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Lake County sheriff cuts access to office's records; agencies object

Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero walks along Main Street in Lakeport on June 29, 2012.

(Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT)
Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.

Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero this week cut access to his office's central records system, affecting several agencies and personnel in the county, including Lakeport police and the probation department.

Rivero contends he is cleaning up a sloppy system he inherited after years of lax oversight with too many people digging through records.

But the change means police officers can no longer immediately view dispatch records of their own activities, although they still have emergency support provided by dispatchers, police officials said.

Lakeport pays the county to dispatch calls for the city.

“It is key to the everyday operations of this agency,” Lakeport Police Lt. Jason Ferguson said of the sheriff's database. “It is absolutely necessary.”

The sheriff's computer-based records information management system had for years been used among police agencies in the county as well as the probation department and District Attorney's Office.

Chief Probation Officer Rob Howe said the sheriff introduced a cumbersome process involving formal record requests and waiting for faxes in place of the computer system.

“What is the necessity of this? What prompted it? If an employee did something wrong and misused it, I would want to know about it,” Howe said.

Rivero, reached by phone Wednesday, said that too many people outside of the Sheriff's Office have had access to its records, inviting snooping and risking the improper release of victim and investigatory information.

“The system has sensitive information, criminal history, contacts, children. I have to secure it so it can't be inappropriately accessed and abused,” Rivero said.

Rivero's decision to remove access without warning is another example of his in-your-face management style that has stirred angst among county agencies and even within his own department.

In 2011, Rivero cut off the District Attorney's Office from accessing the record system after saying investigators, who were also part-time dispatchers, abused their access.

District Attorney Don Anderson said an internal investigation showed they did nothing more than update addresses and make other improvements to records. Anderson said Rivero has yet to live up to an agreement to reinstate read-only access to the department that he promised nearly two years ago.

“Before Rivero became sheriff, all the law enforcement agencies shared information very well,” Anderson said.

Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown criticized Rivero's actions and said it's another example of a controversial decision by the sheriff sending the county into a tailspin.

“We've been dealing with that all day,” Brown said.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors asked Rivero to resign. Some of Rivero's opponents over the weekend began gathering signatures for a recall petition.

“We're going to look at what our options are, we are going to look at whether what he did is legal, and what authority the board has to compel him to do the right thing,” Brown said.

“No one can understand what (Rivero) is doing; nothing he does makes sense,” Brown said.

Rivero said that when he took office, he inherited a records system with a massive phone-book-sized list of people with access, including people well outside law enforcement.

And further audits of the database required by law unearthed what appeared to be inappropriate searches and changes made by people from several outside departments, according to Rivero.

“I'm required by law to protect that information,” Rivero said.

Ferguson said his department first thought it was a glitch when they couldn't access the system Tuesday and learned it was intentional only after calling county administration.

Lakeport pays the Sheriff's Office about $87,000 a year for dispatch services. All information recorded by dispatchers funnels into sheriff's records.

The database is essential to the daily management of the Police Department, from running crime and call logs to generating basic statistics, Ferguson said.

On Tuesday, Rivero began back-pedaling once agencies started complaining.

The Sheriff's Office reinstated access to Lakeport Police Chief Brad Rasmussen as well as a lieutenant and two sergeants, Ferguson said.

Ferguson said that didn't solve the department's problem, because an officer can't always rely on a supervisor being able to look up information.

“We're a fairly small agency; it's very likely all supervisors might be gone at the same time,” Ferguson said.

The Lakeport police department's internal record-keeping system is used for report writing and developing an internal case-numbering system and does not contain data found in the sheriff's system often used to generate crime statistics.

“Anything my officers do on the street is generated in their system, and we've always had access to get that information,” Ferguson said. “We cannot access that information through our own system.”

On Wednesday, Lakeport police issued a public statement declaring that the action is emblematic of “Rivero's inability to work in collaboration with allied law enforcement agencies.”

“We want the public to be aware that we're concerned for safety of officers and safety of community,” Ferguson said during an interview.

The Sheriff's Office also offered to reinstate access for one person within the probation department, Howe said.

Howe said the database was the most efficient tool for officers putting together sentencing reports and recommendations. The system holds details like how much credit a person should receive when sentenced for the time already served in custody.

Now, probation officers must submit written records requests and either receive the information by fax or pick them up in person.

One person with access to the system isn't enough, Howe said. He was a sheriff's captain before joining the probation department, and he has previously said he resigned because he had no faith in Rivero's leadership.

“I cannot say I've been denied the information, but he's given me an alternative procedure that I don't agree with and is inefficient,” Howe said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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