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Sonoma County Gazette
Time to Vote for a New Sheriff

Sonoma County Sheriff Candidate Forum #2
Gazette Reader Questions - May 2018

May 4, 2018


Our next election in June will be the first time in decades that our county has had a chance to elect a new sheriff. As many Gazette readers know, we want our readers to make educated votes when they go to the poles. The Sonoma County Gazette asked the Sheriff candidates our SECOND round of questions. The candidate answers have been published in the order in which they returned their responses.To be fair, each candidate is given equal space and an equal number of words: 150 words for an introduction, and 450 words to answer each question.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS - Read #1, 2 & 3 in April issue

In their own words....Mark Essick, Ernesto Olivares, John Mutz, are all asking for your support.

2018 Sheriff Candidates:

Mark EssickMark Essick - essickforsheriff2018

I believe the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office needs to get back to the basics – ensuring public safety, being fair and accountable, and building partnerships to better engage with the community we serve.

I’ve worked for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 24 years. Having served as both Administrative and Field Services Captain, I have been responsible for the day-to-day operations, managing budgets greater than $50 million, and overseeing more than 250 employees.

I represented the Sheriff’s Office on the Local Law Enforcement Task Force and led the Personnel and Internal Affairs units – giving me perspective about what works, and what needs repair. As program director of the Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program, I worked to train peace officers in de-escalation and intervention techniques to assist those in mental health crisis.

I’m confident that if we all work together, we can keep Sonoma County a special place to live for another generation. I’d like to earn your support.

Ernesto OlivaresErnesto Olivares -

In this election our residents are asking for change in key areas like police accountability, transparency, diversity, trust, and community policing. The public has been asking for these changes for years with little or no meaningful progress by the Sheriff’s Office.

I bring the perspective of an experienced outsider with a clear vision to lead the Sheriff’s Office toward a new culture of 21st Century Policing. I have current hands-on experience in dealing with the issues that are important to our residents.

Even after retiring from the Santa Rosa Police Department and during my current role as a Santa Rosa City Council Member, I have continued my commitment to building safe and healthy communities as Director of the California Cities Violence Prevention Network.

I have helped cities across the nation to address the same issues we are facing here in Sonoma County including reducing violence and building trust.

John MutzJohn Mutz -

The ongoing issues at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department have not improved, community trust is still strained, and the culture that allowed the Andy Lopez tragedy hasn’t been addressed. Nearly five years later, our community is still waiting for more than lip service.

I’m ready to begin on day-one. As Commander in a prior department, I knew our system was broken. I was instrumental in leading teams that rebuilt the core culture from the top down, so I already know how to make this shift and how to create a new culture based on dignity and respect. Our new culture successfully restored trust, provided better officer support, reduced costs, and kept people safer.

We can bring that experience here, we can create our own success story — and we can prove to the community that we are worthy of their trust.

QUESTION #4 - HOMLESSNESS:Everyone agrees that being homeless is not a crime. When the county offers services to homeless people some accept and some reject help. Statistics show us that among the chronically homeless, people with mental disabilities, and people with substance abuse addictions are the most challenging to house and direct toward services that offer lifeline solutions. When law enforcement is called upon to remove people from public places or from where they have set up camp, will you continue current procedures for interaction and removal, or do you see law enforcement changing procedures in the future? If you think current procedures are appropriate, why do you think change is not necessary? If you think change is necessary – what changes would you make?

Mark Essick: I do not support homeless sweeps by law enforcement as they are proven to make conditions worse for unsheltered persons. I support evidence based assistance in the form of medical services, mental health services, addiction treatment, temporary sheltering and ultimately housing and job assistance. However, there must be a balance between compassion for homeless people and allowing bad actors to do whatever they want without any consequences, so there is a law enforcement component in working with homeless populations. Homelessness is a complicated community issue that can only be solved by all stakeholders working together with the support of our elected officials. Based on local research, we know that homelessness is down overall from a high of 4,539 people in 2011 to 2,906 people in 2016 a 36% reduction. This is based largely on a better understanding of homelessness issues and better targeting of services to those in need. Our community learned that among the chronically homeless population, 64% suffer from a drug or alcohol addiction and 60% suffer from a diagnosed mental health condition. By addressing these needs, our community partners have better served our homeless population and made significant progress in both reducing the total homeless population and increasing the number of that population that is sheltered. Of the 2,906 homeless in Sonoma County, 34% are currently sheltered, while 66% are unsheltered.

