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There’s gonna be a new Sonoma County sheriff in town

The Sonoma County Gazette wants you to be informed as we head into primaries next month. One of the most hotly contested races is sure to be replacing current Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick. The Gazette sent 10 interview questions to the three candidates, Dave Edmonds, Eddie Engram and Carl Tannebaum. Read their full, unedited answers below. Number ten is the best!

1. What solutions will point Sonoma County in the right direction in helping our population with mental illnesses, since so many end up in jail?

Dave Edmonds (DE): First, for the sake of all inmates, we need the best leadership in our Detention Division. Detention services is a profession unto itself. Unlike the last two elected sheriffs, I will not discredit and disrespect our detention staff by assigning someone from the law enforcement division who has little or no detention experience or knowledge to lead it. I will choose the wisest and most experienced detention manager (by the way, I have already found her). Next, I will contract with a top-level, professional consulting firm that specializes in detention services for a complete and thorough audit of the entire detention division, top to bottom. I will share their findings with the IOLERO Director, and together we will chart the optimal course for improving all aspects of our detention services.

Eddie Engram (EE): Addressing mental health care and crises must be done collaboratively. The Sheriff’s Office response to mental health emergencies is personal for me because I have loved ones who face their own mental health challenges. I deeply feel the challenges of managing mental health issues. As a Sergeant and Lieutenant, I facilitated the Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Training to better equip deputies when they respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis. Today I see about 50% of the jail population has a mental health diagnosis. I know there is a better way to respond to non-violent mental health emergencies. If a person is struggling with his or her mental health and seeks assistance, a trained mental health professional, not a peace officer, should respond. I will work with the Board of Supervisors and other private and public agencies to help institute a different response to these issues that affect so many families. I don’t want the Sheriff’s Office to run the largest mental health care facility in the county, but we do because there are insufficient alternatives. We need better, more accessible preventative and ongoing mental health care. Absent those resources, the Sheriff’s Office is in the process of designing and building a separate wing in the jail called the Behavioral Health Housing Unit. This would better serve the most seriously impacted inmates.

Carl Tennebaum (CT): I am the candidate for Sheriff who will bring meaningful change, as a true outsider, to the Sheriff’s department through enhanced training and diverse recruitment of deputies. One of the changes I support is implementing a county-wide, full time, community responder program staffed by mental health professionals, so that people with mental health issues needs are assessed and treated accordingly. These patients would then be provided long-term solutions instead of interaction with the criminal justice system, thereby helping provide relief to those same members of our community ending up in jail. We need to address underlying causes of incarceration rather than using incarceration as the only tool to address mental health issues. I have worked with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership on implementing community responder programs and look forward to having one here for the County of Sonoma, along with re-aligning a portion of the Sheriff’s budget to create such a program. The early reports on Santa Rosa’s InResponse program are very positive, and I will work with County officials to expand InResponse in concert with Santa Rosa Police, or create a similar program county-wide. I’d also confer with our State Senators and Assemblymembers to seek state funding for this innovative and compassionate program.

2. Should IOLERO’s CAC have more oversight of the Sheriff’s Office? Why or why not?

DE: I think that if Sheriff Essick and Assistant Sheriff Engram had welcomed and encouraged the CAC to become fully informed so that they could best advise the Sheriff’s Office, that question would not have made your list. If I am elected, they will have broad access to the information that they need to perform their role as it was meant to be.

EE: I support effective oversight of the Sheriff’s Office. As your Sheriff, I will work collaboratively with the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) and the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to ensure appropriate reforms are implemented and transparency is enhanced. On a related note, I will implement the portions of Measure P that are deemed legal. Transparency and integrity should be the foundation of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. The people of Sonoma County have the right to fair, impartial, and professional treatment from all members of the Sheriff’s Office. I believe that law enforcement oversight is an overall positive benefit and important for law enforcement accountability. This level of review helps the Sheriff’s Office improve and gain trust from the communities it serves. That being said, oversight isn’t only the responsibility of IOLERO or the CAC. Oversight and supervision is the primary responsibility of Sheriff’s Office supervisors, managers, and ultimately the Sheriff. As your Sheriff, I will provide clear expectations for the members of the Sheriff’s Office while fostering a culture of equity and inclusion. I will be proactive in identifying problematic behavior before it results in tragic events. I have a track record of improving transparency and accountability. As the Lieutenant in charge of the Professional Standards Bureau, which includes Internal Affairs and use of force reviews, I proposed the policy change requiring all deputies to have their body-worn cameras turned on when they were not inside a Sheriff’s Office facility. This recommendation was adopted by the Sheriff and is still in effect today.

