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Hemmerling concedes to Martinez in race for San Diego County Sheriff

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John Hemmerling conceded to Kelly Anne Martinez in the race for San Diego County Sheriff Monday night. Martinez will become the first woman to hold the department's top job.

"It's exciting for all the women who have come before me and all of the women who will come after me," Martinez said in a previous interview with KPBS.

She talked about the advice she'd give her 21-year-old self just starting out in the police academy.

"I think sometimes, as women, we doubt ourselves a little bit," she said. "And I think I would have told myself: 'just believe in yourself you’re going to do great.'"

Martinez has been with the Sheriff's Department since 1985 and is currently the undersheriff. She is currently a registered Democrat, but was registered as a Republican until November 2020.

"I'm feeling really good with the early numbers. It looks really good for me, and am really relieved and excited and grateful," Martinez said Nov. 8. "Grateful for all my supporters, and I'm grateful for all the voters in the community of San Diego County, and I look forward to serving another six years."

Hemmerling is the former head criminal prosecutor in the San Diego City Attorney's Office and a former Marine Corps officer and San Diego police officer. He is a registered Republican.

"I still think the public wants change. They want to change the status quo," Hemmerling said ahead of final results Nov. 8. "I feel when it's all said and done, the majority of the voters are going to feel the same way that I do, and they're going to be voting for me."

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has more than 4,700 employees spread between jails, courts, a crime lab and 21 patrol stations and substations. It provides law enforcement for all unincorporated parts of the county and the cities of Del Mar, Encinitas, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, Poway, San Marcos, Santee, Solana Beach and Vista.

The Department also runs seven local jails, including the San Diego Central Jail, Vista Detention Facility and Las Colinas, and provides security to San Diego County's seven courts.

The sheriff is the county's only elected law enforcement official — police chiefs are appointed by their cities’ mayors.

The department has been under fire on several issues in recent years, including an epidemic of deaths in local jails. An audit found San Diego jails had a higher death rate than any of the other large counties in the state between 2006 and 2020.

So far this year, 21 people have died in local jails. That count does not include a man who died after being granted compassionate release to a local hospital. Last year, there were 18 deaths, which was the highest number on record.

The Sheriff’s Department plans to spend more than $11 million to fill vacancies in jail positions, plus $200,000 on body-scanning technology to stop illegal drugs from being brought into jails.

The department is also losing more deputies than it’s hiring, according to its own data.

In the last fiscal year, the Sheriff’s Department had a net loss of 110 sworn employees, according to the data. Among the employees who left, 186 retired, 70 left for personal reasons and 40 left for other jobs.

Since the summer of 2020, local law enforcement agencies have been pressured to make numerous reforms, including enacting de-escalation policies and training, banning chokeholds and reducing times when officers use force or shoot suspects.

The Sheriff’s Department has made some changes, including banning the use of carotid restraints and setting up its own de-escalation training. The department reported three times where deputies shot someone in 2021, down from five in 2018 and 11 in 2017.

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