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Primary candidates for Sheriff (left to right): Jonathan Peck, Dave Myers, Chuck Battle, John Hemmerling, Kelly Martinez and John Gunderson. Courtesy photo/The Coast News graphic
Primary candidates for Sheriff (left to right): Jonathan Peck, Dave Myers, Chuck Battle, John Hemmerling, Kelly Martinez and John Gunderson. Courtesy photo/The Coast News graphic
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Primary Election: Interviews with San Diego County Sheriff candidates

UPDATE: As reported on May 26, John Hemmerling has withdrawn from the race.

REGION — For San Diego County voters, among the most important races in the June primary is the seat of San Diego County Sheriff. Seven candidates will be on the ballot to replace retired Sheriff Bill Gore in June — Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, Chief Criminal Prosecutor John Hemmerling, retired Sheriff’s Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Battle, retired Sheriff’s Cmdr. David Myers, Peace Officer Jonathan Peck, Combat Infantry Captain Juan Carlos “Charlie” Mercado and police Capt. John “Gundo” Gunderson.

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the June 7 primary will advance to the General Election in November.

The Coast News provided each candidate with five questions regarding top issues related to law enforcement, public safety and the county jail. In this Q&A format, The Coast News has included each of the candidate’s responses side-by-side to five questions. Note: Juan Carlos “Charlie” Mercado did not respond to interview requests.

Meet the candidates

Ofc. Jonathan Peck: A California Highway Patrol officer who has worked in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

Undersheriff Kelly Martinez: San Diego County Undersheriff whose past roles in the department since 1987 have included that of sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander and assistant sheriff.

Police Capt. John “Gundo” Gunderson: A captain of the Redwood City Police Department whose 31-year law enforcement career has also included roles in the San Diego Police Department, San Diego District Attorney’s Office, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the San Mateo Narcotics Task Force.

John Hemmerling: Chief Criminal Prosecutor in the San Diego City Attorney’s Criminal and Community Justice Division, a Navy Corp. veteran and former Field Training Officer in the San Diego Police Department.

Charles “Chuck” Battle: A former officer in the San Diego Police Department and San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the current owner of peace officer defense investigation company Sting Productions Investigations.

David Myers: Retired from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office as a commander in 2018 following 35 years in law enforcement, including several other roles in the department and service in the Carlsbad Police Department.

Ret. Army Capt. Juan Carlos “Charlie” Mercado: A retired U.S. Army captain and former deputy sheriff at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, according to his website.

Questions

TCN: Throughout the United States and in San Diego County, citizens and lawmakers are calling for increased transparency from law enforcement, particularly when it comes to use of force incidents. What practices would you implement or continue in the department to foster transparency on department practices and use-of-force incidents?

Battle: To the extent that a particular use-of-force were to become the subject or focus of public attention, I would follow the protocols which currently exist and are in place. The department must conform with the requirements to disclose such information to the public balanced against the due process rights of sworn staff as well as such rights as are enumerated under the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights.

Information related to a fresh, and/or, as yet, wholly uninvestigated incident(s) may be delayed until sufficient facts have been gathered by department investigators from which management staff could avail themselves of such proper inferences, conclusions, or of any articulated justifications having been offered up by involved staff, related thereto, which are not otherwise prohibited to be released publicly by any of the above potential requirements of applicable laws.

Peck: As we move forward, I will provide the balanced leadership and keep the department above politics and prejudice. As a grassroots candidate for sheriff, I am accountable to The People, not to the political persuasions of special interests in the County. I will deliver justice through constitutional law enforcement.

The Sheriff’s department faces a critical juncture in its history, whether to return to its constitutional roots or continue on the politically driven enforcement of laws, mandates and ordinances that continually conflict and violating The People’s rights. l intend to return the Sheriff’s department to its constitutional purpose by restoring the community’s relationship and confidence in their deputies. I intend on empowering The People in lowering crime and re-incarceration rates by partnering with them to institute effective community lead programs that will have a lasting meaningful impact.

I will continue to provide deputies with state-of-the-art body camera equipment which provides transparency and accountability for all the people and the deputies. If use-of-force incidents occur these body cam tapes will be made public as quickly as possible to reveal what really happened and stop the inaccurate and presumptive reporting by the Press or others who pander to fear-mongering and riotous behavior.

