The Bee in Blanas’ bonnet …

Two days before Thanksgiving, Sheriff Lou Blanas and members of his staff stood before the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to address what they characterized as inaccurate and incomplete reporting by The Sacramento Bee. Complaints of unnecessary force were down, they said, to 12 in 2005. In contrast, 50 deputies had been injured by inmates so far this year.

Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), countered, saying that her office was receiving increasing numbers of calls—1,000 in the last year. When board member Roger Dickinson told Williams to forward the complaints to the sheriff’s department for investigation, she replied that 100 percent of the cases had been forwarded—some as many as four times.

Williams added that the sheriff had sent two internal-affairs officers to work with the NAACP recently, but only, she said, after the Bee brought attention to the issue.

Approximately half a dozen NAACP members also got up and told their stories of violent or disrespectful treatment in the jail, and Assemblyman Dave Jones reiterated his call for an independent oversight board to investigate complaints. Such a board not only would protect citizens, but also would protect the sheriff’s department from false allegations, Jones said. Jones made a similar suggestion two years ago but was harshly criticized by sheriff’s officials and ignored by county supervisors at the time.

This time, the sheriff’s staff offered a different suggestion. They want to offer streaming video from inside the jail so that the public can watch the booking procedure online for itself.

… and other flying things

While a noisy crowd gathered outside the county board’s chambers for the sheriff’s presentation on Tuesday evening, County Health Officer Glennah Trochet had to raise her voice to warn the board that three of the four conditions for a flu pandemic were met by the current bird flu. The only unmet condition was that bird flu does not spread easily person to person, but only through contact with infected animals. There have been 125 cases of human infection so far, said Trochet, and 64 people have died.

Consider the significance to Sacramento should the flu mutate and reach human populations at its current strength, said Trochet. Her slides showed that if 15 percent to 35 percent of the population got sick, that could mean 455,000 people in the metropolitan area.

Were a pandemic to occur, people might have to avoid shaking hands, stay at home and maintain a three-foot distance from others. Also, people are contagious for one to two days before they show signs of illness, making early detection difficult. Trochet warned that the county needs to consider the economic and social impact of extreme measures like isolation and quarantine. She also stressed that public education is key.

A pandemic is not inevitable, said Trochet, but each year brings a new flu epidemic. The term “epidemic” shocked some board members, but the health officer reminded them that 35,000 people die from regular flu every year.

Progressive media buzz

“Think of us as a progressive Associated Press,” declared Public News Service (PNS) Managing Editor Lark Corbeil during a recent meeting of Sacramento-area nonprofit administrators and journalists. PNS currently manages its news service in 15 states, and Corbeil expects to begin in California by January 2006.

Focusing on radio, PNS covers public-interest news stories and is funded by gifts, grants or memberships. The PNS producer sends news scripts with sound bites to radio stations statewide. Corbeil says that repetition throughout the day creates “media buzz.”

Citing the recent and ongoing consolidation of news media, Corbeil explained that the resulting smaller and overworked staffs mean many radio news departments are unable to gather or follow news stories firsthand. News directors tend to rely on press releases, the majority of which end up being tossed in the trash. “For more than 20 years, conservative groups, who have been promoting the smallest possible government coupled with faith in the free market to solve any problem, have contributed huge amounts of money to promote their message. It’s time we caught up.” For more information, visit www.publicnewsservice.org.