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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Schrunk takes a whack at Bernie

Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto, that gallant rescuer of damsels in distress, takes some blistering criticism in a new report from the usually somnolent county district attorney, Mike Schrunk, on the state of the county's jails. The Mean Girls of the county commission are also called out, and guess what? Even the Chasse death is mentioned. Nick Budnick over at LocalNewsDaily.com reports here. The official report itself is a fat pdf file, here.

Comments (21)

TO bring this report some perspective, this report from the DA is produced by a couple of prosecutors who have no direct idea as to how the Sheriff's office works. I am a member of the Sheriff's Citizen's Advisory Committee, a group of citizens involved in bringing outside ideas to the MCSO and helping testify to the Sisters of Hawthorne about why the Sheriff's budget is what it is, and why it needs to be funded.

The Corrections Grand Jury is an adversarial process that does not take into account most of the realities of the Sheriff's department. While it is not to be ignored, as there are many truths in the report that are being addressed, it is to be taken with an entire salt lick. For example, the $157/day figure noted in the report for jail beds takes the very blunt math of dividing the enitre corrections budget by the number of jail beds. This is obviously an unsophisticated and misleading approach to representing jail bed costs.

You will not see a public rebuttal to the report because nothing makes the papers salivate more than two elected officials quarreling in public. Well, almost nothing.

Bernie's personal life aside, the business of the Sheriff's office has a more more things going well than the report would lead one to believe, although, as I said, there are big problems.

From my perspective, the biggest problems is the MCSO are labor related. The contracts the MCSO lives under for its union employees are negotiated not by the MCSO, but by the Sisters. The Sheriff (Bernie or otherwise) must live with the contracts negotiated for it by others who do not understand 24/7 staffing issues and live or die problems when absenteeism becomes the cultural and legal norm.

Wapato is an issue, but there's not much the Sheriff can do that he's not already doing. We're trying to bring in inmates from the state, Vancouver, other counties, and of course the city. Costs drop the more jail beds you have available, so the contracts only need to get the County about $90 a day to make them worhtwhile. And depending upon the details, even $78/day can be "profitable" for the county.

Anyway, don't believe what you read, as usual.

You will not see a public rebuttal to the report because nothing makes the papers salivate more than two elected officials quarreling in public.

That's about the oddest thing I've heard said around here in quite a while. If Bernie can't defend himself, he needs a private sector job.

Cool, now when does Schrunk convene a grand jury to investigate his own conduct when it comes to grand juries in officer-involved shootings?


You misunderstand my meaning. The MCSO will be talking with the DA's office about this offline. There is no reason to publicly debate this stuff. It won't lead to anyhting constructive in the press. And frankly, it's not about Bernie or Schrunk. It's about the DA's office and the MCSO. The issues with the MCSO, as they are, precede Bernie and, due to the structure of the way they do labor relations, will exist after he's gone.

The jail bed cost issue is not as it seems in the CGJ report, is all I'm saying.

There is no reason to publicly debate this stuff.

Wrong. Those of us who are paying for all this are entitled to hear it.

Fair enough. I understand your view. I'm still just saying that if the sheriff and DA get into it about this stuff, the papers will just spin it as a Sisters type situation. Again, that's all I'm saying.

There will be more about this, but the sheriff's office doesn't want ot just come out defensively about this report. A constructive discussion will come out when the sheriff presents his proposed budget in a couple months.

I can keep the debate alive here, FWIW, if you'd like.

Don, if you think that the jail bed cost ratio methodology is "unsophisticated and misleading", what formula would your committee use to analyse performance? We must have some method, and I am sure any method employed, someone would find fault. But we do need to make comparisons for audit purposes.


Great point. I have a chart that but for being on 17X22" paper I could scan and post of how the costs kind of break down and which are fixed versus variable (your basic business economics).

The DA's report takes all of Bernie's admin budget, the courthouse security staff budget, and all of corrections staff, including booking and just divides by beds.

We take the non-jailbed costs out of that equation for purposes of analyzing what we need to recover from an outside entity to house their inmates and the number, excluding corrections health and booking is about $60 a day for variable costs associated with opening that new bed.

Anything above that helps defray the fixed costs (totaling about another $60 a day, based on current capacity). So if we keep the $115/day Marshal's contract, that contract not only covers it's costs for the inmates we house, but it also offsets a good chunk of the total fixed cost for the whole system. If we can open another 500 beds (read, Wapato) at $90 a day from other jurisdictions, our total cost drops from $120ish a day to $100ish a day. Even if we have an $80 a day contract form an outside entity, it drops our costs to $110ish a day.

I may be able to get the chart in a smaller or even electronic format, in which case, you can all see the numbers.

For audit purposes, performance can be measured pretty easily I think, and the $157 a day number is fine to use. But understanding the implication is trickier. We have union contracts we didn't negotiate. Nothing can be done at this time about that (though they're up soon and the CBAC, my committee, is pressing hard for tough management negotiations and we'll just have to see how well they listen to us). We spend a lot on corrections health. Far more than Houston, TX. That's a policy decision. Portland's pretty keen on treatment programs. Honest debate can be had as to whether the extent is appropriate, but I think what we've seen with Jim Chasse, the dude who got released after killing his daughter and tried to kill everyone in the church in Salem, and some other high-profile mental health cases, we have a mental health and drug-abuse problem here for whatever reason and it's expensive to treat.

The reality is that the MCSO is the largest mental health provider in the state. Since Portland is attractive for the homeless, the mentally ill, and the drug addicted, the jails are full of all three.

