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Sonoma County Gazette
Sonoma County Sheriff Candidates’ Cannabis Debate

Sonoma County Sheriff Candidates’ Cannabis Debate

Apr 11, 2018


Citizens for Responsible Access, a Political Action Committe (PAC) Cannabis Debate hosted April 11, 2018 in Santa Rosa. Responses to Scripted Questions for Participants In alphabetical order by last name: MARK ESSICK, JOHN MUTZ, ERNESTO OLIVARES.

Co-hosting the first ever cannabis debate between candidates for Sonoma County Sheriff, Citizens for Responsible Access (CRA), Americans for Safe Access — Sonoma County ASA, and the Sonoma County Growers Alliance (SCGA) are excited to announce this one of a kind free event. All residents of Sonoma County are invited to attend and listen to the candidates share their vision for enforcement of the new local and state cannabis regulations.

As adult-use cannabis comes online across the State, implementation of a new regulatory system is going to change the way enforcement takes place. Will our soon-to-be elected officials be ready? What are their positions? What historically has been a law enforcement issue is moving towards a code-enforcement issue. Will this still be the case? Attend to find out.

2018 candidates for Sheriff of Sonoma County in attendance will be Sonoma County Sheriff’s Captain Mark Essick, retired Los Angeles Police Captain John Mutz, and retired Santa Rosa Police Lieutenant and current Santa Rosa City Councilman Ernesto Olivares. Each candidate will be given a chance to respond to questions from the moderator that they have received in advance as well as some questions held in reserve. This will be followed by answers to questions submitted from the audience. 

Voting in Sonoma County starts in early May. This evening will prove to be informative. The event is especially relevant to the cities of Sonoma and Windsor whose law enforcement is under the jurisdiction of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. Ask your own questions and speak directly to the candidates in an post-debate mixer.

Inform yourself about the sheriff candidates’ attitudes and intentions for supporting the burgeoning cannabis industry, including questions about future policing and enforcement, coordinating with other agencies, prioritizing the department’s budget, and where money previously allocated to cannabis control may be redirected.

The debate will be held at the Glaser Center at 547 Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa on April 12th from 5:30–7pm, followed by a mingle from 7–8pm.
Free, light refreshments will be served. 
Free parking is available behind the center.

1: How will you direct the Sheriff's Department to respond to conflicts among local, state, and federal laws?

MARK ESSICK: The Sheriff's Office role is very clear, as state peace officers, we do not enforce federal law. I would not change that whether it comes to cannabis, immigration, or other federal violations. Our authority as peace officers is derived from the state constitution and we are obligated to follow state and local laws. I would direct my staff to comply with state and local law always and federal law when it does not conflict with state or local laws.

JOHN MUTZ: We are not a Federal agency; we represent the communities we serve. Understanding that safety is my first priority, I will abide completely by the laws and policies of the State of California and our local region, and operate according to the spirit of those laws.

This is uncharted territory, and the circumstance is very unsettled. Asking people to come out of the shadows is a great personal risk, and one I appreciate. The only way forward is ongoing, consistent and open dialogue among the policy-makers, the community, the industry and law enforcement, with the unified goal of keeping everyone safe - that includes people in every aspect of the cannabis industry as well as the community.

I do have concerns about how we'll deal with the safety issues and how we collectively address illegal grows. But those are local issues and I'd like to bring those to the table and talk not just about current policy, but about developing commonly-understood principles.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: Just as I have been doing in my role as Chair of the Santa Rosa City Council Cannabis Sub-Committee, I will continue working to ensure a collaborative effort in developing local policies that bring the cannabis industry in compliance with established California law. Working with stakeholders, including the industry, county departments, and other county law enforcement agencies, we can develop and implement a policy that meets our local needs.

It will be my role to manage any conflicts between state and federal law by working with our state legislators, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), the California Attorney General, and statewide cannabis organizations to preserve the will of California voters.