Gunderson: I believe in transparency when it comes to all government agencies. As members of the public, we all want to know our collective funds are being well spent and that the people we have chosen as our representatives are advocating for the beliefs of the majority. For far too long government agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department, have been more concerned with limiting liability than with admitting when mistakes are made and learning from those mistakes.

If you elect me Sheriff, you can expect I will be the first one to speak up and tell you when we get it wrong. A perfect example of that is the current process for reviewing jail deaths. Why shroud that in secrecy and hide behind attorney client privilege? The people have a right to know how we are conducting enforcement, what we are doing right, and what we can be doing better.

I believe in the timely release of video recordings when doing so will not hinder an investigation, in being open to inquiries from the press and public, and in sharing data about uses of force and other critical areas of law enforcement so that independent reviews can occur.

I would like to expand the utilization of local community groups in order to solicit input about the type of law enforcement services preferred in the different parts of the County. San Diego County is a rather large area, and using a one size fits all approach to law enforcement is not the best practice. I think hearing from each community about their priorities is critical in order to establish those critical lines of communication, and to build trust.

Myers: I fully support independent community oversight. The County Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) has been around for 30 years, the idea of civilian oversight of law enforcement in SD County was well ahead of its time. But CLERB’s role and responsibilities have not kept up with current community expectations and the changing law enforcement dynamics.

In Nov. 2017 I was in person and testified before CLERB asking your board NOT to dismiss 22 jail death cases. CLERB dismissed 22 jail death cases like 22 people never mattered. We don’t even know what happened. CLERB must review and report out all use of force statistics.

I fully support recommended CLERB reforms to include additional reform items: 1) the ability for CLERB to conduct pattern and practice reviews of law enforcement; 2) to obtain permanent outside independent counsel (independent of county counsel), and 3) posting unedited body worn camera footage online.

Independent civilian oversight for all our law enforcement must include all peace officers under the County budgetary oversight. When our work is done in public, our transparency ensures trust in law enforcement.

Hemmerling: I served almost a decade as a San Diego Police Officer, serving in Mid-City —one of the highest crime areas in the county. I am proud of the community connection I made there and how I took time to know and help families. I believe in community policing. Connecting with people one-on-one promotes trust and transparency.

There is no place in the Sheriff’s Department for any deputy who would allow racial, sexual orientation, gender, or religious bias to interfere with the fair and just execution of their duties. Each must consider: Is the contact or use of force necessary? That must be determined on a case-by-case basis—often a split-second decision.

I met with San Diego Asian Americans for Equality (SDAAFE) after the tragic shooting of Dr. Yan Li at her home in March. I pledged to institute de-escalation procedures to avoid mental health crises from spiraling out of control. SDAAFE President Joan Chen, Ph.D. stated, “As Sheriff, John Hemmerling is committed to opening and maintaining a direct line of communication with the Asian American community as he strives to reduce violence and hate crimes in San Diego County. SDAAFE is proud to endorse Hemmerling for Sheriff.”

I will bring real change and strong leadership as your new Sheriff. The status quo is not good enough. I will set a higher standard. My record of public service includes positions of leadership as a decorated San Diego Police Officer, Marine combat veteran, and six years as Chief Criminal Prosecutor in the City of San Diego. My education and diversity of experience are unlike that of any other candidate.

I will provide open and direct communication, transparency and accountability to every community — transparency and visibility are paramount.

Martinez: I believe the public will support the work of the Sheriff’s Department if we do it well and provide as much information as we can about what we are doing and why. Since becoming Undersheriff, I have worked very hard to increase information sharing and transparency in the Sheriff’s Department.

I directed that public notification of jail deaths be made within 24-hours of an incident occurring. I signed an MOU with the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) Director to allow a CLERB investigator to come to all death scenes that occur in-custody or as the result of a Use of Force. The Sheriff’s Department provides extensive information related to all our actions in the jails.

We comply with SB 1421 related to release of peace officer records and have posted publicly all qualifying cases. We respond to almost 300 public records requests per month. We respond to all media inquiries as quickly as we can. I directed the release of body-worn-camera footage in all incidents where death results from a deputy action and all incidents involving deputy shootings. That release is made as soon as possible or within seven days.