Houston's cost structure is an orange to our apple. That said, I don't believe we've done all we can. But what's left to do is largely a labor issue, not a policy issue, IMHO. Labor simply costs us too much, the contracts are way too generous (both in sick time and in comp), and the attitude among too large a chunk (though far from the majority) of the rank and file is apathetic. I suggested at our last meeting that it was Bernie's job to get his commanders to lead his troops in a way that promotes less abuse of the weak contracts, but some of my fellow committee members felt that a stronger contract was needed first.

I frankly don't know how much stronger a contract you can expect out of any of the managership that we elect (I can't bring myself to say leadership) in this town.

My understanding is that there are actually two reports coming out - one written by the DA's, then one written by the Grand Jury. Again, that's just my understanding.

And the process is fine. I've never understood the "you don't know what it's like" argument, especially when the GJ interviews as many people as it does and does the work it does.

Hopefully the Sherrif will respond to this report. He's pretty arrogant as it is, but it'd be nice if he acted like he has some accountability.

Don, in claiming that MCSO "is the largest mental health provider in the state", it would be appropriate to prove that is true. I thought the state was. Then after clarification, the costs/services and what is provided by other like city jails (such as Seattle) should be compared. The large disparity in jail costs as noted in today's O article leaves many unanswered questions.

It is interesting how our public officials can come up with several different audits to prove a position they want to advocate.

"You will not see a public rebuttal to the report..."

I guess Bernie didn't agree: http://www.localnewsdaily.com/news/story.php?story_id=116251605885936900

You have to give to the guy, prepared for every eventuality.

If only DA Schrunk was as helpful with the police bureau.


Why is he not? Here is a theory.

People tend to have this image of military people that has been more or less perfectly epitomized by that colonel in the "American Beauty". Not very bright, barely educated, inherently violent, crude, etc.

Well that may or may not be generally true, but certainly is NOT true of higher level officer corp especially in the Navy which is where Schrunk appears to have come from.

These "citizen-soldiers" join for a short (and rather privileged) stint and leave to assume crucial posts in civilian life - judges, DAs and such. What sets them apart from the rest of the army is they are honestly preoccupied with where things stand in the country. In a good, responsible, almost senatorial, not militaristic sense.

This group of people has long been troubled by the condition of the US law enforcement, specifically with the quality of people in leadership positions, with its crude brutality, the predominance of low-life "porker" mentality (think Kerik) in older generation and locker-room/animal-house/robo-thug in younger. They recognized that the police operates now with almost total legal immunity and that most American cities are totally powerless to change the situation.

Their solution was militarization. Kroeker. That they thought should bring some measure of control and professionalism to American police.

It is for that reason that people like Schrunk tend to consider police an extension of military and as such deserving of special protection. And as in the army an occasional collateral casualty, a mental case beaten to death for example, is irrelevant. The police as our extension and a guarantor of control has to be protected at any cost.

And that's why I think replacing DA Schrunk isn't such a bad idea after all.

Why is Schrunk doing such a magnificent job venting Giusto operations?

Well, jailers were simply never his class of people.

"especially in the Navy which is where Schrunk appears to have come from."

Schrunk was/is a US Marine. Always Faithful. And his dad was well known for ties to the Mob, another bunch that guarantees control and protection at all costs. Imho, replacing him is an excellent idea. I see the report on MCSO as an effort to make his office appear more objective and transparent than it actually is. Maybe Bernie (who also needs to go imho, has something big on these guys.

Boy, Bernie responded, didn't he?

"Gunslinging policy! pow pow pow pow!"

Holy gawd.

Mark, I saw the "POW POW POW!" on the news last night, and I gotta say that Bernie looked absolutely psychotic. Made me LOL, as the kids say.

The Sheriff of Multnomah County "looked absolutley psychotic" on last nights news and that makes you LOL??? People should be concerned, worried, and dare I say afraid, but not amused. Bernie's leadership (or lack of) is definitely not funny. This is what you are paying for??? He is an embarrassment to the MCSO. It is unfortunate that this report didn't come out until November, maybe if it had come out earlier those that would like Bernie to leave could have found someone suitable to run against him.
The problems in the MCSO were not all his doing, he did inherit some, but they have gotten much worse under his watch.

I read a good idea in the paper this morning - get rid of the elected sheriff, replaced by an appointed sheriff. That would solve the problem. If the County Board could appoint a professional jail manager, and hold that person accountable for results, the mess could be cleaned up in short order. There is a way to get around the union contracts - it's called outsourcing.

Loner, having a County Board appointed Jail Manager sure wouldn't result in getting around the union contracts. Where has any region wide government agency dealt with the unions with the taxpayers in mind?

Lee - You're right. An appointed Sheriff is only a first step - but a crucial one. There is no Police Chief or Sheriff in the region who has shown any genuine interest in reigning-in costs. They are only interested in fattening the salaries and benefits of their union underlings, and whining about the "lack of resources" to the City & County Councils. The Portland City Council and the Multnomah County Commission are just as bad. They are not interested in saving you, the taxpayer one thin dime. Look as how fast the Portland City Council is dreaming up ways to spend the "general fund surplus", i.e. business income tax overcharge. Why don't they refund it to the businesses who paid it? Portland & Multnomah County are liberal government at its worst. They are inventing or increasing programs for spending your money, while at the same time most people's earnings are flat or declining. But they sure are making a wonderful City for wealthy California transplants to flee to. In about 10 years, that will be the predominate demographic here.

Has anyone noticed that all of the sudden the Chasse killing is nowhere to be found? Not even in the Oregonian. Giusto everywhere. If memory serves right this is the second time DA had so much luck with his timing.

Chasse killing was covered quite well by Willamette Week.

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