Local jurisdictions must be committed to increase their spending on mental health treatment and drug and alcohol treatment programs. This includes adding crisis stabilization beds, a public psychiatric hospital, addiction treatment programs, transitional housing programs and day programs. I’m very proud of my work as the founder and program director of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Training program.  I built the Crisis Intervention Training program from the ground up, researching national best practices, consulting with community mental health partners, non-profits and faith based leaders to create a model program that is now emulated throughout the state as an example of how to deliver crisis mental health services in the field. The program, built in conjunction with, Sonoma County Mental Health was designed to train peace officers in de-escalation and intervention techniques to assist those in mental health crisis, while directing them away from arrest and detention in the justice system. This has served our homeless population well and significantly reduced the number of homeless persons entering the justice system via the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Ernesto Olivares: We must, with all jurisdictions in Sonoma County, continue moving toward an evidence-based Housing First model along with supportive housing while eliminating barriers to temporary shelter.  In short, we must focus on comprehensive evidence-based strategies which help to end homelessness, and don’t merely enable homelessness. Homelessness is a community issue which requires a community response and law enforcement plays an important role as a partner. I am proud to have worked to develop strategies to end homelessness as a Santa Rosa Council Member and Chair of its Subcommittee on Homelessness. 

Key to our strategies was the coordination of services for those being moved from public places. The Santa Rosa HOST program offers a type of case-management strategy to meet the individual needs of homeless clients. Current policy requires that all persons being removed from pubic property be offered temporary housing. I will continue this approach as Sheriff and ensure all homeless individuals are treated with respect and dignity. In a current situation, the County desires to remove homeless individuals from property they own within the Santa Rosa City limits. The encampment is commonly known as Camp Michaela. The County has asked the Santa Rosa Police Department to remove the residents of the camp but the Police Department is requiring that all individuals be offered temporary housing before any removal processes begin.

John Mutz: First, let’s acknowledge that this is a real challenge for our business community and genuinely contributes to people feeling unsafe in our community. Both of these results are unacceptable.

But let’s be honest — it isn’t working to just push people, who have no where to go, from one place to another; we need no further evidence than to look at our communities right now. Streets don’t feel safer, businesses are challenged, and the homeless crisis is exploding.

This is an extremely complex problem. People live on the streets for a number of reasons and one solution doesn’t fit them all. Everyone in our community should expect to be treated always with respect and dignity, and deserves a safe, clean place to live. 

There are three keys to beginning to effectively address this challenge:

Will: Our community, across the board, has to be united in the will to find compassionate, workable, effective solutions — and be unwilling to settle for ineffective, temporary acts. (Clearing out an encampment falls into that category.)

Partnerships: We need to be developing collaborative working partnerships among local nonprofits, agencies engaged in this issue (both directly and indirectly), social service organizations and advocates, local government representatives, and - of course - law enforcement. We need every stakeholder’s voice at the table; everyone has vital experience to add and often from a unique perspective. Implementing a policy without inclusion of all these perspectives often has unintended consequences elsewhere.

Meaningful solutions require commitment and engagement across the community. (And here, I’d like to give a resounding shout-out to the grassroots advocates, church organizations, and social service agencies that are already working so hard to address these challenges with compassion and heart.) The Sheriff is in an excellent position to call for and sustain these partnerships, making sure this conversation moves beyond kicking the can down the road.

Learning from the examples of others:

Sonoma County is not unique. Many communities across the state are beginning to develop creative solutions that are working. We need to be more pro-active in learning from statewide successes, adapting solutions to fit our community, and the Sheriff should be dedicated to driving this conversation.

I’m committed to leading this effort as a collaborative, inclusive, and transparent process. We must evolve beyond where we are now, because the status quo is not functional, compassionate, or effective.

QUESTION #5 - CANNABIS: Voters agreed that cannabis should be legal for both medical and recreational adult use. Do you think legalizing cannabis use will increase or decrease cannabis-related crime? Do you think it will increase or decrease crimes related to alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine, opiates and other addictive drug use? Law enforcement response to drug-related crimes is expensive, do you think legalizing cannabis will increase or decrease expenses for the department? Now that growing this crop is legal, what role will local law enforcement play in protecting local farmers, and their neighbors, from thieves, if any?

Mark Essick: The legalization of cannabis will overall reduce cannabis related crime, however we must be aware of cannabis-related driving under the influence and be prepared to educate the public on the dangers of motor vehicle operation while under the influence of cannabis. Cannabis legalization will not have a significant impact on alcohol or other addictive drug use, but research will need to be conducted as we navigate this uncharted territory. Growers without proper permits are not violating state law, this is a civil code enforcement issue to be handled by Permit Sonoma. The vast majority of these issues are non-criminal zoning issues and not criminal issues. However, there are a few very specific violations as to cannabis cultivation, distribution, and sales that are still crimes in California and I would enforce those violations if I became aware of them.