TCN: Crime increased in nearly every category in San Diego last year. If elected, how do you plan to address the recent rise in crime?

Myers: Violent crime in San Diego County increased in 2021, a report released Tuesday by the San Diego Association of Governments found. The annual report, “42 Years of Crime in the San Diego Region: 1980 through 2021,” found homicide, rape and aggravated assault increased 3%, 11% and 12% respectively in 2021.

As Sheriff, I will use my 35 years of law enforcement experience to determine where the vast resources of the Sheriff’s Department should be deployed. We must work directly with community-based organizations to prevent violent crimes. Data is so important in recognizing crime trends, allowing top Sheriff’s Department managers to prioritize resources where needed.

Hemmerling: According to the most recent SANDAG reports, violent crimes, including gang violence, have risen to heights that we haven’t seen in decades. Crime should be decreasing. As sheriff, I will partner with every local agency, and state and federal partners, to root out the criminals who terrorize our neighborhoods. I will crack down on violent crime, including drug trafficking.

As Sheriff, my ultimate goal will be protecting people’s lives. I will ask: Which communities are most impacted by crime? Are they receiving adequate support? Or are they neglected because they cannot afford the same level of staffing as neighborhoods with more money? Failing to provide adequate law enforcement to underrepresented communities is just as wrong as over policing.

Morale in the San Diego Sheriff’s Department is low, which affects recruitment, retention and performance. As Sheriff, I will recruit the best candidates and actively encourage applicants from communities of color. Every deputy will be trained on implicit bias, diversity, inclusion, de-escalation, and handling mental health crises.

I will work with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association to improve working conditions, raise pay, enhance benefits, expand advancement opportunities, and institute sound, constructive changes to prevent stagnation and improve morale.

Not everyone in San Diego County has the luxury of positive, proactive law enforcement support. Victims deserve a strong law enforcement response. Victims deserve to be heard, informed and protected. We don’t need more laws to protect the community — we need a professional, unbiased law enforcement response. Equal protection under the law is not only a constitutional right, it’s often a matter of life or death!

Battle: Law enforcement professionals understand that rising crime and a lack of proactive policing are tied at the hip. You want less crime in your community? You ask your police to do more proactive policing. Leadership cannot invoke proactive policing in even hot spots, unilaterally. Leaders must get buy-in from the community, first. Especially in these times, leadership has to have a meeting of the minds with our community leaders.

There are certain givens in policing: No matter how nicely they are asked, some criminals will not comply or cooperate with police attempting to exercise lawful control over them. Criminals who will not comply with lawful commands to submit to arrest provoke police into using force to gain their compliance. Defying police by physically resisting or assaulting officers will certainly result in some type of force being used to gain control of them for the safety of all involved.

When communities tire of being crime victims, all they need to do is to convey to their law enforcement agencies they are ready to support the police in their areas with proactive enforcement, even if that proactive enforcement means uses of force will rise correspondingly.

You cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Proactive policing creates complaints because criminals know that when they complain often enough, at least some leaders will blink and stop their cops from being proactive, making the criminal’s life far less daunting thereafter.

Martinez: I believe crime reduction comes from prevention, deterrence, and data-driven, evidence-based, information-led policing. As Sheriff, my staff will continue to work with our communities in partnership to prevent crime. Increasing awareness on ways to prevent crime is key.

We need to use proven crime prevention through environmental design techniques. Locking cars, homes and keeping valuables hidden is important. We can deter crime through lighting, camera systems and reporting. Deputies need to be present in our communities, approachable and available so that crimes will be reported. If we don’t know that crime is occurring, we can’t prevent or solve it.

Data analysis and sending resources where crime is occurring allow deputies to find the individuals responsible and they can be held accountable. Catching offenders isn’t the end to our prevention measures. We need to have programs and jails that focus on the root causes of crime. A holistic community-based approach to substance use disorder and mental illness is needed. I am encouraged by programs that the County has been implementing in the last two years.

The Crisis Stabilization Units are community-based locations for early intervention. Community members can walk in and get help with substance use disorders and mental health care. The Mobile Crisis Response Teams allow a non-law enforcement response before someone is in crisis.

