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Public Safety

Racial, civil justice leaders cautiously optimistic about working with sheriff-elect Martinez

Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, candidate for San Diego County Sheriff, is shown in this undated campaign photo.
Kelly Martinez for San Diego County Sheriff
Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, candidate for San Diego County Sheriff, is shown in this undated campaign photo.

San Diego County Sheriff-elect Kelly Martinez won’t be sworn in until early next year, but she’s already making changes in the department, appointing a new undersheriff and assistant sheriff. This follows the concession of her opponent, John Hemmerling, on Monday night.

But Martinez now faces bigger challenges than appointing staff. There is the matter of what to do about a jail system with the worst record of in custody deaths in California, and more.

The North County Equity and Justice Coalition’s Yusef Miller told KPBS they’re ready to work with Kelly Martinez after she becomes sheriff. The question for him is: How willing will she be to work with them?


“Her ability to do what we need to save lives in custody is also tempered with needing to work with her to make sure that these reforms are implemented," Miller said.

The reforms Miller referred to came in a state audit earlier this year that laid out a number of changes to how the jail system is run. But he said Martinez needs to go beyond that.

“We have to make changes in personnel, we have to make changes in culture," said Miller.

Another take on the results comes from Lilian Serrano, the co-director of Universidad Popular, an organization that primarily works with immigrants in the North County. “In the communities that we work with, the sheriff’s department ends up being a big part of our daily lives," Serrano said.

She shares the concerns about the high number of in custody deaths, but she said she wants to see Martinez make other changes as well.


“There is a lot of work that still needs to be done to be able to foster and really create trust between the immigrant community and the sheriff’s department," she said.

We requested an interview with Kelly Martinez, but were told she was unavailable.

For now, like Miller, Serrano is cautiously optimistic… taking a wait and see attitude.

But it won’t be long before the rubber hits the road in the new Martinez administration. Miller said his group is expecting to meet with her in the near future. He said he’ll share the outcome of that meeting with KPBS; a moment when those calling for change will get a better idea of whether today’s cautious optimism is justified.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.