I will also work with the local cannabis industry to develop and provide training to Sheriff's Office staff about the cannabis industry and how we can support it and work together to ensure compliance and safety.

2: Part A:  If a grower doesn't have the proper Permit & Resource Management Department (PRMD) permits, do you see this as a law-enforcement issue or a code-enforcement issue? Is it a zoning issue or criminal issue? At what point do you feel law enforcement must get involved?

Part B: Are your answers the same for adult-use and for medical use? If not, why?

MARK ESSICK: Growers without proper permits are not violating state law, I view this type of violation as a civil code enforcement issue to be handled by PRMD. 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 only time I would envision federal law enforcement getting involved would be the transportation or distribution of cannabis across state lines. My answer does not change based on adult use or medical use.

JOHN MUTZ: I think this goes back to defining and agreeing to working principles, not just policy. In principle, we're in the early stages of a complicated, confusing and in many cases vulnerable process. It feels to me, like we shouldn't begin with a heavy hand, but that the Sheriff's office needs to be engaged, as a partner, throughout. I think that's important for establishing our relationship on the front-end of this whole process. It will help us understand the landscape more completely and will help us update policies moving forward. So the short answer is code-enforcement and zoning.

I see the legal participants in this industry as partners - not as law-breakers. In the same way we need to be building trust and working in partnership in our Hispanic communities (rather than creating a dynamic where we're seen as the enemy), we need to have a trust-based relationship with those folks who've stepped up, become legal and are participating according to California policies and our local principles. If anything, we share an enemy of the common-good - illegal grows, gangs, polluters and those who would endanger our community. We will address those challenges better by working together.

No difference for medical use. The issues are the same.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: My experience in dealing with code enforcement and local ordinances is to make them a part of the organizations community policing efforts. That is, departments and stakeholders must work together to ensure compliance and to address any potential violations. Part of this is establishing protocols and practices on how we work together.

For example, code-enforcement officers are the lead staff in addressing complaints about land-use and permitting violations, not deputies. However, if in the course of their normal duties a deputy observes a code violation, I would expect them to bring the violation to the attention of the involved party and advise code-enforcement of the potential violation for follow up. If in the course of their duties a code enforcement officer observed a criminal violation, I would expect them to advise the Sheriff's Office. The same would apply to adult use.

3: In the Sheriff's Department, what percentage of all asset-forfeiture cases involve cannabis? Based on the data you are able to find, do you feel you have enough information to set policy effectively?

MARK ESSICK: Approximately 10% of the Sheriff's Office asset forfeiture cases involve cannabis, and 100% of those cases involve non-licensed and non-compliant growers, distributors and sales violating current state law. The Sheriff's Office does not currently initiate investigations into cannabis violations.

I feel the people of the state of California have clearly stated their intentions in regards to cannabis and I am committed to following the law as set by the people of the state, our legislators and our governor. Under my leadership the Sheriff's Office will follow the laws of the state in regards to cannabis cultivation, distribution and sales.

JOHN MUTZ: Under the current administration of the Sheriff's Department, transparency is an issue. As Jim Duffy stated in his comments submitted as part of the 2017 Report of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, Civil Asset Forfeiture is one of the topics that deserves to be "given sunlight".

Unquestionably asset-forfeiture was applied prior to legalization this year, but current policies and statistics remain shrouded. If I am elected I will absolutely "give sunlight" to this issue and call on IOLERO and Cannabis groups to get their input on setting policy You can count on that policy being readily available on the Sheriff Department's website.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: I honestly don't know. There are reforms evolving based on a need to strengthen personal property rights under the Fifth Amendment and ensure due process of law. Prior to reforms, officers did not have to show that those deprived of their property through asset forfeiture ever committed a crime. Because this is a civil forfeiture, all they need to show is a suspicion that cash or property might have been related to criminal activity. Reforms seek to raise the burden of proof from a typical civil standard of "a preponderance of evidence" to one of "clear and convincing evidence" of the cash or property's connection to a   crime.

