Column: As San Diego Sheriff’s Race Heats Up, Residents Must Do Homework Given Challenges Ahead

The state’s primary elections are still six months away, but the San Diego County sheriff race is well underway. It behooves all of us to be very attentive, given the significant challenges facing the largest law enforcement agency in our region.

The June 7 primary will be the first time in more than 30 years that an incumbent sheriff has been absent from the poll as Sheriff Bill Gore retires after taking the top office in the department in 2009.

The four candidates running to replace him are Deputy Sheriff Kelly Martinez, the retired Sheriff’s Cmdr. Dave Myers, San Diego Assistant City Attorney John Hemmerling and Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Newsom.

Being a sheriff is a daunting task, and it is a position residents should pay close attention to in any election year. This time around, however, the race takes on a special scale due to the national discourse on law enforcement reform and the specific need to build community confidence in San Diego with some of the high-profile issues plaguing the department and our community.

Deaths in county jails have been a lingering problem for years, as reporters Jeff McDonald and Kelly Davis recounted in 2019 on UT’s Dying Behind Bars. This project found, among other things, that at least 140 people died in San Diego County jails between 2009 and 2019, a death rate not only tragic for many San Diego families, but costly for residents whose the county government had to pay millions. dollars in lawsuits.

This year, 16 people have died in sheriff’s department custody – although at least two of those cases may be linked to a recent outbreak of COVID-19. The county also currently faces at least 10 prison death or serious injury lawsuits, and has already paid $ 15 million in settlements and lawsuits stemming from five prison-related cases this year.

The Sheriff’s Department has also had a constant problem with racial disparities in its police services, report after report, finding that people of color are arrested, searched and subjected to force at higher rates than their white counterparts, even taking into account factors such as crime rates and poverty.

UT reporters Lyndsay Winkley and Lauryn Schroeder highlighted this in UT’s three-part Color of Authority series earlier this year after analyzing nearly 500,000 police and deputy checks. A long-awaited study of the department’s data by the Center for Policing Equity, commissioned by the department itself and released earlier this month, found similar disparities.

It should be noted that for years members of the black and brown community have openly stated that they experience different treatment from law enforcement, the fear this engenders and the need for law enforcement. local order to solve the problem. Yet the Deputy Sheriff’s Association has been hesitant, to say the least, to recognize that bias contributes to the problems we see in policing.

In addition to these pretty significant issues, one could argue that there is also a general cloud hanging over the department due to some high profile scandals and misconduct.

Over the past two weeks or so, we’ve seen Richard Timothy Fischer, a former deputy who pleaded guilty to charges of sexual misconduct at work with at least 16 women, returned to jail after being released earlier due to ” improperly awarded custody credits. Recently retired Staff Sgt. David Pocklington, while addressing La Prensa, alleges that the political motivations of the department’s most senior officials motivated decisions on the execution of court-ordered evictions during the pandemic; and the County Independent Oversight Board finds that two lawmakers failed to administer medical aid to a man who was found unconscious in his jail cell and ultimately died in county custody.

This only scratches the surface of why our next sheriff will have a steep slope to climb, not only to address notable departmental issues and improve its track record, but also to build trust and mend relationships with many. community members.

It’s also worth remembering that we all need to be fully committed to doing our homework on sheriff candidates in this election cycle.

We know the political games have already started in the race, with a noticeable flashpoint that could come on Tuesday night when the San Diego County Democratic Party is expected to weigh an endorsement in the race – a move that could prove to be pivotal for influence who will succeed Gore. .

Martinez and Myers are the only Democrats registered in the race, and therefore the only two who qualify to receive party approval.

Regardless of the outcome of this endorsement meeting or any endorsement decision by any political group, it will behoove all of us to do our due diligence with these candidates, whether they are ” attend community forums or closely observe their talks.

We owe it to all members of our community, especially those who have died in custody in the county and those who have spent decades being disproportionately targeted and fearful of the main body charged with enforcing the law. law of our region.

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