Mark Essick remembers walking into the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Auditorium Building in 1994, his eyes scanning the hundreds of applicants who gathered there, vying for a handful of job openings at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
He was 23 years old and had graduated from Sacramento State University’s criminal justice program a year earlier. Though he had some experience as a group counselor at El Dorado County’s Juvenile Hall, where he supervised the youth for about two years, Essick couldn’t land a law enforcement job in Northern California. While working as a Sonoma County Jail correctional deputy was not what he envisioned, he recognized the job could provide better opportunities down the road and decided to apply.
“I thought, ‘Well, I don’t really want to work in detention. I want to work as a cop,’” said Essick, who grew up in Novato and attended San Marin High School. “But it was closer to home and it was a foot in the door.”
On Monday, 25 years after getting the correctional deputy job, Essick, 49, was sworn in as the Sonoma County Sheriff, putting him at the helm of a department with a $177 million annual budget and a total of 635 employees, including sworn deputies and detention staff.
A ceremony was held at noon in front of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, where 250 people, many Sheriff’s Office employees and leaders from other law enforcement agencies, gathered to witness the event. Essick’s wife, Andi, pinned a sheriff’s badge onto his olive-green suit as their two children stood feet away. Essick then took the oath of office, administered by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt.
“I look forward to our continued collaboration in tackling whatever challenges and opportunities come our way in the next four years,” Rabbitt said during the event.
The ceremony comes more than six months after Essick was elected sheriff in June’s primary election, the first contested race for the seat in a quarter-century. Essick, who was a sheriff’s captain, touted his experience within the agency during his campaign, something he said gave him a leg up over the two other candidates, both retired police officers. Essick garnered 57 percent of the vote during the primary, beating his opponents by a large enough margin to avoid a November runoff.
Essick will earn an annual base salary of $201,000, Sonoma County spokeswoman Briana Khan said.
Speaking ahead of Monday’s swearing in, Essick, who now lives in Cloverdale with his wife and has two adult children, said one of his top priorities is improving how sheriff’s deputies connect and build relationships with community members in unincorporated Sonoma County. The task is difficult given his deputies cover a larger, less densely packed area compared to city police departments, Essick said.
While taking criminal justice classes at College of Marin, he learned about the community policing model, which places officers in the same patrol areas for an extended period of time to work together with the community to reduce crime. Hearing their stories about walking a beat and developing relationships with local residents and business owners was enough to entice him to continue his studies in the field, Essick said.
“In a good scenario, you should know the name of the cop that patrols your neighborhood,” he said last week. “That’s what builds the relationship. That’s what builds the trust.”