Existing California law limits this process by requiring law enforcement in most cases to convict a defendant before proceeding with civil asset forfeiture. But some agencies were able to get around state law by cooperating in a federal program known as "equitable sharing." In short, by collaborating with federal authorities, state agencies made their seizures subject to the more lenient federal statutes.

In 2016, Governor Brown signed a bill into law scaling back this controversial practice. Beginning January. 1, 2017, Police Departments in California were prohibited from transferring seized property to federal agencies in order to sidestep state conviction requirements.

As Sheriff I will set policy that ensures we adhere to our state guidelines and ensure that due process rights are protected.

4: As it pertains to cannabis, how would you differentiate among so-called “legal” and “illegal” operations? Would the department treat various operations differently, based on whether they are fully compliant, on the path to compliance, disqualified with no path to compliance, or in the black market? Why or why not?

MARK ESSICK: 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.

JOHN MUTZ: This is a really good question and I think there is very little black and white at the moment - which is why I'd like to define some common principles, rather than adhere to black and white lines. Things are moving too quickly and we don't want folks trying to do the right thing, unintentionally persecuted. This isn't about punishment, but about working collaboratively to build a best process that ensures the greatest compliance.

That said, my job is keeping people safe. If there are actors who are not working to be in compliance and especially in doing so, putting the community at risk - then I do have a black and white line. My job, as Sheriff, is to keep us safe. Full stop.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: As we evolve into newly established state regulations, the primary goal is to help the industry in their path to compliance and to make the permitting process as smooth as possible. I would work with industry leaders and PRMD to help make this happen.

So-called "illegal" operations would be of concern to me. It is the illegal operations that can cause harm to the reputation of legal operations. There are those in the public who still oppose the new state cannabis laws and will look for reason to try to discredit the industry. They won't differentiate between legal and illegal operations.

Willful non-compliance will be my primary concern and will pursue action to ensure public safety and to reduce environmental impacts cause by illegal operations.

5: How do you define your responsibility as an elected official when it comes to protecting growers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and other legal cannabis businesses from criminal activity?

MARK ESSICK: 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.

JOHN MUTZ: We are one community. My job, as Sheriff, is to keep that community safe.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: This is no different than my obligation to protect any other legal industry or business. It is similar to supporting the wine industry. Just as I have committed to the agricultural community, I will   work with you to develop a training plan for Sonoma County law enforcement (including CHP) to protect the industry, reduce theft and other crimes against the industry, and to educate deputies about manufacturing, distribution, retail, testing, and other related aspects of the industry. This will be a part of my effort to move the organization from a history of seeing cannabis as an illegal product, to one that is legal and part of our local economy. I will appoint a management level staff member to be a liaison for the cannabis industry and I will be open to the industry appointing a Sheriff's Office representative to any local industry association board of directors.

6: Part A: What would be your policy for cannabis being transported to, from, within, or through Sonoma County?

Part B. Are your answers the same for personal-use and for commercial cannabis? If not, why?

MARK ESSICK: Cannabis transported within or through Sonoma County that is compliant with state law would be no different that any other regulated commodity being transported through Sonoma County. It may be subject to regulatory authority by state or local law, but it would be civil in nature, unless it fell very narrowly within prohibited criminal state laws.

My answer does not change for personal use vs. commercial cannabis.

JOHN MUTZ: That's a really good question, and honestly one I'd like more information on before answering with a direct answer. I look forward to learning from you.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: The Sheriff's Office can't have its own policies related to the transportation of cannabis. It must work collaboratively, like we have in Santa Rosa, to establish local policies that align with state regulations. This means ensuring a county-wide policy is developed with the help of all stakeholders while ensuring compliance with state law. Where permissible, we can work to develop county policies that support our local regulations. Key is to ensure we don't put the industry at risk of violating federal law. We must also involve the local office of the Highway Patrol in any policy development.

The same approach would be used for both adult use and commercial cannabis.

7: How do you plan to train, educate, and prepare the cannabis-business community for working together with the department? Will those who are still working to become compliant be included in your initiatives?