CT: We need to fully implement IOLERO, as was mandated under Measure P, which was passed by 65% of Sonoma County voters. IOLERO and the CAC should have an equal role with the Sheriff’s Office with oversight. The goal is to work collaboratively to implement new or revised policies that will reduce incidents of misconduct, whether that misconduct is poor training, lack of supervision, or bad behavior on the part of the deputies. Unlike the current Sheriff and his hand-picked successor, I am here to help implement effective oversight, and will not thwart it. I look forward to working with IOLERO’s CAC to help them get what they need from the Sheriff’s Department. Under my leadership, we will improve the morale of deputies and the trust of the community by embracing oversight, not blocking it. Oversight will be my personal policy, not just a campaign slogan.

3. Describe your most memorable interaction with someone from Sonoma County’s homeless community. Why was it notable? What would you change about that interaction and why?

DE: I’ve had dozens! I’ve always been compelled by the needs of our homeless population. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, I knew and purposefully spent time with many of Guerneville’s homeless population when I was assigned out there. But more recently, for the last dozen years, I’ve been on the board of directors for one of Sonoma County’s most effective homelessness nonprofit organizations, the Redwood Gospel Mission. I’ve met with so many of our participants of our year-long “new life” program, counseled and encouraged them, shared meals with them, watched their progress, and then hugged them at their cap-and-gown graduations. As Sheriff, I will have a new, systematic engagement model that I will implement where our deputies start contacting members of our homeless population in positive ways to help them. See my comprehensive 20-Point Plan on my website that includes details of this proven approach.

EE: I can’t recall a “memorable” interaction with someone from Sonoma County. However, one memorable interaction I’ve had with someone from the homeless community was when my father, who had substance use issues told me he was homeless. That experience has remained with me and reminds me anyone can become homeless and to show compassion

CT: For the past several months I have been visiting homeless camps in Sonoma County on a weekly basis, delivering food with a local non-profit organization and talking to the many people who inhabit those camps. I view our unhoused residents as full members of our community, and apply the Golden Rule, to treat them as I would want to be treated: I listen to their concerns, and extend respect and dignity to these souls. There is a woman about 70 years old named Cassie who lives in her car near Santa Rosa creek. Although I don’t know her full story, I can tell you that she is always upbeat and optimistic, in spite of her circumstances. And she is not alone. If there is one thing that amazes me when dealing with the homeless population of Sonoma County, it is that there is a sense of resilience and hope that is inspiring. What I would change about my interaction with Cassie, just like with all of the other homeless people that I’ve encountered, is to immediately provide them with shelter. Once they feel secure in their housing then we could work to address the underlying issues that led them to be unhoused.

4. How will you build a relationship with the Board of Supervisors who, while also elected officials, ultimately hold the purse strings to the sheriff’s office? What will be your tactics during budgeting?

DE: I’ll stop the unnecessary and oftentimes disingenuous brinksmanship that, hoping to put pressure on the Board and get their way, our past couple of Sheriffs have resorted to. I want to share with them the relative importance of each line-item in our 210 million dollar budget, and then work to come to agreement on the level of funding that each need merits. Then, I’ll share that information, both my opinions and theirs, with our constituency.

EE: I currently have a solid, productive working relationship with the Board of Supervisors, based in mutual respect and collaboration. I work with the Board regularly as the Assistant Sheriff running the Detention Division on items like the cost of phone calls for inmates and the inmate medical care contract. Supervisors Gore and Rabbitt have endorsed me, and I look forward to continuing to work well with all the Supervisors. It's important during the budget process to be clear and direct. We need to recognize the impact of the consistent cuts. Since 2009 the Sheriff’s Office has lost of 28 deputy sheriff positions. I’ll outline the Office priorities and responsibilities for the Board and community. I also encourage the community members to embrace the public input opportunity and contact the Board with their priorities. Transparency is paramount when budget discussions occur so the Board and community understands the impacts of how their tax dollars are spent.

