As the race for Riverside County Sheriff heads into the homestretch, some, if not many, Democrats are feeling disenfranchised with two Republicans on the ballot. Some are vowing to sit this one out, arguing that it does not matter.
Is that really the case?
The position of sheriff is arguably one of the most powerful positions in Riverside County. The sheriff is charged with managing a $700 million budget and 3,600 employees. It is up to voters of all political persuasions to hire the best man qualified for the position. This isn’t a popularity contest or about who is better looking.
The Riverside County Sheriff touches the lives of nearly every resident in the County. This job is about who can best protect the residents of Riverside County.
So much attention has focused on the heated rhetoric, bombastic ads and fundraising that little attention has been focused on actual job.
The responsibility is enormous and the job entails much more than meets the eye.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department operates the county’s jail system, which consists of the Robert Presley Detention Center (RPDC) in downtown Riverside, the Southwest Detention Center (SWDC) in French Valley near Murrieta, the Larry Smith Correctional Facility (SCF) in Banning, the Indio Jail, and the Blythe Jail.
The department contracts with 17 of the county’s 26 cities, with populations ranging from 4,958 to 193,365, for police services.
The county hospital and one tribal community also contract with the department for proactive policing.
In addition to performing law enforcement and corrections services, the Department of Sheriff performs the functions of the coroner’s office. In its coroner function, the department is responsible for recovering deceased persons within the county and conducting autopsies. The department also provides services such as air support, special weapons teams for high risk critical incidents, forensics services and crime laboratories, homicide investigations, and academy training to smaller law enforcement agencies within the county and in surrounding counties.
Though exhaustive, the list remains inconclusive.
To help with some context about the role of sheriff, Uken Report turned to three, high-ranking retired executives who once worked in the massive organization. Uken Report also tapped the expertise of Steven L. Fuchs, a former attorney and adjunct professor at College of the Desert. Fuchs teaches business law and government.
Raymond Gregory of Cathedral City retired as Assistant Sheriff in Riverside County.
“It’s a very complex office,” Gregory said. “It’s so big. There are so many employees. That’s why everyone should care. In many ways, these local county offices touch people more in their day-to-day lives than even the state or the federal elected officials. I’m not trying to put them down. They certainly have their function, but they’re dealing with different issues. When it comes to something that happens in your life locally, it’s these local officials and their departments that really affect the outcome.”
Inmates need access to healthcare and with the coroner duties come forensic pathologists.
“I will stress that it is a very complicated job, Gregory said. “There’s so much liability involved, and liability can translate into money coming from the taxpayers because the county gets sued. It’s going to get sued; it’s just the nature of the beast, but it’s worse when you don’t have somebody in there that has the ability to properly manage, properly train, and properly hire. I’m afraid people aren’t thinking this through.”
The two men seeking the seat are both Republicans. That’s about where the similarities begin and end. Sniff is more to the center while Bianco is extreme right. Review the questionnaire he completed to learn his views on marriage, and other issues.
Lt. Chad Bianco has not been promoted in more than 12 years and declined to discuss his qualifications with Uken Report. On the ballot, Bianco identified himself as a lieutenant sheriff. No such position exists in the organization. He has no management or budget experience.
His critics say he has no relevant education. In 2015, he received an online degree was from Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Ala. It has been referred to as a diploma mill.
In contrast, Sheriff Sniff, in addition to many years in law enforcement rising through the ranks, he has tallied many years in Captain-level command positions in a patrol station, as a jail commander, and as the commander of a multi-agency regional training center for police, fire and paramedic emergency first-responder training. For the past two decades, after those command assignments, he has served as a Chief Deputy overseeing groups of captains and as an Assistant Sheriff where he represented three different elected Sheriff’s in agency policy, disciplinary matters, and department-wide budget management at the agency’s highest levels.
Sniff holds both a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree, graduated from the POST Executive Development Course for California police chiefs, as well as the FBI National Executive Institute (NEI). Sheriff Sniff has spent the past 11 years as Riverside County Sheriff, setting forth public policy by working closely with the County CEO and Fiscal Officer, and directly working with the Board of Supervisors, and allied law enforcement agencies.
The Riverside Sheriffs Association, the department’s largest union, has contributed more than $1 million to Bianco’s candidacy.
The main difference between incumbent Sheriff Sniff and Bianco, from what Fuchs said he can tell, is the nature of their support.
“Bianco appears to have widespread union support, so taxpayers may reasonably expect the costs of a Bianco department to exceed those of a Sniff department,” Fuchs said.
Colleen Walker retired from her duties as undersheriff in summer 2014 after holding every rank in the department and working her way up.
She served as a lieutenant in the department for about five years. There is no way, she said, that in that capacity she would have been prepared to serve as sheriff.
“The thought that anybody that’s a lieutenant could run an organization like this that’s so big, so varied, and has so many moving and intricate parts is incomprehensible to me,” Walker said.
In many states, the sheriff is a small figure in a small county without a great deal of responsibility, Walker said. In Riverside County, the sheriff oversees patrol, corrections, the courts, and the Coroner’s Bureau.
“It’s massive,” Walker said. “There are so many things that people don’t even think about. The function of the coroner is to sit in on death review cases.”
Retired Riverside County Undersheriff Valerie Hill also discussed the enormity and complexity of the department and said she fears for Riverside County if Sniff loses.
Hill said she knows Bianco personally and has watched his “career” over the years. She said when she sees Bianco and listens to him, she cannot help but think of one of her favorite Mark Twain quotes.
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”–Mark Twain.
“Well, the truth of the matter is, he was a teenager, he hadn’t grown into an adult role yet,” Hill said. “That’s what Chad is like. He’s like a teenager that thinks he knows everything, knows better than dad, he knows more about stuff, and he doesn’t. And, he takes short cuts.”
His education at the so-called diploma mill, which she alleged took him seven months, is one of those shortcuts. She alleges he flunked out of the college he attended on a baseball scholarship and never went back.
He is a lieutenant but not what she would consider a “good lieutenant,” Hill said. He’s not someone who would catch the eye of leadership as a rising star in the department, she said. “He’s just fair.”
Bianco , she said, is also making statements/promises on the campaign trail about moving correctional deputies.
“He can’t do that,” Hill said. “Either he’s really stupid and doesn’t understand, or he’s lying. I have a problem with either one.”
The hateful rhetoric he and his staff have spewed during the campaign also upsets her.
“I have a problem that he denies knowledge of it,” Hill said. “If he wants to deny knowledge of it, why doesn’t he come out and at least condemn it and say it’s inappropriate. He doesn’t do that. And that’s what I know of Chad. If it benefits him, he’s never going to speak against it.”
Hill added that while he is a likable guy, she has some problems with his ethics and the way he’s conducted this campaign.
“He’ll say anything because it’s almost, like he believes the ends justify the means, and that’s not true,” Hill said. “In law enforcement we have a saying that an omission is as good a lie. If you’re to lead people to believe you got your college degree where you got your baseball scholarship and don’t set the record straight, that’s an omission. And to us, that’s as good as a lie. That’s the part that concerns me about him.”
So, does the race for Riverside County Sheriff matter?