Sheriff candidates address policing issues at Stanford

Daily Post Staff Writer

One of the few ways that mid-Peninsula residents interact with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office — other than visiting the Palo Alto courthouse or being hauled to jail in the South Bay — is the Stanford Department of Public Safety, which is staffed by deputies and overseen by a sheriff’s captain.

Sheriff Laurie Smith grants the department law enforcement authority, but Stanford appoints the chief and the deputies.

Because the campus police also answer to Stanford, Smith’s relationship with the department can be combative.

“I know when a captain’s doing a good job up there because (Chief Laura Wilson) is really angry with me,” Smith told the Post. “We’ve gone toe to toe several times… The more we push them, the more angry she becomes.”

Smith said she sits on a Stanford panel to appoint the chief, but that her approval is tacit.

The sheriff’s office tries to protect its authority and ensure policing is done properly at Stanford by having a captain oversee the operation, which Smith said was Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian’s idea.

A self-policing institution

Simitian has questioned the appropriateness of allowing a private institution police itself, asking Smith why not let Hewlett-Packard have its own force?

“It’s unusual to give your peace officer authority to someone that you don’t directly manage, but it’s one of those systems that has existed,” Smith said. “I think that having the relationship that we have is not the ideal situation for (Wilson).”

Stanford has been policed by deputized officers since the 1970s. Smith said she thought it would be better to treat Stanford like Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Altos Hills or VTA, which pay the sheriff’s office for police services rather than running their own police departments.

“I actually thought about going to county counsel and just saying, this is an awkward position to be in. I question the legality of it,” Smith said.

Keeping crime from the public

She’s also criticized Stanford for its slow release of crime information, including the 2015 arrest of Stanford graduate student Xiangyu Ouyang for allegedly poisoning her lab mates’ drinks with paraformaldehyde at Stanford’s School of Medicine.

The media learned of her arrest months later when she was in court. The Stanford Department of Public Safety did not release any information about her arrest.

Occasionally, the campus police have deferred to the PR department to release information about campus crime.

In February, the police department declined to release any information about an envelope of white powder sent to Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, referring the Post to university PR for information about the situation.

Stanford police release annual crime statistics in accordance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1990. The university’s PR representatives have pointed to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as a reason for the university’s need to withhold some information about campus crime involving students.

Sex assaults

In the case of campus sexual assault, Wilson pointed out that some victims are wary of reporting to police because of the department’s legal obligation to publicize information about the date, time and location of the attack.

Some information can identify the victim, like the city block of the attack’s location, which is often a dorm.

Smith said the university has a “big motivation” to address violent crimes internally and keep the case out of the public eye.

Smith said her office had tried to improve the release of information from Stanford police.

“We push really hard to make sure that we see it. I’m not so sure things don’t get circumvented before they even get to the Stanford deputies,” Smith said. “If it doesn’t get to the police department, we’ll never know.”

Smith’s opponents in the June 5 race also weighed in on Stanford’s relationship with the sheriff’s office.

Smith’s former second-in-command and chief of the jail, John Hirokawa, said Smith’s relationship with Wilson and the Stanford police was “not as collaborative as it should be,” and that rank-and-file employees are generally too intimidated by Smith to speak out.

Joe LeJeunesse said that if elected, he would make Stanford more transparent by ordering the captain at Stanford report to him on a daily basis.

“If you don’t know what’s going on in your department, you shouldn’t be in charge,” LaJeunesse said. “There’s not enough candor with the sheriff because she does retaliate.”

‘Dumping ground’?

LaJeunesse also claimed that Smith has retaliated against those who cross her by assigning them to jobs at Stanford or the coroner’s office until it split off from the sheriff’s office in 2016, but Smith denied the accusation.

“It’s not a dumping ground at all,” Smith said. She said that often, employees want to work at Stanford for personal reasons, like in the case of a former captain whose child was being treated for an ongoing illness at Stanford Hospital.

Jose Salcido, a retired lieutenant and former head of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association union who is challenging Smith for her seat, pointed out that the university is very powerful.

“It’s all about liability. Even a university who has deep pockets has to think about liability,” Salcido said.


  1. With the university’s control over the Department of Public Safety, you’ve got to wonder how many cases like that of Brock Turner were hidden from the public to protect Stanford’s reputation.

  2. What the story doesn’t mention is that Stanford has a separate judicial system called the Office of Community Standards. Many crimes including rapes are dealt with by the Judicial Panel. Everything is secret and the accused is denied many rights a defendant would have in a criminal court. But they participate because failure to do so will result in expulsion. Use of the Judicial Panel keeps a lot of ugly stuff on campus from ever being seen by the public.

  3. During the course of this campaign we’ve heard several people say Laurie Smith is difficult to get along with and employs a Machiavellian style of leadership. Although she has tried to deny it in past, her statements to this paper confirms it: “I know when a captain’s doing a good job up there because (Chief Laura Wilson) is really angry with me,” Smith told the Post. “We’ve gone toe to toe several times… The more we push them, the more angry she becomes.” During these difficult times we need collaboration amongst our law enforcement, not confrontation. I also question her motives for examining the relationship between Stanford and the the Sheriff’s Office now given the fact she’s been sheriff since 1998.

    That is why I’m voting for Hirokawa for Sheriff. He is supported by law enforcement(including retired Chief Dennis Burns) and community leaders like retired Judge Cordell. Hirokawa will do what’s best for the community. Hirokawa is smart, experienced and trusted. Vote Hirokawa for Sheriff.

  4. Somewhere in San Mateo County, a gang of bad guys have a map of Palo Alto with a bull’s eye over the Stanford campus. I say San Mateo County because it would add another layer of jurisdictional confusion to the mess that’s already there. With this much confused authority about who reports to whom, you should be able to get away with any crime you want. No wonder it took grad students to rescue Emily Doe.
    Interagency co-operation is always an iffy thing. Take the recent breakout from the county courthouse in Palo Alto (please). city cops backed up the deputies but neither agency looked good. I lived in a senior residence in the neighborhood when the deal went down. When our building went into lockdown, the oldsters cowered in their rooms (very dramatic) while the Verizon store across the street continued dispensing smartphones to the masses without skipping a beat. If Linus Pauling, whose Institute was once located nearby before it decamped to Oregon, had been still alive, he would have gobbled a handful of vitamin C to steady his nerves.

  5. A question that never came up: why do dna results from SART kits take the Sheriff’s labs 3-12 weeks for results, versus 1-2 days? Should this function be privatized?

  6. Stanford shouldn’t be able to own they’re own police force. The university has every reason to underreport it’s own crime rate. Simitian is right — we wouldn’t let Hewlett-Packard own it’s own police department. This arrangement is crazy. Can you imagine all the crimes that never are revealed to the public because Stanford wants to protect its public image!!!

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