thank you , Jade. Have a good weekend.

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San Diego Sheriff Kelly Martinez is just a few weeks into the job as the county’s top law enforcement leader. She takes over as the department is tasked with bringing change to a jail system with some of the highest numbers of in-custody deaths in the state. Then, for our weekend arts preview, we have a special performance exhibition, shadow puppets, classical music and even some ways to kick start your own creativity in the new year.