Trust In Law Enforcement Key To San Diego County Sheriff's Race
The election on June 5 may be called a primary, but for some races in San Diego County, June is a voter's only opportunity to cast a ballot. That is true in the race for San Diego County Sheriff, who oversees county jails and courts, and acts as a police chief for many of the county's cities and its unincorporated areas.
The candidates in the race are two-term incumbent Bill Gore, a Republican and former FBI official, and Dave Myers, a Democrat and 33-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department. Elections are decided in November only if no candidate receives a majority of the vote.
Gore did not respond to multiple interview requests in time to be included in this story, although he did later agree to talk with KPBS for an interview that will air on Midday Edition on Monday, May 7.
Earlier this year, he released a campaign video that ends with a statement of confidence.
"What I value the most is that we've earned the trust of the people in this community — the trust in my department and me in particular," Gore says in the video. "I feel like I'm the right person for this job, and I hope the people in San Diego County will instill their trust in me for one more term."
Myers offers a different assessment.
"Across this county as I've been campaigning, I've heard over and over and over again about mistrust — especially from our communities of color," he said.
Gore is favored to win re-election, with a lead in fundraising and the support of deep-pocketed unions representing sheriff's deputies and deputy district attorneys. But Myers may get a boost from an expected "blue wave" of Democratic turnout in California's first statewide election of the Trump era.
Gore has also been put on the defensive following several instances of negative media attention. In February, one of his deputies was charged with sexually harassing or assaulting a dozen women while on duty. Some of the women have accused Gore of being slow to arrest the deputy.
Last week a nonprofit issued a report criticizing the sheriff's policies surrounding mentally ill inmates at risk of suicide. Suicides in county jails had previously been called out as a problem in a series of investigations by San Diego CityBeat in 2013 and 2014, and in a county grand jury report last year.
"When the sheriff was told by the grand jury, 'You have the highest rate of inmate suicides of any county jail system in the state of California,' that information was dug up by local reporters," Myers said. "That information was published, he knew about it year after year after year. But in the end what he decided to do instead of fix the problem, be transparent about fixes in the county jail system ... he went after the reporter and the reporter's methodology."
One apparent difference between Myers and Gore lies in their approach to the office itself, and what role the sheriff should play in shaping public policy.
As the County Board of Supervisors was considering whether to support the Trump administration's lawsuit against California over its "sanctuary state" laws, Gore was quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune as saying: "I don't want to be in the position of telling the board what they should or shouldn't do."
Gore took a similar hands-off approach when the board voted last year to ban all sales of medical and recreational cannabis in the unincorporated county. The sheriff's department is now struggling to enforce that ban.
Myers said while the sheriff does not create policy, he has an obligation to inform the discussion with data.
"I see my role as the elected sheriff to advise the policymakers on the facts," Myers said. "I don't think they received an honest evaluation of what it truly means for law enforcement to sit at the table with the industry and create safe access (to cannabis). To me, and based on my experience of 33 years in law enforcement, that is how we create less crime."
>>> The election is on June 5 they may be called primaries but for some racist June is the only opportunity to vote. That is true in the race for San Diego County Sheriff who oversees jails, courts, and access the local police chief and much of the county. KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen says there are only two candidates on the ballot, the Republican incumbent and the Democrat trying to unseat him. >> We are not about capturing headlines, we are about capturing criminals. >> Reporter: This is a campaign video for Sheriff Bill Gore. It shows Gore in a restaurant shaking the hands of employees and diners. >> I look back on my eight years of Sheriff and I believe in making a difference in this county. Where the best people, given the best training, they are the best equipped. Unless the community you serve trust you you have nothing. >> Reporter: Issue of trust between law enforcement and civilians is present in the sheriffs race just like it is across the country. In his campaign video, Gore says things are good. Speaking what I value most as we earn the trust of the people in my department and me in particular. I feel like I'm the right person for this job. I hope the people in San Diego County will instill their trust in me for one more term. >> Across this county has I've been campaigning I've heard over again about mistrust. Especially from our community itself collar. >> Reporter: Dave Myers is Gore's only challenger in this case. Myers is a Democrat. He started as a deputy in the sheriffs department. Over the past three years worked his way up to commander level. He says he is running to replace his boss to restore trust. >> What I will bring to the table is trust and accountability with the largest local law enforcement agency and reduce crimes. I'm going to test rape kits, implement body cameras within the sheriffs department. >> Reporter: I meet Myers downtown across the street from the county jail. Meyer says part of why he's running is to reduce inmate suicides something called out as a major problem by a nonprofit last month. And the County grand jury report last year. >> When the sheriff was told by the grand jury you have the highest rate of inmate suicides of any county jail system in the state of California, that information was dug up by local reporters. That information was published. You knew about it year after year after year. In