MARK ESSICK: I would reiterate my position that 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 and those in the process of becoming compliant from criminal activity.

JOHN MUTZ: Training is actually one of my biggest priorities in general. It's not just the cannabis issue that is in need of focus. When I created a new culture in the four Divisions where I was Commander at the LAPD, one of core pillars of this shift was a commitment to ongoing, modern and consistent training. You don't get trained and call it done. Officers need to be part of an ongoing training program that covers a range of issues including bias-training, policy understanding, de-escalation, and community engagement and dialogue.

So - yes, training is key and yes, training includes working with all community members regardless of their compliance status

ERNESTO OLIVARES: Training, educating, and preparing the cannabis industry will be a shared effort between the industry, my office, the BCC, and related county departments. The format will be dependent on the needs we identify. The process for development of training will involve outreach to the industry for a needs assessment. This is a "new" industry and we must work together to be successful in compliance. We will always be reaching out to those seeking compliance to be a part of any local initiatives.

Ultimately I would like to explore a regional training conference that includes the industry, law enforcement, county departments, the BCC and other stakeholders. Potentially this could include participation by neighboring counties.

8: What potential conflicts do you see between propositions 215 and 64? What resolutions do you suggest?

MARK ESSICK: From a law enforcement perspective I do not see major conflicts between propositions 215 and 64. The Sheriff's Office no longer enforces most laws related to cannabis production, distribution, sales and possession. The laws the Sheriff's Office still enforces are very narrowly defined within current state law.

JOHN MUTZ: The most obvious conflict impacting law enforcement are the relaxed regulations concerning the transport of cannabis, which at this point still conflict with vehicle code regulations. While this issue will require more in-depth investigation, I am inclined to instruct officers to follow the regulations outlined in 64 as opposed to the regulations in the vehicle code, which prohibits any transportation of cannabis whatsoever.

Many of the other conflicts between the 2 propositions involve increased difficulties for profitability for small growers. While this is not directly a sheriff's issue, we must rely on our relationships with groups such as yours to keep us informed of issues as they arise.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: There shouldn't be any conflicts between them. In Santa Rosa, we have been working to make them seamless. It took 20 years to finally get the state guidelines we needed to facilitate the implementation of Prop 215 policies. We must work together to facilitate the co-existence of both and minimize confusion.

9: Do you plan to redraft the department’s policies, procedures, and directives to fully implement MAUCRSA? If so, how?

MARK ESSICK: Similarly, from a law enforcement perspective I do not see major conflicts with MAUCRSA and the Sheriff's Office policy. We no longer enforce most laws related to cannabis production, distribution, sales and possession whether adult-use or medical. The laws the Sheriff's Office still enforces are very narrowly defined within current state law. As Sheriff, I would monitor state law and adapt Sheriff's Office policy to comply with state law as it changes and evolves.

JOHN MUTZ: As the law continues to be refined, the sheriff's policy's will be required to keep pace. While I will need to review the policy in depth, it is highly likely that it is based on outdated law and will need some revision. Any part of the policy that is not in the spirit of the new law will have to change. As Sheriff, I would have the right and the duty to set the policy and issue directives, and I have a great deal of experience in that.

The sheriff has a difficult job, because city law must also be respected, but may create conflicts within the county. For instanc,e if Cotati says something is okay and Sebastopol says something is okay but Sonoma County does not allow it, the Sheriff is in the precarious position of having a stretch of highway where the law is being broken. As Sheriff, I can set the policy to have a reasonable procedure for dealing with these types of issues. The focus should be on fairness and acting in the spirit of the law.

It is incumbent on everyone in the Cannabis industry to help regulate the industry. People must eliminate the side operations that are not 100% above board, and it will take some time to make that transition. Given the historical lack of direction and gray areas in the law that was created by the legislature, it is easy to understand how all of this arose, but nevertheless now that there is black and white law it needs to be respected.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: Absolutely. This is the type of policy that has broad impacts and must include a variety of stakeholders including the cannabis industry, county departments, and other local law enforcement agencies in the development process.

