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Time to Vote for a New Sheriff

It's TIME to Elect a New Sheriff:
Sonoma County Sheriff Candidate Forum
Gazette Reader Questions - April 2018

Apr 3, 2018

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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 first 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.

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 will ask another three questions for the May edition. Send your questions to vesta@sonic.net.

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


Introduction to 2018 Sheriff Candidates:

Ernesto OlivaresErnesto Olivares - olivaresforsheriff.com

With over 40 years experience in law enforcement and public service, and my leadership experience in and beyond law enforcement, I am uniquely qualified to serve as your Sheriff to build a new culture of 21st Century policing.

As an immigrant and son of farmworkers; I was fortunate to be the first in my family to attend college. I later joined the Santa Rosa Police Department, where I served for 30 years and learned that the safest communities are those where there is trust between law enforcement and citizens. We can and must do better on this front in Sonoma County. 

I am a Santa Rosa City Council Member and have served as Mayor. My experience provides a unique perspective to gauge where the Sheriff’s Office excels, and where we can do better. This includes improving public trust, promoting community policing, and improving training and education for Sheriff’s Office employees.


John MutzJohn Mutz - johnmutzforsonomasheriff.com

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!


Mark EssickMark Essick essickforsheriff2018

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.




QUESTION #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?

 

ERNESTO OLIVARES: I do not have enough information on the impacts of military training, equipment, and military-trained staff on how the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office functions, primarily because the Sheriff’s Office lacks sufficient transparency. However, it is my goal to work in partnership with the community, the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), employees, community organizations, and many of the recommendations outlined in the 2016 Presidents Report on 21st Century Policing to regularly evaluate the training needs of the Sheriff’s Office and to make necessary changes to ensure the safety of officers and citizens and to promote strong relationships with the community we serve. This includes enhanced training in procedural justice and other fundamental practices of community policing.

I will implement real-time data sources to show on-going metrics related to crime data, policy changes, use of force, personnel complaints, commendations and other relevant data with an annual report summarizing key findings for the community. I will develop a strong collaboration with, and support the mission of IOLERO and its Community Advisory Council. I will also commit to making policies available on the Sheriff’s Office website.

There have been many articles written about the “Militarization” of police. We must understand that surplus military equipment varies from floatation vests, binoculars, ballistic shields, body armor, night-vision goggles, automatic rifles, armored vehicles and other equipment.

While we must ensure our law enforcement professionals have the tools and resources they need to protect themselves and the community, we must ensure there is transparency and community engagement the type of equipment obtained and in how the equipment will be used. For example, in Salinas California, the police department had acquired a surplus armored military vehicle for law enforcement use. By engaging the community and other stakeholders, the chief developed a policy in which the vehicle would only be used for rescue operations and not as an assault vehicle. There was also a requirement for the documentation and reporting of circumstances under which it is used. In developing and adopting policies and strategies, Law enforcement agencies should ensure they reinforce the importance of community engagement in managing public safety.

As it relates to the hiring of military veterans, they will be treated similar to any applicant and not be discriminated against because of their military service. They will undergo the same background investigation including psychological testing, medical exam, and polygraph as other applicants. They will also be subject to the same processes I have outlined in question #2 to determine their suitability for employment.

Finally, I must ensure Sheriff’s Office employees have access to current training and education resources for their personal and professional development including leadership training for all department personnel.


JOHN MUTZ: 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.


MARK ESSICK: 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 employes a number of veterans with varied experience from 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.




QUESTION #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?

 

ERNESTO OLIVARES: Establishing a strong culture of community policing can contribute to building an organization that values diversity and strives to create an organization that is more reflective of the community we serve. Through a strong community policing philosophy, we can share with the community the responsibility to recruit, test and hire for diversity. However, we must first work to implement some fundamental changes in recruitment and hiring practices.

The Sheriff’s Office currently lacks the full engagement of the County’s Human Resources Department (HR) in helping to identify the factors and barriers that contribute to a lack of diversity. Also missing is the engagement of the community in recruitment efforts. Just like building safe communities must be a community-wide effort, so is the effort to recruit and hire employees that reflect our diverse community. If our goal is an organization that reflects the community, then we must engage the community.

Changes I would implement include the engagement of HR as a proctor of the recruitment, testing and hiring processes. I would also invite members of the community to participate in the interviews of new deputies and in the interviews of employees seeking to promote.

I will ensure assessment panels for the promotion of sergeants, lieutenants, and captains are diverse and include members of allied law enforcement agencies. Besides this promotional assessment interview, employees will be interviewed by a separate diverse panel of community members who will ask questions related to the candidate’s engagement in community policing practices. Community panels could include but won’t be limited to, education professionals, community leaders, members of non-profit organizations serving youth or seniors, homeless service providers, victim advocates or other community members.

I have extensive experience in implementing these types of recruitment, testing, and hiring practices. In fact, you will find that many progressive law enforcement agencies across the country use these processes which are considered best-practices that contribute to increased diversity and public trust.

As it relates to active recruitment for diversity, we must also be willing to take diverse recruitment teams to outside venues. As the manager of recruitment, testing and hiring at the Santa Rosa Police Department, I have experience in bring recruitment teams to state and national venues including conferences of the National Latino Peace Officers Association, the California Asian and Pacific Islander Peace Officers Association, the California Black Peace Officers Association, the Nation Women in Policing, and the National GLBT Law Enforcement Professionals.

I also took recruitment teams to regional police academies around California to administer on-site testing and interviews for cadets who are unaffiliated with a particular agency. This accommodation reduces the number of trips a candidate must take to Sonoma County for the various testing processes.


JOHN MUTZ: 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.


MARK ESSICK: 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.




QUESTION #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?

 

ERNESTO OLIVARES: 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 and procedures are the foundation of any law enforcement agency. They direct police chiefs and sheriffs, and their employees toward optimal safety and professionalism. 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.

Many law enforcement agencies across the county have been making changes to policies which have resulted in a reduction of officer-involved 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. 

Interactive scenario-based training is commonplace in today’s police use of force training. The scenarios are derived from real life experiences where officers have had to make use of force decisions. The interactive scenario can change based on the actions of the officer.  After each scenario, training officers debrief the officer to discuss their decision-making process. By developing scenarios that replicate the circumstances where officers draw their firearm but do not shoot, they can learn effective methods to de-escalate potentially volatile situations.

I will work to ensure Procedural Justice is at the core of all Sheriff’s Office training. This is based on four basic principles; Treating people with dignity and respect, Giving individuals “voice” during encounters, Being neutral and transparent in decision making, and Conveying trustworthy motives.

Key to success will be a strong collaboration with employees and the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach in the review and development of department policies.

I will make building trust a priority by engaging the community, employees, and IOLERO in identifying strategies and programs to strengthen relationships. My goal is to build a strong culture of Community Policing in the Sheriff’s Office. Strategies will include creating opportunities for positive non-enforcement activities to engage communities that typically have high rates of investigative and enforcement involvement with the Sheriff’s office.

Finally, I will support the mission of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach and its Community Advisory Council.


JOHN MUTZ: 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 iswho does law enforcementserve, 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.


MARK ESSICK: 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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