Former Sacramento police chief Rick Braziel to be new sheriff's watchdog

Office of Inspector General had been empty for nearly three years

After more than seven months of headhunting, Sacramento County is finally poised to refill its long-vacant Office of Inspector General with a familiar face: former Sacramento city police chief Rick Braziel.

His appointment was approved during a procedural vote Tuesday morning. Braziel takes over an office that’s charged with monitoring the sheriff’s department—a role that’s been unfilled going on three years.

Former Inspector General Lee Dean resigned in early 2013. The county briefly sought a replacement, but ceased after finding no local candidates, a spokeswoman previously told SN&R. Instead, the county replaced Dean with an automated phone line that didn’t accept messages and hung up on callers.

The malfunctioning line recorded zero complaints over a two-year period, even as some aggrieved residents brought their concerns to local organizations and civil and federal courts. The county only restarted its recruitment process following an SN&R exposé in March.

The nationwide effort winnowed 40 letters of interest down to 13 candidates, seven of whom were interviewed by Sheriff Scott Jones and board of supervisors chairman Phil Serna. They picked two candidates, who went on to interview with selected community members and the department’s management and deputy associations.

Their top choice brings a combination of inside and outside perspectives to the position.

Braziel is a Sacramento native who spent more than 33 years with the city police department, the last four as chief. After his 2012 retirement, he became a sought-after consultant, troubleshooting high-profile use of force incidents in Southern California, Stockton and Ferguson, Mo. As an executive fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation, he also co-authored a paper about how to improve the quality of policing in St. Louis County, Mo.

He’s now hoping to apply those experiences in his hometown. “It really was a progression of what I’ve seen around the country and a desire to reinvest in my community,” Braziel said of pursuing the inspector general position. “It’s all about timing.”

Despite the title, the inspector general is not tasked with inspecting alleged misconduct so much as overseeing those inspections. A county staff report describes “broad oversight powers,” but also highlights the limits of the position’s authority. The I.G. can mediate disputes between community members and the sheriff’s department only upon invitation from the sheriff. The I.G. can also interview or re-interview complainants and witnesses “in exceptional cases.”

The sheriff’s department has recorded six officer-involved shootings or inmate deaths this year so far, including three inmate deaths that occurred in a 30-day span. That figure rises by three officer-involved shootings if counting the Rancho Cordova Police Department, which is staffed by sheriff’s department employees.

Braziel says he was frank about his desire to be more active than previous incarnations in his interviews with Jones and Serna, a message he says was well-received.

Braziel will take over the office on December 1. He expected his first 30 days to be a whirlwind of learning both personnel and software. He says he wants to spend some of that time working shifts at the jail to become more familiar with the department’s correctional side. He says he also wants to see if any of his predecessor’s recommendations have been implemented. “Why reinvent the wheel?” he said.

His contract is worth $120,000 for one year, with the county having the option to renew the agreement for four additional years. As an independent contractor, he is ineligible to receive benefits.

Braziel’s selection was praised by the city of Sacramento’s version of an inspector general. Francine Tournour is director of the Office of Public Safety and Accountability, which monitors the city police and fire departments. She held that position back when Braziel was police chief, and called him a “very smart” individual who will make “good procedural recommendations.”

Braziel says Tournour offered to help him reestablish community ties after three years evaluating policing around the country. One of the lessons he brings home is from Ferguson, where he says police lacked the training to deescalate tense situations.

Reached by phone, Braziel comes across as cerebral and enthusiastic. An author of a book on community policing and recipient of two master’s degrees, he told SN&R he intends to be proactive, helping the department reduce use of force incidents and citizen complaints rather than just react to them.

“They’re the biggest agency around,” he said. “I want to be a resource to the sheriff on how to look at best practices.”

Braziel may only have a limited chance to do that with Jones, who announced Monday that he’s running for Congress. Braziel says he learned of the news from his clock radio.

“I’m not part of his inside circle,” he said, then chuckled. “Policing is nothing but a fluid situation.”