the end, but he decided to do a set of fix the problem, be transparent about fixes in the jail system, he attacked the reporter. >> Reporter: Court did not respond to multiple interview requests and time to be included in the story. He did an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune editorial board that agreed to let tran 20 -- KPBS use the audio. The board asked about highprofile police shootings of unarmed black men called for the shares department to reflect on a review its own policies. There is Gore's response . >> we have the shootings, this is something we look at. Are we doing the proper training and tactical communication, de-escalation. We do that and it starts in our regional academies. It is part of our continual professional training for deputies. >> Reporter: One difference between Gore and Myers as their approach to the office of Sheriff itself. Last year the County Board of Supervisors voted to ban all sales of marijuana medical and recreational in the unincorporated county. Gore stayed out of that policy debate. Now his department is struggling to keep up with all the illegal marijuana dispensaries cropping up. Myers that the sheriff should be part of the discussion around cannabis policy . >> I see my role as Sheriff to advise policymakers on the fax. I don't think the policymakers ever seen the fax. I don't think they have ever seen an honest evaluation of what it truly means for law enforcement to sit at the table with the industry and create staff -- safe access. A semi-experience of 33 years of law enforcement, that is how we create less crime. >> Reporter: Gores favored to win reelection. He is ahead in fundraising in general elections favor incumbents. The question is whether Myers can write the expected blue wave of Democratic turnout to unseat his boss. >>> There is another countywide race that will be decided next month. District attorney. The DA sets priorities when it comes to pursuing charges against the accused criminals in San Diego County. Former DA Bonnie demanded step down last year. Now a veteran prosecutor serving as interim DA is running against a criminal defense attorney seeking change. KPBS reporter Karen Minto says the race is one of the few can elections this year that will be decided in June instead of November. >> This is an opportunity for the candidates introduce themselves. >> Reporter: In a small room about the library the candidates running for district attorney's shared the stage. Summer Stefan and deputy public defender Genevieve Jones right. >> I am writing because a DAs office has been stumped upon as a criminal justice for firm. >> Reporter: The two whose careers put them at opposite sides of the courtroom. Stefan says her path to the prosecutor's office was influenced by her grandmother who survived the Armenian genocide . >> she would say it is really important to take advantage of the education, the ability for you to have a voice to help somebody else. >> Reporter: She says she excelled academically and reached high school two years earlier than most making her a target for bullies. Stefan says her past pusher to fight for victims as a prosecutor for more than 28 years. She led efforts to support those traumatized by traffickers . >> the victim centered human trafficking task force that holds offenders and organize crime accountable but also deals with victims with dignity and respect. >> Reporter: She emphasized to work for child victims. She says she used new practices to support young witnesses in the 2010 school shooting. She successfully prosecuted the gunmen. >> It was tougher than it looked because he brought an insanity defense and to court-appointed doctors said he was insane. But having a little bit OCD about little kids being shot, I read every single thing he ever wrote on his computer. I reviewed his whole history. We were able to show that he was not insane. >> Reporter: Last summer the county supervises appointed her as interim DA despite criticism that it will give here an advantage in the election. All Stefan's name and the election presents a challenge that her lesser-known opponent Genevieve Jones right says that her ideas will bring a fresh perspective and the DAs office . >> I have been working in the trenches every single day seeing how the policies and decisions that come out of the DAs office affect people, families, communities, whole neighborhoods, and this entire County. >> Reporter: Jones right grip in the Lincoln Park neighborhood where she says she witnessed encounters between the community and the police . >> all the time never positive. >> Reporter: She says people deserve a second chance, but too few of her clients get programs that would divert them from incarceration . >> when your circumstances where you know that someone came to you and they have juvenile delinquency records, that means they have been court involved before. What happened along the line that they did not get the help to prevent them from coming into adult court. >> Reporter: Her opponent Stefan had a hand in establishing one program for veterans. Jones right says that Stefan will continue a reform reverse -- Stefan's former boss in state laws that were reduced some crimes. San Diego voters approved them . >> these reform measures met signaled the direction the San Diego inns -- San Diegan wanted to go in. Where we were saying some punishments were too severe for the crimes. >> Reporter: In city Heights Stefan said the office took a proactive approach since California passed recreational marijuana . >> to find out if there is anyone that is incarcerated based on old laws that would not be under the current law. >> Reporter: Jones right countered that it was a collaborative effort . >> public defenders are the ones doing the applications because it DA is not just summarily taking things and reducing them down. >> Reporter: It is unclear how well each candidate will draw voters to the polls. The city Heights forum was filled with Stefan's friends, family, other supporters from outside the community. Unaffiliated midcity residents that she was not aware that the race would be decided in June. Another felt she lacked information overall. Third said she left the forum more conflicted than who would get her vote than when she walked in. >>> To see all of our election coverage go to KPBS.org's last election. -- KPBS.org/election.