Dave Edmonds, candidate for Sonoma County sheriff, wants to take on agency culture
Editor’s note: This report is the third in a series of three candidate profiles in the race for Sonoma County sheriff.
Retirement from law enforcement doesn’t mean withdrawing from public service to Dave Edmonds.
Since his departure from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in 2013 after almost 30 years at the agency, Edmonds has split his time among diverse pursuits, including volunteering with Christian service organizations, writing for law enforcement publications and launching a national nonprofit aimed at increasing physical wellness among first responders.
So, coming out of retirement to run for Sonoma County sheriff feels natural, according to the 58-year-old grandfather.
“I want to return to the Sheriff’s Office to make it respected, professional, transparent and accountable to this community,” Edmonds said. “We need someone who knows the system, but is not beholden to it.”
This is his second run for sheriff. His first bid, in 2017, ended with his early withdrawal due to meager support.
This time, Edmonds’ campaign promises he’ll bring internal accountability, employee wellness and community trust to the “sacred role” of sheriff.
He says his blend of insider experience as a department veteran and outsider perspective, gained after retirement, gives him an edge over his opposition — establishment front-runner Eddie Engram and insurgent reformer Carl Tennenbaum.
His message has drawn a modest and mixed range of supporters — but with Engram’s institutional backing and Tennenbaum’s appeal among progressives, Edmonds is battling both low enthusiasm and outright opposition from some community factions.
“Edmonds doesn’t have the outsider status of Tennenbaum; he doesn’t have the endorsements (Engram has),” said David McCuan, political science professor at Sonoma State University.
“Edmonds has to thread that needle, and I think that might be difficult for him.”
Some of Edmonds’ biggest obstacles have been his detractors within law enforcement. Some assert that he once represented the bully culture and “good old boys’ club” in policing, which he now condemns. They also contend that he still has a somewhat negative reputation at the Sheriff’s Office, earned in part by a lawsuit that accused him and other department leaders of discrimination and retaliation nearly 20 years ago.
The county later settled the 2005 case without admitting liability and Edmonds and the others were dismissed from it.
“He was the bully culture. He is one of the people who made the things so toxic in that department. And he is the ultimate insider,” said Nelson Pinola, a former sheriff’s lieutenant who worked with and under Edmonds.
Edmonds, though, said he has always served with integrity.
And, believing his supporters outnumber his critics, Edmonds blames autocracy at the Sheriff’s Office for discouraging any overt support for him among those in its ranks.
Growing up in a poor family in a small Central Valley town outside Fresno, Edmonds said he was drawn to law enforcement after his older brother became a police officer. After high school, Edmonds took a job with the Hanford Police Department in his hometown.
In 1985, he and his wife moved to Sonoma County, where he became a sheriff’s deputy. He held several positions across the organization, including field training officer, violent crimes and homicide detective, and internal affairs sergeant, before retiring as a captain nearly a decade ago.
In the first years of his career, Edmonds earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Sonoma State University while working the night shift on patrol. He later earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University.
Among his achievements at the office, Edmonds said, was the investigation he led related to the Ramon Salcido murders of 1989. The case took Edmonds to Mexico City, where he apprehended Salcido and, on the flight back to Sonoma County, obtained a confession to the killings while in the air over California.
As a retiree, Edmonds’ new roles include a seat on the Board of Directors at Redwood Gospel Mission, a Santa Rosa Christian organization that provides services for the homeless community.
“He has a desire to impact lives, and it’s just amazing to see how tenacious he’s been in trying to serve people, not for any gain for himself,” said Jeff Gilman, Redwood Gospel’s director and Edmonds’ longtime friend, who did not endorse a candidate in his role at the nonprofit.
Edmonds said he initially ran for sheriff in 2017 because he believed he was the right person to lead the office — a sentiment that has only intensified through outgoing Sheriff Mark Essick’s administration.