‘A different breed’ of law enforcement: Progressive Sonoma County sheriff candidate Carl Tennenbaum promises change
Editor’s note: This report is the second in a series of three candidate profiles in the race for Sonoma County sheriff.
Carl Tennenbaum calls himself a “different breed of cat” within law enforcement circles.
As a police sergeant in San Francisco, the city of his birth, Tennenbaum legally changed his last name to its initial — so that his name tag could read “Carl T” in an effort to be more approachable to members of the community he patrolled.
“It was a creative act of defiance, and it shows my tendency and propensity to think outside the box,” Tennenbaum said. “I know it seems extreme or rash, but I’m having fun, and I prevailed.”
Though he has since returned to his given surname, Tennenbaum’s philosophy on policing and public service remains the same: be on a first-name basis with the community.
It’s an approach he brings to his candidacy for Sonoma County sheriff, and has helped him attract much of the local progressive movement.
A member of national oversight advocacy groups and a volunteer with the Measure P campaign in his retirement, Tennenbaum is hoping to return to law enforcement and bring sweeping change with him.
While his platform may echo the recent national movement denouncing police brutality, it faces an obstinate institution.
The outcome of the June 7 election will decide the second contested sheriff’s race in more than a quarter century (the first in 2018), as well as questions about Tennenbaum’s electability as a reformer and an outsider. Still others doubt the former sergeant has the requisite experience to successfully run the largest law enforcement agency in the county.
“Carl Tennenbaum’s lack of experience is substantial and unavoidable,” said Cody Ebert, president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the union representing sworn employees of the county Sheriff’s Office. “He only recently moved to Sonoma County ... so a working knowledge of the variety of communities throughout this diverse county and their unique wants and needs is glaringly absent.”
But Tennenbaum argues his career on the streets gives him greater insight into the needs and wants of both the community and other rank-and-file personnel than that of his opponents, Assistant Sonoma County Sheriff Eddie Engram and former sheriff’s Capt. Dave Edmonds.
For his supporters, the Sonoma County transplant represents what the agency needs.
“He’s an outsider, so he’s going to be running at a disadvantage already,” said local civil rights and police brutality attorney Izaak Schwaiger. “But from where I’m sitting, being an outsider is what this office needs to improve.”
A law enforcement history
The son of a Greyhound bus driver and a homemaker, Tennenbaum was born and raised in a working-class neighborhood in the Outer Sunset District of San Francisco.
He started in public safety as a city paramedic. In 1981, he joined the San Francisco Police Department, where his first assignment was a foot beat in the Tenderloin District.
Tennenbaum credits his strong social awareness to, in part, his experiences walking various diverse districts.
“I was just in the heart of the city dealing with some real intractable social issues, drug addiction, alcohol use,” he said. “I was the epitome of a community police officer before that term was ever even dreamed of.”