10: Will you work with local police chiefs to ensure that the policies surrounding cannabis are consistent throughout Sonoma County? Why or why not?

MARK ESSICK: Yes, it is the responsibility of all Sonoma County law enforcement to work together seamlessly to ensure consistent policies surrounding cannabis in Sonoma County. Consistent policies create stability for cannabis users, cultivators, manufacturers, transporters and employees. Stability creates jobs, enhances safety and ensures consistent tax revenue for those operating in compliance.

JOHN MUTZ: Absolutely. Yes, Working with Sonoma County Law Enforcement Leaders is essential to having a countywide policy regarding cannabis. Given the discrepancies between some city and county laws, close communication and cooperation is imperative.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: Absolutely. Collaboration with the Sonoma County Chiefs Association is paramount in the development of uniform regulations that support the industry and avoid confusion, uncertainty, and inconsistency. This includes the CHP, District Attorney, and regional office of the DEA. Local law enforcement currently works with the DEA on major narcotics investigations. I must ensure the DEA understand our local policies and that my Office will not be enforcing federal marijuana regulations that conflict with California law.

11: How would you prioritize the allocation of Sheriff's Department resources – including Coalition Against Marijuana Production (CAMP) funds – with respect to cannabis enforcement in Sonoma County?

MARK ESSICK: The Sheriff's Office has already stopped allocating funding to cannabis enforcement. Although we still fund enforcement in other narcotics such as heroin, amphetamine and other felony drugs. I would not accept CAMP funds for Sonoma County cannabis enforcement with the exception of unauthorized cannabis cultivation on private and public lands. We are all familiar with "guerrilla grows" that take place on the private lands of others or on public lands. This type of activity is very dangerous to the public and highly destructive to the environment.

JOHN MUTZ: This is a specific policy question, which requires that I answer based on details I won't have until I'm elected, so I'll answer with an ethic: the priority is not punishment or moral education.

The sole priority is community safety. If there are CAMP funds available to pursue illegal growers, pot-related gang activity, and illegal grow-enforcement, then I would make use of those funds for those purposes. If there is no threat to the community, then I wouldn't.

Again, this answer is an ethic, not a specific answer. I don't know if there are CAMP funds available, what they're perimeters and limitations are, where there source may be and how they've been allocated in the past. All of these will impact any actual decisions.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: To the extent that the illicit cultivation of marijuana continues to be a major problem in California, I will work with local, state, and federal partner agencies to continue eradicating the large-scale illegal marijuana cultivations from public and private lands that pose a danger to the public and cause deforestation, threaten water resources and wildlife habitats, and cause harm to the environment through the use of hazardous-chemical pollutants.

My hope is that we continue to gain voluntary compliance so that Sheriff's Office resources can be used for other priority needs.

12: Part A: Under what circumstances, if any, would you feel it is appropriate to share confidential cannabis-operation information with federal agencies, such as the DEA and ICE?

Part B: Would your policy be the same for all cannabis operation, regardless of current level of compliance? Why or why not?

MARK ESSICK: I would not share compliant confidential local cannabis operations information with federal agencies unless compelled to do so under a federal court subpoena or a state court subpoena.

My policy would apply to those operations within compliance or working to become compliant. Those that operate in the black market or those that are disqualified with no path to compliance are operating outside state law and I would not consider them protected from confidentiality when it comes to enforcement.

JOHN MUTZ: A: If a person has violated law in way to that risks the safety of specific individuals or our community generally. ONLY! I don't intend to work collaboratively with ICE in any other way or under any other circumstance.

I unconditionally feel that this is our community. Everyone here, regardless of where they were born, who they love, what they do for work or how they worship, is our responsibility to protect.

I will do everything possible to achieve the right outcomes, without risking any community member's safety, livelihood, or family integrity.

