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 editon.Send your questions to email@example.com.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.
It’s time for change! The status quo is not healthy for the community, doesn’t adequately support our officers, and costs taxpayers too much money. I’m running for Sonoma County Sheriff in order to cultivate a fundamental, long-term cultural shift — based on sustained community relationships, transparency and respect — to keep our community safer, reduce costs and improve department morale.
With 40 years in law enforcement (10 years as a Captain, 6 of those as a Station Commander), I have years of experience in leading these complex changes. Furthermore, of all 3 candidates, I have the most years of executive and management experience in law enforcement. For several years, I’ve been engaged with Sonoma County community members who share this passion for change. We know that with experienced, dedicated leadership in the Sheriff’s office, change is possible. I know how to do it and I know this kind of progress only lasts if there is commitment and support from the very top. Something much better is possible. Our time is now!
#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?
First, let’s begin by honoring the tremendous sacrifice and courage of our veterans. For decades our vets have fought in difficult situations for poorly defined outcomes, and then often they find themselves without the support they need when they get home. This is truly inexcusable, and especially important to address given that at the moment we have leadership committed to escalation, rather than diplomacy and de-escalation.
The effect that 9/11 and the Iraq War have had on our communities is as substantial as the effect on Law Enforcement. Our founding principles should encourage us to always be moving towards greater understanding and inclusivity. Now there is certainly a broad swath of the country that has given into fear, or have used the 9/11 attack and the subsequent wars as an excuse to revive the deeper rivers of intolerance, bigotry and distrust. When we’re looking at impacts on law enforcement, this plays a fundamental role in the gulf of distrust many communities feel with law enforcement.
The militarized influence, coupled with increased fear, has led many agencies to consider weaponry and equipment as a first recourse, rather than engagement and dialogue — which is why as Sheriff of Sonoma County, I will not accept military weapons or equipment from the Federal Government. We are first and foremost responsible for the safety of our local communities, and that safety comes, more than anything, from the relationships we develop and the partnership we foster within the community (rather than being heavily armed).
The current national emphasis on militarism in Law Enforcement training, tactics and psychology is not a direction I’d support in Sonoma County. This misdirection undermines the Sheriff’s Office role of “protecting and serving,” especially in communities of color or disenfranchised neighborhoods.
The camaraderie, discipline under pressure, bravery and teamwork skills learned in military service can be assets. And it’s important that our veterans get the ongoing support and assistance they need to address the extraordinarily difficult circumstances they’ve faced. Ongoing training in general, for all of our Deputies, is key. It’s not easy to face life-threatening situations and training is absolutely critical. As Sheriff, I will ensure that training in the field and in the jail emphasizes strong interpersonal skills, mindfulness, self-control and confidence to more effectively engage with challenging calls for service and the difficult circumstances deputies face on a regular basis.
#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 ethic diversity of the community it serves?
Women comprise 51.1% of Sonoma County’s population. The Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) audit of 2016-17 shows that of the 220 Deputy Sheriffs and Sergeants, only 5.9% of Law Enforcement Deputies (13) are women, and of the 13 Law Enforcement Leadership, zero are women. The report also found that 9.5% of Deputy Sheriffs on patrol are Latino while Latinos in the county make up 30%.
This situation can and must be remedied. First, the department must take a sustained and pro-active role in this process. After identifying all underrepresented communities, we must identify skilled ambassadors to develop long-term relationships with those communities. Those ambassadors would learn who has the potential to be a great officer and would perform regular outreach to attract and engage those great candidates.
Apprenticeship programs are another great approach. Engaging young people in hands-on experiences which orient them to the work that Deputies do is an excellent win-win for the community and the Department. The programs I’ve launched and supported were designed to teach leadership skills and build confidence in our young people. Some of those participants will use their skills in the Sheriff’s Department and others will actually take that training back to benefit the greater community in other roles that they pursue. Sonoma also has a lot of opportunities with our community colleges and youth organizations to educate, engage and encourage.
The common dream for many a young girl or boy is to become a peace officer. It stems from wanting to be a hero and do good. If our Sheriff’s Department were experienced differently in the community — as a welcoming educational institution for those who want to make a positive impact in our community - we would have a Department that reflects and represents our residents.
#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?
Excessive use of force by law enforcement is a glaring problem in Sonoma County as it is in many places around the country. Drawing one’s gun can be a reflex in a situation perceived as dangerous, but often it makes a tense situation worse, not better, for the officer and the perpetrator. In an ideal situation, our officers would be trained to exhaust all options to de-escalate a situation before they resorted to use of a weapon. Additionally, if it is deemed that a weapon MUST be used, officers must be trained to take a shot, assess, then take another shot only if the first shot did not disable a dangerous assailant. We have seen time and time again in the tragic incidents in our county that no such protocol has been followed. This is a failure in training and a failure in leadership.
The number of acceptable fatalities at the hands of law enforcement is zero. If and when it happens, the incident must be fairly and transparently investigated by an uninterested third party. If a mistake was made, the officer must be held accountable, the department must take responsibility, and the system that allowed the mistake to occur must be systematically reviewed and corrected.
The shooting of young Andy Lopez was one tragic example of a much larger problem. At the core the question is, who does law enforcement serve and what is its commitment to the community? The ever-growing list of mishandled cases demonstrates that at the moment, the Department is not focused on providing service with dignity and respect for all. This doesn’t make any of us safer. In fact the opposite is true. I know this firsthand because I’ve been part this system from the inside. We are less safe when law enforcement is so out of touch with the community. Taxpayers are on the hook for enormous legal expenses, and our officers don’t get the training and support they need. After years of moving up the ranks and watching what was happening around the country, I knew I could no longer be a part of a culture that would find disrespectful and abusive behavior acceptable; I had to find the courage to do it differently. It’s time to reset the relationships that have been strained or broken with communities around Sonoma County.
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