The legalization of cannabis will not significantly affect expenses of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office will simply refocus our efforts on more serious drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and opiates. These drugs continue to have major impacts on our community with violent crime and the addiction toll they take on our society.

Legal cannabis operations are those in compliance with state and local law. Those not fully compliant but on a path to compliance are permitted to continue operations under current state and local laws as they work to achieve compliance. Those that are disqualified with no path to compliance and those in the black market make a bad name for those who are in compliance. State and local law specifically spells out how to handle those that are disqualified with no path to compliance and those in the black market. I would take enforcement action as appropriate to protect the public and to protect the good reputation of those who are in compliance against those who are not.

My primary role as a peace officer is to maintain public safety, that includes the safety of growers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and customers. I would maintain and enhance the current Sheriff’s Office policy of working with those in the cannabis industry to make their operations safe for their communities, employees and customers. The Sheriff’s Office under my leadership will continue to provide advice on security measures and policies that will protect compliant cannabis businesses from criminal activity. 

Ernesto Olivares: For the past 10 years as a Santa Rosa City Council Member, I have served on the Council’s Cannabis Subcommittee, first primarily focused on medical cannabis, and more recently as Chair of the Subcommittee as we began implementing policies related to the adult use. Much of our work has been guided by information from the states of Colorado and Washington where adult use has been legal since 2012. Information gathered has helped our technical committee in providing recommendations to the subcommittee. I would expect similar trends to develop in California.

A report published in 2016 found that there were some increases in cannabis-related crime in Washington primarily in unlicensed distribution and possession of illegal cannabis following legalization. Many of these illegal possessions were being transported to states where cannabis was still illegal. Crime data shows that Washington’s’ Crime reached a 40-year low in 2014, with violent crime down 10 percent and a 13 percent drop in the state’s murder rate. Colorado reported a reduction in overall crime rates, violent crimes, and property crimes.

Data in both states show a decline in cannabis use by teens. There is no evidence that legalization increase the overall use of other substances regardless of age. In fact, a 2017 American Journal of Public Health found that in 2014 there was a 6.5 percent reduction in deaths resulting from opioid abuse in Colorado where in previous years that had been trends of increased substance abuse. I believe we can achieve similar reductions locally if we dedicate the appropriate resources to public education, specifically to minors.

I expect to see a reduction in expenses dedicated to cannabis to allow law enforcement to focus on the enforcement of dangerous addictive drugs. Our role in cannabis will be in helping cannabis businesses gain compliance with state law and county ordinances. There will still be cannabis related crimes including robberies, illegal manufacturing and distribution by those who ignore state law. It is my intent to work with the industry to develop training for both the industry and law enforcement to focus on crime prevention efforts, public safety, and the effective investigation of crimes against cannabis businesses. It is my intent to develop a  training plan that includes the cannabis industry and to include surrounding counties.

John Mutz: There is no way that this new landscape won’t increase expenses for the department, especially if we engage it properly. We’ll need a substantial increase in training to understand an ever-evolving legal landscape, as well as how to distinguish and engage with legal and illegal usage.

Washington State preceded California in this process. Despite extensive study over the last few years, there is still a lot that’s unknown. So far, some of that transition has gone better than expected but there are also known issues for which we need to be prepared.  For example, Washington has experienced a jump in driver-impaired incidents (including fatalities) and there are still issues with black market activity.

Every state is still very much in its infancy in this policy implementation and the outcomes are uncertain; I’m unwilling to speculate about what may happen here. However, I am committed to keeping an open dialogue going amongst local cannabis advocates, policymakers, and all Sonoma County law enforcement agencies - including the Sheriff’s Office. I believe that input from every local law enforcement organization is critical to the ongoing discussion, learning from one another is vital, and in this new landscape we will sink or swim together.

As Sheriff, our job is to first and always protect our community — and that includes farmers as well as all other industry members. I’m also concerned with how new policies affect illegal grows, any increase in black market activity, and driving incidents.

So the key takeaways are: this is a dynamic landscape so a strong emphasis on continued and evolving training will be essential. In addition, building open channels of regular and engaged dialogue will help us create a smoother path, allow for better mutual understanding, mitigate confusion, and help us identify any developing issues early on.

References for your information:

Cannabis Policy in Washington State:

What actually happened to violent crime after Washington legalized marijuana:

QUESTION #6 - GUNS:Use of firearms in crimes increases the risk of major injury or death for criminals, law enforcement, and for victims. Law enforcement officers wear body protective gear when on duty to protect them from lethal injuries, but victims and criminals have no protective gear to wear. Can we change law enforcement policies to shoot limbs to slow crimes-in-process instead of body core so that all involved have the same chance of survival as the armored law enforcement officer? Where do you stand on use of guns by law enforcement officers? Can we reduce gun-related injuries by reducing the number of guns in untrained and unlicensed hands through gun buy-backs and increased regulations for gun owners?