B: Yes, because the answer is the same.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: I will answer Part B first by saying that I will always work cannabis operations to put them on a path to compliance with enforcement action be reserved for cases of willful non-compliance. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is also the most cost-effective.

As to the sharing of confidential information with DEA, this would based on the magnitude of the case and only in accordance with local policy developed as outlined in previous question above and that has been well publicized. I don't know ofa situation where I would cooperate with ICE in cannabis-related matters.

13: Part A:  Under what circumstances, if any, would you feel it is appropriate to cooperate with the DEA on its cannabis enforcement actions, including raids?

Part B: Will your policy be the same for all kinds of cannabis operations? Why or why not?

MARK ESSICK: Similar to above, I would not share compliant confidential local cannabis operations information with federal agencies unless compelled to do so under a federal court subpoena or a state court subpoena.

My policy would apply to those operations within compliance or working to become compliant. Those that operate in the black market or those that are disqualified with no path to compliance are operating outside state law and I would not consider them protected from confidentiality when it comes to enforcement.

My policy would not change based on type of cannabis operation, if it is operating outside state law I would not protect their confidentiality when it comes to state or federal enforcement.

JOHN MUTZ: See above.

ERNESTO OLIVARES:  Our policy would specifically address the level of cooperation as outlined in my answer to question 11 related to CAMP. The request for assistance of DEA would be limited to major illegal operations. Operations with DEA need to be limited to major narcotics investigations that violate both state and federal law.

14: Part A: We know there are undocumented workers in the cannabis industry, as in many others, and that the county has a policy of noncooperation with ICE. What will your official policy be with regard to these undocumented workers?

Part B: Will your policy be the same for all kinds of cannabis operations? Why or why not?

MARK ESSICK: It is the current Sheriff's Office policy not to cooperate with ICE and cooperation with ICE is prohibited by SB 54 the California Values Act. I would not change that policy or violate state law. Immigration enforcement is the exclusive purview of the federal government and under SB 54, California law enforcement is prohibited from cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. The Sheriff's Office will not enforce federal immigration law under my leadership. My policy will be the same regardless of the type of cannabis operation. Again, we are prohibited by California law from enforcing federal immigration law.

JOHN MUTZ: See above.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: Regardless of the type of cannabis business, I will continue to work to protect our undocumented workers. This will ensure that they are not exploited including being denied wages and safe work environments.

I would invite the cannabis industry to participate in, and help sponsor the annual Latinos in the Work Place Conference held in Santa Rosa.

15: What do you think about citizen-oversight committees and about the Citizen Review Board model?

MARK ESSICK: Overall, citizen review in the form of IOLERO has been an effective tool in building community trust through auditing completed internal affairs investigations and citizen complaints. I would continue to work with IOLERO to audit completed internal investigations, build community trust and solicit policy recommendations.

JOHN MUTZ: Not only do I think it's essential to good law enforcement, but I've been working actively with our local board - IOLERO, which came together after the Andy Lopez shooting.

I believe that a first step in re-building the current culture is adopting their report and aggressively implementing their suggestions. I would encourage members of the cannabis industry to be welcomed to participate with IOLERO as well.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: I fully support the work and goals of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach. I will work in partnership with them to improve relationships between law enforcement and the communities we serve.

16: Data has consistently shown that cannabis policies, by and large, have had a disproportionately negative impact on underrepresented What are your thoughts on how the cannabis industry and law-enforcement sector can help break this cycle?

MARK ESSICK: Cannabis policies in the past have had a disproportionate impact on underrepresented groups. With the dramatic change in cannabis law in this state and the related changes in Sheriff's Office cannabis policy, I see great potential to repair these past relationship issues through equal and fair treatment under the revised cannabis laws in California and Sonoma County. Only working together in partnerships of trust can law enforcement and the cannabis industry break this cycle and move into the future.

