San Diego Voters To Choose New County Sheriff
San Diego county has a sheriff named Bill Gore. But sheriff is an elected office, and Gore was appointed by county board of supervisors after long-time Sheriff Bill Kolender stepped down halfway through his term. The county sheriff is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in San Diego, and the sheriff's primary election is coming up in June.
It's been 15 years since the race for San Diego county sheriff was competitive. That's because the name Kolender has been on the ballot for that long. But a year ago, Sheriff Bill Kolender announced he would step down. San Diego State University public affairs professor Glenn Sparrow said that makes this election a big one.
"For San Diego County this sheriff's race is a big deal because there is no incumbent and in San Diego we have kind of a history of electing sheriffs for a long time," he said.
This year there are three candidates for sheriff, and one of the people running is Jim Duffy. He is the son of former Sheriff John Duffy who held the office for 20 years. Jim Duffy is a lieutenant in the sheriff's department, and former head of the Deputy Sheriffs' Union.
The final candidate is Bill Gore, who spent 32 years in the FBI. Gore was Kolender's under-sheriff for three years. He was appointed sheriff when Kolender quit last year.
If there is an establishment candidate, it is Gore, who has raised more than twice as much money as either Duffy or La Suer. Gore has the endorsement of Bill Kolender and a majority of the county board. But Gore's opponents in the race say he doesn't have the background for the job. La Suer and Duffy say they understand the day-to-day needs of the department because they worked their way up the ranks. La Suer also cites Gore's lack of experience running a jail.
"Ask yourself if this man is qualified to be Sheriff of this county. The answer has to be no," said La Suer.
La Suer goes on to call Gore's appointment to the office of sheriff a backroom deal based on personal relationships. Gore's father and Bill Kolender were close associates when they both worked for the San Diego Police Department. Gore responds by saying the board of supervisors appointed him sheriff, not Bill Kolender. As to his background, Gore said his management experience at the FBI and the Sheriff's Department makes him the best candidate.
"This job is not about driving a patrol car around in San Diego County," he said. "This job is about who can run the third largest law enforcement agency in the state of California."
The County Sheriff's Department operates the jails in San Diego County. Its staff performs investigations and patrols communities that don't have their own police force.
Jim Duffy criticizes the current sheriff saying San Diego County has more than 70,000 outstanding warrants. He says this backlog is largely due to the department's policy of not jailing people who are wanted for many misdemeanor offenses. He said he would make it much easier for cops to incarcerate criminals.
"The law allows any misdemeanor with certain criteria to be booked into county jail, certainly any felony. And it's by sheriff's policy that we restrict that," said Duffy.
Duffy said he would hire a more ethnically diverse deputy force and promote community-oriented policing. Both Duffy and Jay La Suer say they'd make it easier to qualify for a concealed weapons permit. La Suer wants to create more jail space by housing prisoners in tents. He says early release policies at state prisons will put more pressure on county jails to lock up offenders. La Suer points out that American forces in Iraq are housed in tents.
"If it's good enough for our troops, it's good enough for prisoners," he said.
Gore responds to Duffy's criticism by saying as jail space has become more available he has expanded the list of misdemeanor crimes for which people are locked up. Many of San Diego's outstanding warrants, he adds, are not for serious crimes. They're for traffic violations. As for tent jails, Gore said that can't be done.
"Tent cities in San Diego county would not be permissible under state law," he said. "Jay La Suer knows that. And everybody in law enforcement knows that."
The June primary could give San Diego a new sheriff if someone gets more than 50 percent of the vote. But while Bill Gore has raised the most money, Jim Duffy has gotten the most endorsements from law enforcement groups. Jay La Suer has spent his many years in politics cultivating supporters.
Professor Glen Sparrow says he expects the Sheriff's race will go to a November run-off.