CT: I plan to have an open, honest, considered relationship with the Board of Supervisors, as I would with any colleague, and that I will have with this community. I am, like them, an elected official doing the will of the people and working collectively on the common goal of a better Sonoma County. I will conduct an audit of the Sheriff’s Department when I take office to accurately assess needs and expenses. I plan to be direct with the Board of Supervisors on our needs and ask that they adequately fund them. My highest priority will be public safety, and how the Sheriff’s Office delivers that public safety to the community. The funds in the budget are the public’s money, and I am more concerned about using it responsibly than I am about currying favor to somehow get additional funds. I will never threaten or bully any other elected official, and I won’t play budget hostage games by threatening to cut items like the department helicopter or the Guerneville substation. These are critical operational assets and I will fund them via line items. I will not require/request residents to join in advocacy of the Board of Supervisors under threat of loss of services as our current Sheriff has deployed.

5. How will you improve the health and lifespan of inmates at the county jail?

DE: Wouldn’t it be great if Sonoma County becomes the place that other sheriffs look to for such best-practice policies and procedures? I am not returning just to fix our broken Sheriff’s Office, I’m working hard to turn it into a model 21st Century law enforcement agency nationwide. That aforementioned comprehensive audit will need to include a nationwide scouring for visionary approaches put into place by other Sheriffs who understand that the primacy of their roles in this is trust. We will find best practices that are already working elsewhere, and I’ll work with the Board of Supervisors to implement them alongside the ideas I’ve already outlined in my plan.

EE: Currently I am the Assistant Sheriff of the Detention Division, and I recognize that detention services are a critical function of the Sheriff’s Office. I am the only candidate who has worked in or managed a detention facility. As your Sheriff, I will:

  • Expand the educational and treatment services provided to inmates with the goal of reducing recidivism.
  • Strengthen the discharge planner program to further reduce recidivism and ease the transition out of custody.
  • Expand the existing Medical Assisted Treatment program, which provides people addicted to opiates with safe, alternative treatment to street drugs. I was instrumental in establishing this program and am proud of the positive impact we’re making as we fight our portion of the nationwide opioid crisis.

CT: In the long term, we need to stop using the jail as our primary mental health facility. This will take a comprehensive reform plan. Governor Newsom has made some interesting proposals about a CARES court in every county–but we need the resources and facilities to assist the individuals brought under the court’s jurisdiction. Short term, we need more mental health workers in our jails, and my proposal to audit our jails will help us identify problems and strengthen the care we deliver. It is simply unacceptable that we are averaging a death every three months at our county jail. One of my opponents has overseen that poor record at the jail, and I believe the public is owed answers of how we are failing at providing dignity and well being for those under our punitive, yet protective care.

6. How much of the current budget is devoted to outreach and community policing and by how much will you expand it?

DE: Nearly 80% of the $210 million dollar budget is devoted to salaries and benefits, and the majority of what is left funds legally required needs. So it’s not practical to assume one could shift around funding in a meaningful way to expand those two goals. The best way to deliver improved outreach and community policing is to reorient staffs’ interests and energies so they purposefully pursue them. It is not just money, it’s culture, and that comes from the top. Through a Public Records Act request, I’ve discovered that in 2021, 75.2% of our deputies’ patrol shifts were filled with statistical “free time”. That’s the highest number in the seven years of data that I obtained, and probably the high watermark in decades or more. I bet it’s even higher now, in 2022. Law enforcement leaders are happy if that number can approach 50%, because that’s about what is needed to allow sworn staff to do proactive things like outreach and community policing. Some deputies are choosing not to truly work, and the present leadership is not holding them accountable. If I am elected, my deputies will be out of their patrol cars a lot more, meeting the community that they took an oath to serve. See my “Walk Our Neighborhoods” program in my aforementioned 20-Point Plan for one example of this. Our performance in both of these important areas will spike on day one and without, as your question presumes, expansion of the current budget.

