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Measure P: Sonoma County voters back law enforcement oversight measure

For 2020 election results, go here.

Supporters of a measure that would strengthen and expand independent oversight of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office were celebrating Tuesday night after two-thirds of voters backed Measure P, exceeding the simple majority needed to pass.

Almost 67% of voters supported Measure P while just a third opposed it, according to results issued early Wednesday morning by the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters. Nearly 73% of precincts were included in the count.

The show of support comes months after thousands of residents flooded local streets and town squares to amplify demands for police reform heard nationwide following the in-custody death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck during an arrest.

It also follows a string of high-profile cases involving local deputies who seriously hurt or killed people they came into contact with, as well as the filing of several civil rights lawsuits against the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office that have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements.

“This was a test to the question: ’Does Sonoma County really believe in changing and reforming local law enforcement?’” said Herman G. Hernandez, a Sonoma County Board of Education trustee and volunteer on the committee supporting the measure. “We have to wait (for the final results), but I’m very comfortable with this lead.”

Measure P would usher in a period of unparalleled civilian oversight over the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office by expanding the funding and authority of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, the body responsible for reviewing Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office investigations into employee misconduct.

The proposal was favored by a wide range of the county’s local, state and federal elected officials. It had the support of several community groups and local criminal justice activists, though it faced strong opposition from the two unions representing Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies and other employees, as well as the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

Measure P landed on the ballot in early August after Sonoma County supervisors agreed to place it before voters following a surge of public support for the initiative set off by the killing of George Floyd. An earlier attempt to qualify a similar initiative for the ballot was suspended after the coronavirus pandemic kept organizers from collecting enough signatures to put the proposal before voters.

Several pieces of the measure were drawn from a 2018 annual report by the county’s first law enforcement auditor, Jerry Threet, that urged county supervisors to boost the funding of his office, which he said was understaffed, and help increase the level of collaboration between the Sheriff’s Office and his office.

Karlene Navarro, the county’s current law enforcement auditor, and community members put forth additional changes after the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agreed to review the initiative this summer. Navarro did not respond to requests for comment about the measure after the first results were released Tuesday.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick, who through a spokeswoman declined to be interviewed about the measure Tuesday, publicly questioned the legality of the measure and has criticized supervisors for placing the item on the ballot without more robust discussions with his agency about the changes it would trigger if passed.

The Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association, two labor unions that represent local deputies, said they too were left out of conversations involving the measure. Mike Vail and Damian Evans, leaders for the groups, did not return a request for comment about the early results Tuesday night.

The independent office would have greater access to evidence, body camera video and other records involved in its reviews, as well as have the power to subpoena witness testimony and records if the measure passes.

It would also guarantee more resources are funneled into the auditor’s office by requiring the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to set its budget at 1% of the Sheriff’s Office’s annual budget, a change that would have roughly tripled funding for the county’s law enforcement ombudsman in the 2019-2020 budget cycle.

Kimmie Barbosa, an activist who has overseen phone and text banking efforts for supporters of the measure, said the early support for the measure signaled to her that there could be an appetite for broader police reform in the county.

“We are winning by a landslide if we continue to see this trend through the morning,” Barbosa said. “A lot of people care about oversight and a lot of people care about justice. We can do more.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

For 2020 election results, go here.

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