JOHN MUTZ: From decades of experience, I know that underrepresented groups are always at the bottom of the chain. Not just in the cannabis arena, but everywhere and in every circumstance. And I've seen the power that respectful engagement and dialogue have in building trust. In my four command positions, we replaced the military-based system to one based on respect and dignity and that measured success in achievement not just in arrests. It was successful. It made a huge difference in every metric... not only in how we engaged in our communities but in safety, costs and personnel morale. I only left when the new Chief demanded we go backward, and I couldn't do that.

This is not a theoretical conversation for me. I've done it. I know how to do it. And I know it works. This is exactly why I'm running for Sheriff - without a commitment from the top, to breaking this cycle and building a different culture, it won't happen. I'm 100% dedicated to re-building a progressive culture that honors and celebrates the diversity of our community and supports every single family that lives here. It's the only way forward.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: Data-driven approaches are the best way to identify and address community issues. First, we must share in the responsibility to develop comprehensive policies that are fair and equitable. We must develop real-time indicators to help identify issues and unintended consequences of established policies. We must also have a process for policy review to make necessary changes. We can put ourselves in a position where we are enforcing bad policy. This is why developing a strong collaborative relationship with the industry is so important to me. This is evidenced by my role on the Santa Rosa Cannabis Sub-Committee.

17: Do you feel that the Sheriff's Department, from deputies to staff, is an accurate reflection of Sonoma County’s demographics? If not, how would you go about increasing the number of women, people of color, LGBTQ+ persons, and other potentially underrepresented groups in the department?

MARK ESSICK: The Sheriff's Office does not currently reflect the demographic makeup of Sonoma County. All organizations should have the goal to reflect the ethnic, gender and identity diversity of the community which it serves. Only through a concerted effort to increase our diversity will we build legitimacy with our community and those we serve. Although we have made great strides in our workforce diversity at the Sheriff's Office, I am fully committed to continuing to recruit and retain those from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Diversity makes us stronger.

JOHN MUTZ: No. I've already been thinking about ways to be pro-active in recruiting and retaining a more reflective force. This isn't acceptable. It's not good for the community and frankly, it's not good for the Deputies.

ERNESTO OLIVARES: Not it is not. Here again is an area where data-driven approaches can be helpful in identifying issues. First, I will expand the role of the County's Human Resources Department in the recruitment, testing and hiring processes to ensure compliance with established laws, rules and regulations. I will engage the community as partners in recruitment and hiring process to ensure diversity is a priority at all levels of the organization.

I will seek an assessment of the organization to determine if there are any internal barriers to increasing diversity. i.e., do people of diverse populations feel welcomed in the workplace? Do we have adequate training in building an inclusive workplace? What is the public perceptions of the organization as a good place to work?

I will include citizens in the assessment interviews of new employees and in the promotional processes of all classifications.

As I have done with the Santa Rosa Police Department, I will conduct targeted recruitments to specific groups. i.e., state and national conferences of Latino, Asian, African-American and other associations; LGBTQ associations, women in policing associations and other specific groups.

I will send recruitment and testing teams to state regional academies to provide on-site testing. This reduces the need for applicants to travel to Sonoma County until the final steps including medical, psychological, polygraph, and processes. These are only a few of the many ideas I have to increase diversity.

18: Part A: Now that cannabis is legal in the State of California, will deputies and other Sheriff's Department staff be allowed to consume cannabis outside of work hours?

Part B: Are your answers the same for adult-use and for medical use? If not, why?

MARK ESSICK: As an employer, the Sheriff's Office has the absolute right to set drug use standards for our employees. It is incompatible with our public safety mission to permit sworn employees to consume cannabis off duty if there is any possibility that it could affect their decision-making ability while on duty.

The County of Sonoma Human Resources Department sets drug use standards for all county employees and I would follow their lead for non-sworn positions in regards to adult use and medical use.

JOHN MUTZ: A: Yes, B: Yes

ERNESTO OLIVARES:  Sheriff's Deputies will be held to the same standards as any member of the public and the same policies related to alcohol consumption on or off duty will be enforced.

Thanks for taking the time to complete this – and for your commitment to serving Sonoma County!


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