EE: There isn’t a clear answer to this question because nearly every employee has the duty to conduct outreach. Community policing and outreach start as philosophies and are realized through organizational structure and culture. It would be disingenuous for any candidate to promise budget changes because the Board of Supervisors approves the budget, not the Sheriff. What I can realistically discuss is my vision and work in this area. Through continued outreach in our communities, I believe we can foster mutual respect and understanding, and improve the relationship between communities of color and law enforcement over time. I helped the Sheriff’s Office take a significant step in this direction as a founding staff member of the Sheriff’s Community Roundtable for Equity, Engagement, and Diversity (CREED). The roundtable is comprised of a dedicated group of diverse community members who, without personal agendas, will help the Office be more transparent and more effectively engage with our communities of color. I will work hard to support programs and initiatives founded in principles of community policing that also reduce and prevent incarceration. As Sheriff, I look forward to personally engaging with members of our community and setting the standard for the Office to be fully engaged with all aspects of our community.

CT: There is no line item in the Sonoma County FY 2021-22 budget related to outreach and community policing. That said, the Sheriff’s Department budget was in the neighborhood of $210 million for this past fiscal year. It will be similar with a slight increase, in all likelihood, for the 22-23 FY. I plan to spend at least $5m on outreach and community policing, including the above mentioned community responder program providing 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, county wide mental health outreach.

7. How do you claim to be a change agent when you worked for a department that had a proven reputation for officer-involved shootings?

DE: There is a Japanese saying, “The nail that stands up gets hammered down”. Please look at my resume ( you’ll see that I have always stood out at the Sheriff’s Office as a “change agent”. On my own initiative, I’ve always struck out on bold efforts to achieve more and do better… and when I’ve succeeded, it has been recognized and appreciated.

As a leader, one thing that I’m still well-known for in the local law enforcement community is that I hold staff accountable, period. And, the higher the rank, the higher my expectations.

The law enforcement culture can be too much like high school, and I disagree with that. Popularity and being liked should not be a leader’s primary goal. I have never tolerated lazy deputies, and more particularly, bully deputies. Across-the-board, I have high performance and accountability expectations. My investigations of staff have led to much deserved terminations, and more. Out on the campaign trail, my competitor Eddie Engram is actually accusing me of being the department bully during my time. But we’ve seen where his weaker, friends-first/leader-second approach with staff and the deputies’ unions has led us. I’m not coming back just to fix our broken Sheriff’s Office. I am running strong to turn it into a model 21st century law enforcement organization, nationwide. Now, more than ever, we need change. For that to actually happen, we need proven leadership with character and integrity. Please do read my resume, and ask my competitors to finally publish theirs so that you can compare us all, side-by-side, for this critically important job. If you do, I feel confident that I will earn your support.

EE: Every employee can identify changes he/she would like to make in the workplace, and I am no exception. In order to make change as a leader, you need a solid understanding of the complexities of your industry and organization. I’m the only contemporary candidate, as the other two retired nearly a decade ago. Working at the Sheriff’s Office gives me an advantage in making change. I understand the evolving legal landscape and community expectations, and I know the employees who have the skills and abilities to implement my vision. To make positive changes, you have to have the support of the people doing the work. The majority of Sheriff’s Office employees support me, as evidenced by endorsement from the two largest unions in the Office. People routinely share that they support me because I’m fair in all matters, including discipline. I have the support necessary to improve the Sheriff’s Office.

CT: A “proven reputation” is an odd turn of phrase. Officer involved shootings are more than just a reputation. It’s a reality. I don’t believe that my former agency, the San Francisco Police Department, has engaged in an unusual number of officer-involved shootings. Even one extra-judicial death is too many. I am committed to implementing all oversight of IOLERO as a first step. I will also be revising all Sheriff’s Office policies, moving away from the current generic policies purchased from a corporation focused on limiting legal liability, and instead turning policies into thoughtful, community focused documents that put the people first and the legal liability second. Officers will be steeped in a culture of restraint and de-escalation. Not only are officer involved shootings a tragedy for the community that harm our ability to be effective as law enforcement, they come with a financial cost in the name of settlements and insurance premiums. As the elected Sheriff, I will work tirelessly to eliminate excessive use of force and wrongful death lawsuits from continuing to be the reality that we all pay for. The reputation of the San Francisco Police Department doesn’t define me; in spite of numerous dangerous situations that I faced, I worked there for 32 years without ever firing my service revolver. A fresh review of my personnel file confirms my strong record as a community-based police officer with many accolades from the public I interacted with over decades of service.

8. Please describe what your policy around body-worn cameras will be within the sheriff’s office. How will videos be made accessible to the public?

