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Three men vying to become the next Sonoma County sheriff give voters the first opportunity in more than 25 years to choose a new leader for the county’s largest law enforcement agency.
Sonoma County sheriff’s Capt. Mark Essick, executive coach and retired Los Angeles police Capt. John Mutz, and current Santa Rosa City Councilman and retired Santa Rosa police Lt. Ernesto Olivares are all running on platforms to improve police-community relationships.
The elected candidate will run a department with an annual budget of about $180 million, more than 600 employees and two jails housing more than 1,100 inmates. It enforces the law in 1,550 square miles of territory, including the city police departments in Windsor and Sonoma.
The sheriff will be responsible for the tenor of the department’s relationship with the 2-year-old Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach charged with reviewing internal investigations and fielding complaints. And the next sheriff could continue to face pressure from a federal government trying to get local agencies to enforce federal immigration laws.
It’s unlikely there would be a contested election without the 2013 death of Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old boy carrying an airsoft pellet gun that looked like an assault rifle who was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy.
The community protested and grieved, and the shooting put Sonoma County on the map of a nationwide conversation about police shootings. Then-Sheriff Steve Freitas was widely criticized by the community and within his own department for a bunker mentality that left many feeling he had not adequately addressed the community’s outrage.
Sonoma County residents will cast votes June 5, and the top two candidates will face off in the Nov. 6 election.
VIDEO: Why are you the right person to lead the Sheriff's Office?
Here is a closer look at each candidate:
Occupation: Sonoma County sheriff’s captain
Quote: “As a sheriff you get elected because of the good stuff the patrol division does. The sheriff maintains a seat because of the good work fighting crime. And the quickest way to lose your job is to neglect the jail.”
Mark Essick is a 24-year Sheriff’s Office veteran with experience working in the jail, patrolling the streets, conducting internal investigations, managing budgets, writing policy and overseeing a staff of hundreds.
That experience sets Essick apart from the other candidates, in addition to his belief the Sheriff’s Office has already begun to repair its public image, made strides toward promoting diversity among its staff, and emphasized the good work of its rank-and-file employees.
But Essick said there are things he would change on Day One, such as ending a controversial method of subduing unruly inmates at the jail that is at the center of an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit.
“We are on the right track,” Essick said. “We’ve made incredible gains in hiring but we’re still not where I want to be.”
He has the support of current Sheriff Rob Giordano, an appointed successor to Freitas who emerged as a widely popular lawman following the October firestorm, when his plain-spoken command presence garnered public confidence. Unions representing sworn staff in the jail and the field also support Essick.
Read other stories about the sheriff's race
Sheriff’s candidates question each other's records on outreach
May 1, 2018 - At a forum Monday night, the differences among the candidates crystallized once they began asking each other questions.
Sheriff candidates support making police misconduct records public
April 20, 2018 - Sonoma County sheriff candidates support greater transparency in police personnel records and changes in state law, but disagree on how to go about an overhaul.
Sheriff candidates discuss cannabis at forum
April 12, 2018 - The three candidates focused how the department’s culture has changed, or should, in an era of legal marijuana.
Sonoma County sheriff candidates return to campaign trail after fires
Dec. 2, 2017 - Candidates for Sonoma County sheriff have refocused their campaigns after suspending political activity during the October wildfires.