BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos said he will not encrypt his department’s police radios unless he is required to by law.
Bolanos made the comment during an interview with the Post on April 4, just hours before Palo Alto City Council voted to continue with encryption of police radios even though the state isn’t requiring the secrecy.
Bolanos said it would cost his office about $1 million to encrypt, which is a lot to pay for something that seems to be working just fine. In October 2020, the state Department of Justice sent out a bulletin to all police agencies saying they need to encrypt their radios or find a suitable workaround to keep from broadcasting people’s personal information over the airwaves.
“Unless the Legislature says we have to and gives me the money to do so, why would I?”
Bolanos said, adding that the county has two encrypted channels — one for undercover officers and the bomb squad.
Bolanos, 63, is seeking re-election to the post as the county’s top cop. He was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in July 2016 upon the early retirement of then-Sheriff Greg Munks and was elected in 2018. He is running against Captian Christina Corpus, who is in charge of policing in Millbrae.
Millbrae, along with San Carlos, Half Moon Bay, Woodside, Portola Valley and the unincorporated parts of the county is policed by the sheriff’s office.
Some have called for a civilian oversight committee to review the Sheriff’s Office. Bolanos said he is open to the idea but is unsure what the need is, adding that his office is as transparent as it can be and has a good relationship with the Board of Supervisors. He also expressed concerns about the committee trying to overstep its charge, saying that it would not be able to discipline his employees. But said he’s open to discussing the creation of such a committee after the election.
Bolanos is more open to the idea of an independent police auditor, such as Michael Gennanco, Palo Alto’s police auditor, reviewing his department. He said when done correctly, police auditors can provide helpful information for departments to improve.
Shortly before the pandemic, Bolanos started something called the Sheriff’s Advisory Board, where people are asked for donations to join. He said the group is for people who support the sheriff’s office to donate money and show their support (Individuals are $400 and corporate membership is $2,000). He called it much more of a social club rather than a place for people to advise or influence policies.
Response to psychiatric incidents
Bolanos has been working to improve the response to mental health crises that his officers respond to. One way is by having all of his deputies go through Crisis Intervention Training where they work to deescalate situations. Some deputies have also gone through Enhanced Crisis Intervention Training where they are taught to develop a plan and may even sometimes walk away from a situation where getting involved would cause violence, Bolanos explained. Bolanos said that if a person is barricaded in a home and isn’t hurting anyone, why kick down the door and potentially escalate the situation?
He also has a team of two clinicians working with two detectives who respond to various mental health calls. He’s also been working on mental health treatment programs in the jail.
Additionally, Half Moon Bay now has the CARES program, where clinicians respond to nonviolent calls where a person is having a mental health crisis. Bolanos said he worries about the safety of the clinicians, but recognizes that it is something the community wanted.
In 2020, the Attorney General filed charges against Barbara Bonilla, a friend of Bolanos’ and the then director of the San Mateo County youth activities league. Bonilla was accused of stealing some $25,000 from the activities league. When asked about his office’s involvement in the case, he said that once someone came forward with their concerns, they sent it to the District Attorney’s office to investigate. But because DA Steve Wagstaffe is on the board of the activities league, his office sent it to the Attorney General. When the AG’s office began investigating, Bolanos assigned a sergeant to help facilitate the AG’s investigation.
Charges were brought in 2020 and the case was resolved in September with Bonilla pleading no contest to one count of felony grand theft. She was sentenced to two years of probation, 170 hours of community service, and must pay restitution to the league of $13,706.
Bolanos acknowledged that Bonilla “made some mistakes and paid for them.”
“The way it was resolved was similar to how these sorts of cases resolve, not with prison time,” Bolanos said.