DE: Some law enforcement leaders had to be dragged into using this valuable tool, but now, most cops and in particular, the best performing majority of them, are grateful to have them. I will not tolerate “accidental” forgetfulness to turn body-worn cameras on when required, and I will be having my supervisory staff regularly viewing random contacts of staff who are assigned to them. I will follow the law on public accessibility, and opt for greater transparency when discretion allows.

EE: Body-worn camera video will be released in compliance with Senate Bill 1421 and Assembly Bill 748, which requires the release of body worn camera video in the event a deputy discharges their firearm or uses force that results in great bodily injury or death. Other body-worn camera video will be released on a case by case basis balancing transparency with the privacy rights of individuals involved in the incident.

CT: I will evaluate the current policy to ensure that it is sound and that all deputies are equipped with cameras, and that the cameras are activated according to policy . We will release unedited footage as soon as practical, within the constraints of the law. My message has been and remains a commitment to transparency. That includes the release of unedited, unadulterated footage whenever possible. I will immediately terminate the contract that the current Sheriff has with a national public relations firm whose job entails editing and sanitizing body worn camera footage.

Current Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick was saluted for how he handled the many emergencies the county has been in during his tenure by the three candidates running to replace him. (SMI File photo)
Current Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick was saluted for how he handled the many emergencies the county has been in during his tenure by the three candidates running to replace him. (SMI File photo)

9. What did the current sheriff do well? Is this something you will carry on if you are elected?

DE: I think that Sheriff Essick put his best foot forward when at least initially, he made video recordings to address staff about his thoughts and idealism. He also made a few videos addressing the public similarly. This started changing when he discovered that idealism without the requisite leadership ballast not only fails to move the ship, it lets the unrelenting tide carry it away. Nationally, I’m a widely read law enforcement writer. My articles on police professionalism, culture, fitness & wellness, and more encourage and even push law enforcement officers and leaders to reach for the brass ring. As Sheriff, I will author bi-weekly articles about the Sheriff’s Office’s successes, challenges, about its hopes and pursuits, and even its inevitable failures. I’ll make these available for publication in all countywide media outlets. They will be interesting, enjoyable, and expository reads, so that our entire community can hear it all directly from me. Also, I will make weekly in-house video blogs that will direct and inspire our staff to come back alive for our unified public safety achievement goals. Together, we will finally get this big ship turned around and sailing into law enforcement excellence.

EE: The current Sheriff has led us into advanced disaster response. In his tenure, the Office has responded to the worst flood in 25 years and three major wildfires: the Kincade, Walbridge, and Glass Fires. The Sheriff’s Office has refined and improved their operational response, including creation of evacuation zones; more robust and entirely bilingual public communication; and establishment of an agricultural pass program in collaboration with the County Ag Commissioner. As your Sheriff, I would ensure the Office continues to respond well to disasters. Everyone deserves to be safe during those crises.

CT: Sheriff Essick responded promptly and forcefully in his stated intention to fire Deputy Charles Blount for the death of David Ward. Essick released bodycam videos and said he would fire Blount, attempting to address the tragic event. Ironically, Deputy Blount was able to retire with his pension prior to being terminated. Unfortunately, Sheriff Essick fostered the gladiator culture that condoned Blount’s history of brutality that resulted in Mr. Ward’s death. I will work to change the existing culture to reduce or prevent these kinds of deputy misconducts in the future.

10. What kind of animal would you be and why?

DE: I love this question! I’ve always admired the unflappable, come-what-may, peace-loving resilience of water bears (google them). Nearly indestructible, whether they’re lounging around under 15,000 feet of sea water, carelessly traipsing through hot lava beds, or even floating aimlessly in outer space, they’re chill. Since I’m running headlong to be our county’s number one “peace” officer, yeah, make me a water bear!

EE: I would be a dolphin because Dolphins are very intelligent, excellent communicators and work well in groups. They are social and appear to be enjoying themselves in the wild.

CT: I’d be any one of my well loved, well taken care of, completely spoiled dogs. I may, at some point, be the Sheriff of Sonoma County, but in my own home, the pups rule the roost. Duke, the mastiff, is my loyal, but obstinate companion. Goose, the pibble, is so loving but also neurotic. And Tiny, the chihuahua, who has 50 different nicknames, and thinks he is very tough, can’t do anything without us thinking it is adorable. To come back as a well-loved, well-treated house pet is what I would like to be.

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