Retired Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Ihde, an intrinsically private man who stepped up to become the region’s top cop amid a crisis of leadership and morale in the Sheriff’s Office, and who later reinvented the nearly bankrupt regional Goodwill Industries as its first-in-command, died Tuesday.
Ihde retired from the Sheriff’s Office in 1997 after suffering two heart attacks and stayed on the job at Goodwill through years of treatment for prostate cancer. He was 69.
“He was ahead of his time and a pleasure to work with,” said longtime friend and colleague Sal Rosano, the retired Santa Rosa police chief. He and Ihde were credited in the 1990s with advancing the professionalism of law enforcement in Sonoma County and breaking down jurisdictional and technological barriers that impaired cooperation among the county’s police agencies.
Tall, baritone-voiced and straightforward, Ihde served seven years as sheriff and restored much public respect and internal unity to a department weakened by his predecessor, the late Dick Michaelsen.
Michaelsen was criticized inside his department for controversial hiring decisions and within the wider community for political showboating and making flawed public statements in the aftermath of Sonoma Valley resident Ramon Salcido’s mass killings of his family members.
In announcing his candidacy for sheriff, Ihde, a 41-year-old sheriff’s lieutenant who joined the office two decades earlier as a reserve deputy, told supporters “I am not a smooth politician, as you can tell.”
Contrasting himself with Michaelsen, he added, “If given the opportunity and honor to serve as your sheriff, I will not exaggerate, fabricate or mislead.”
On election day in June of 1990, Ihde trounced the incumbent, garnering more than 71 percent of the votes.
Michaelsen later served as police chief and city manager of Waterford, in Stanislaus County, until his arrest on suspicion of embezzling proceeds of sales of impounded cars. He died of cancer in 2001.
As Sonoma County’s new sheriff, Ihde set out to mend the Sheriff’s Office, restore trust and the chain of command and lead the operation forward.
He was widely praised for rising quickly to the demands of a hugely complex job, leading a department responsible for providing law-enforcement services to all unincorporated areas of the county, operating the county jail, overseeing the coroner’s bureau and providing bailiffs to the courts. Challenges and controversies came at once.
In Ihde’s first year as sheriff, two rookie deputies crashed patrol cars while driving too fast, a courtroom bailiff shot and killed himself at the courthouse, an African-American news reporter accused the department of racial profiling, a young deputy was convicted of assault and a deputy coroner was jailed for stealing from the dead.
In October of that first year, 1991, personal tragedy struck as Ihde and his father, 72-year-old Maurice Ihde, were crabbing off the Oregon coast.
Their small boat capsized and Maurice Ihde died despite his son’s attempts to save him.
Mark Ihde continued to mature as sheriff, and by the end of his first four-year term was widely regarded as a strong, inclusive and reputable law-enforcement administrator.
In 1994, his bid for a second term went unchallenged.
Rosano, who collaborated with Ihde until his retirement as Santa Rosa police chief in 1996, said his friend and colleague “understood the concept of community policing” and proved himself eager to work with the county’s other law-enforcement chiefs “without regard for who gets any credit.”