Mar 28, 2018
by Vesta Copestakes
Introduction to 2018 Sheriff Candidates
As many Gazette readers know, we want our readers to make educated votes when they go to the poles. Our next election will be the first time in decades that our county has had a chance to elect a new sheriff. At this point in the primary elections, we have three candidates running. When votes are counted in June, we will know which two of the three will continue on to November.
We asked the candidates our first round of questions - and will ask another three questions for the May edition. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.The order of candidate answers was the order in which they returned their responses. To be fair, each candidate is given equal space. In their own words....Ernesto Olivares, John Mutz and Mark Essick are all asking for your support.
I’m running for Sheriff because our community needs strong and experienced leadership to guide us into the future. We need to get back to basics - putting public safety first, making sure that we’re fair and accountable, and building partnerships to better engage with the communities we serve. My vision for the Sheriff’s Office includes community policing, accountability and diversity in our staff.
I’ve worked for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 24 years, starting as a correctional officer in the jail and holding ten different posts throughout the organization. Having served as both Administrative and Field Services Captain, I’ve been responsible for the day-to-day operations of multiple divisions, managing budgets greater than $50 million and overseeing more than 250 employees who provide public safety around the clock.
I’m confident that if we all work together, we can keep Sonoma County a special place to live. I hope you’ll join me.
#1 - When the United States de-escalated the Iraq War, many weapons, military techniques, and training came home to our civilian police forces, including war veterans who joined local law enforcement. What impact has that training, equipment, and those military-trained police officers had on how the Sonoma County Sheriff’s department functions?
The de-escalation of the Iraq war has had little to no effect on how the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office functions. We are a civilian police agency run by civilians. Our training has never incorporated military tactics as they are not appropriate in a civilian law enforcement agency.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office employees a number of veterans with varied experience from the all branches of the military and Coast Guard. Experience varies from trained rescue swimmers from the Coast Guard to logistics specialists with the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force; radio operators, military police officers, linguists, IT support, heavy equipment operators, infantry and intelligence specialties are just a sample of the wide variety of experience we draw from.
The County of Sonoma Human Resources Department actively recruits veterans and provides preferential veterans service points to all civil service applicants with the county. Veterans as Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office team members are valued for their ability to pass a background check, their understanding of the chain of command, their ability to conform to general orders and policies, their proven ability to serve a greater purpose than themselves, their understanding of the importance of teamwork, and their diverse experiences in meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures. It could be argued that because of greater overall life experiences of veterans compared to similarly aged non-veterans, they are better able to empathize with people from different backgrounds and cultures.
Our background process thoroughly checks all applicants for indicators of suitability such as temper, demeanor, problem-solving, basic intelligence, stress tolerance, psychological disorders, risk-taking behaviors, substance abuse indicators, signs of PTSD, willingness to follow orders and integrity to name just a few. I am not aware of any study that has concluded that military veterans are inappropriate for civilian law enforcement. Particularly when it comes to use-of-force, excessive force, bias, racism, sexism or integrity issues. I would not make any changes as sheriff with respect to hiring veterans.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has received some surplus equipment from the defense department including; medical supplies, cots, stretchers, tents, shovels, hand tools, mechanics tools, misc equipment for our boat unit, life jackets and exercise equipment for our jail inmates. In the past the Sheriff’s Office has received some rifles and bayonets from the defense department. After hearing public concern, the Sheriff’s Office no longer accepts weapons from the defense department.
#2 - Inviting greater diversity in the Sheriff’s department keeps coming up – both in terms of ethnic diversity as well as gender diversity. Do you think it’s possible to have the Sheriff’s department reflect the gender and ethnic diversity of the community it serves? How would you accomplish that balance?
It should forever be the goal of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office to reflect the makeup of the communities we serve in our hiring and retention of employees. A community achieves buy-in and police agencies achieve legitimacy when they reflect the gender, ethnic and identity diversity of the community it serves. Diversity in our employees and their life experiences makes us stronger in our ability to relate with the communities we serve.
Diversity can only be achieved through constant engagement with all members of our community to make the Sheriff’s Office an inclusive place to work. We signal our commitment and intent to make diversity a priority when we promote qualified individuals with diverse backgrounds into positions of leadership. As Sheriff, I will constantly strive to recruit and retain a diverse workforce and I will commit to promoting qualified individuals from diverse backgrounds to management positions.
#3 - Law enforcement agencies across the country have been accused of “shoot first – ask questions later” where victims of police killing were found to be innocent. Civilians are charged with different murder convictions depending upon whether they killed in the heat of passion, fear, and self-defense, or pre-meditated murder. Do you think these same laws apply to police officers, or should they be shielded from these convictions behind their badge?
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has a use of force policy that incorporates the most progressive ideas in police use of force including a sanctity of life statement. The Sheriff’s Office has never had a shoot first policy, every law enforcement involved deadly force encounter is investigated with the same lens as that used for non-police deadly encounters, the California Penal Code. A law enforcement deadly force encounter is conducted as a homicide investigation, with all of the same standards of a homicide investigation regardless if the person involved is a peace officer. The same laws absolutely apply to all people regardless of their peace officer status. Peace officers should not be, and are not, shielded from convictions just because they are acting in their official capacity.
What is different is the lens of police use of force in US Civil Rights Cases, where Police use of force is primarily guided by US Supreme Court case law in Graham V. Connor and Tennessee V. Garner, these cases use what is known as the reasonable officer test.
As Sheriff, I would constantly evaluate our use of force policy against U.S. Supreme Court Case Law, 9th Circuit Case Law, U.S. Federal Law and California Law; incorporating best practices and progressive ideas in police use of force to ensure that we are applying appropriate use of force when the situation requires it.
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