Mark Essick: Gun violence continues to be a major public safety issue in our nation and our state. The idea of changing law enforcement policies to shoot the limbs of persons is ill-conceived. Police shootings occur in split seconds under extreme stress and often in low light situations, the idea of trying to hit a moving target as small as a human limb under these circumstances is unrealistic and uninformed. 

The same human factors affect all of us and the expectation that a peace officer could somehow overcome these factors is not demonstrated in actual situations. As always, peace officers expect to gain voluntary compliance from those they interact with, only under the most extreme circumstances when the officer’s life or another person’s life is in danger would lethal force be warranted.

We have over 300 million firearms in our country, as such, the reality is that our peace officers must be armed to protect themselves and the public they serve. A use of force policy must always recognize the huge responsibility entrusted to peace officers when it comes to the use of firearms and weigh the use of firearms against U.S. Supreme Court case law doctrine of reasonable use of force based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case.

Firearms-related injuries can be reduced by increasing training, prohibiting those with mental illness from possessing firearms, employing universal background checks, and requiring waiting periods to purchase firearms. Gun buyback programs do not work, study after study has concluded that they do not reduce crime, they do not reduce violence and they are an ineffective use public funds.

Ernesto Olivares: When a deadly force situation arises, police are trained to stop the threat. The goal of any justifiable police shooting is to stop the threat, as quickly and safely as possible. Police are trained to act quickly and efficiently, and must consider the challenges and difficulties that come with having to use a firearm with often little, or no, warning in high-stress situations.

Officers spend countless hours training at the firing range or interactive scenarios, and no matter how good of a shot they are, all of that precision can very quickly and easily go out the window in a real deadly force situation.

As much as we might think an officer can shoot a gun or knife out of a person’s hand or to deliver a non-life threatening injury, the amount of stress they are likely under at the time make it near impossible. Even in non-law enforcement situations, those who have fired a gun or rifle know how much focus is required to make each shot count.

Officer involved critical incidents can be very complex and do require a high degree of scrutiny and transparency to determine if the officers actions were justified under the circumstance. 

Policies are the foundation of any law enforcement agency. They help create the culture of the organization and set the standard for everyone to be successful and to meet the community’s expectations. Policies must be legally defensible and regularly reviewed to ensure they meet changes in the law, legal standards, community expectations, and relevance.

Some Law enforcement agencies are making changes to policies which have resulted in shootings. There is research showing that in cities where use of force reporting policies have been changed, the number of citizens killed in police shooting has dropped.  A standard policy in law enforcement is the documentation and investigation of circumstances where a firearm was fired. Some cities have changed their policies to require reporting and investigation anytime an officer draws their firearm. By review the incidents of when firearms were drawn, training needs can be identified and policies changed to reduce the number of officer-involved shootings. 

After years of research there is no evidence that gun buyback programs take guns off the streets or make communities safer. Buyback programs usually end up with hunting rifles or old revolvers from someone’s attic rather than with automatic weapons that criminals might use.

John Mutz: The number of acceptable fatalities at the hands of law enforcement is zero. Our use of deadly force is intended to stop, not kill, the person who has left us with no other options, in a situation where another human being is clearly at risk. And we should always expect to be held accountable for our choices. The department must take responsibility for any incident that may arise. There should be a fair but thoroughly transparent investigation by an uninterested third party, and if it’s found that an officer acted inappropriately, the community should expect corresponding changes in the department.

If officers are properly trained to prioritize de-escalation and only shoot in circumstances where a violent perpetrator is likely to injure community residents or an officer, it’s actually safer for innocent bystanders and the officers to bring the situation to a swift and safe conclusion. In these situations, which are often disorganized and hectic, spontaneous aiming for extremities is difficult and likely to be inaccurate. This is exactly why officers must be trained to do everything possible to bring an incident to conclusion without any use of force, where any choice to use lethal force is considered extreme.

Yes, we must keep guns out of the hands of untrained and unlicensed people. We are in the middle of an epidemic not seen in any other industrialized country. As a father and a veteran law enforcement officer, I feel we must address this with urgency. There is no reason to drag our feet — the time for implementing common-sense gun laws has long past.

I would support a thoughtful buy-back program if it was implemented in coordination with gun laws that reduce the number of guns entering into circulation. Recent studies have shown greater program effectiveness with improved buy-back procedures, such as restricting the type of guns bought back or paying a sliding scale for different categories of weapons.



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