We have robust reentry programs in the jail that work on the root causes of criminal behavior. We focus on family counseling, substance use counseling, education, job training and job placement upon release from custody. All of these programs will help to reduce crime.

Peck: The rise in crime rates is directly related to the morale and understaffing in  the San Diego County Sheriff’s department. Understaffing and low morale has created a void criminals are happy to fill. The response time to 911 calls has increased because there are not enough deputies to send on the calls.

The demonization and lack of leadership support of all law enforcement officers across the nation because of a few has lowered morale within and respect in the communities. The retention and recruitment of good quality deputies is essential to making our communities safe and reducing crime rates.

I will support the outstanding deputy sheriffs in San Diego County both in private and in public so the public will begin to see the high quality personnel that are employed in our county to serve and protect. I will not enforce unconstitutional mandates nor require any Sheriff employees to enforce them either.

TCN: The San Diego County Jail has one of the highest rates of inmate deaths, with a recent audit finding evidence of negligence from deputies in ensuring inmate safety and wellbeing. What are some actionable ways you would work to address this crisis?

Martinez: One of my three priorities as the Undersheriff, and as the Sheriff, if I am elected, is to invest in our jails. The jails are aging and in critical need of infrastructure improvements to make them safer. I have committed $30 million of the Sheriff’s budget to a renovation project at the George Bailey Detention Facility.

This aging facility does not always have running water, the toilets back up, the camera system does not work well, the doors do not always close, or they will not always open. I have also directed $16 million for wireless system upgrades throughout the facilities. This work should be completed early next year. Improved wireless will help with the connectivity of our health care systems. This connectivity will improve treatment.

We have enhanced the medication-assisted treatment program and will continue to expand it. This will help individuals who have substance use disorder experience fewer withdrawal symptoms and hopefully help with recovery. I have prioritized medical and mental health care screenings for everyone at intake.

I have begun rolling out the body-worn camera systems in our jails. We have tightened up policies regarding security and safety checks by our staff to ensure proof of life. I have stated publicly many times that I concur with the findings of the audit and am already working to implement recommendations.

Hemmerling: I will do everything possible to ensure that no one dies in our jails. State auditors reported 185 individuals died in county jails from 2006 to 2020, (more than 210 to date!), a higher rate than any other large county. Nine more jail deaths have occurred since February, DOUBLE the previous rate. I will bring strong leadership and sweeping change to end the Sheriff’s Department’s “lethal status quo.”

As a Marine Battalion Commander in Iraq, I commanded four jail compounds that processed 6,000-plus detainees —more than the pre-pandemic population of San Diego County’s jails — without incident. We provided a comprehensive medical screening of every detainee upon admission. As sheriff, I will ensure our jail policies align with best practices when performing intake health evaluations, including follow-up medical and mental health care and frequent safety checks. I will correct all the deficiencies in the auditor’s report.

In February, the Union Tribune published shocking photos of a dead rat in a medical examination room and heaps of trash and human waste in a jail unit for psychiatric patients. This filth reportedly led to an outbreak of bacterial infections. As sheriff, I will provide strict guidance and direction, including no-notice inspections to ensure such conditions never happen again.

Deputies should not be responsible for doing the job of professional behavioral health staff. When I’m sheriff, I’ll ensure Behavioral Health Services and the County Health and Human Services Agency provide life-saving and life-preserving medical and psychiatric care to inmates, both during booking and after receipt in custody.

I will avoid senseless deaths by providing essential screening, treatment, and supervision of inmates suffering from mental illness and those with a higher risk of death due to drug overdose. And I will take strong, decisive action to keep fentanyl and other drugs out of our jails.

Myers: I cannot provide a constructive answer to this question because I don’t have access to all the data and reports that Sheriff’s Leadership does. Even the CA State Auditor’s report on San Diego jail deaths, only provides a historical narrative on [the] rate of jails deaths since 2006.

While it offered many important observations, what it did not provide was a deep-dive into the core fundamental underpinnings of the jail system: policies, process, people and place (technology and infrastructure). The Audit declared that the high rate of deaths in county jails suggests that underlying systemic issues with Sheriff’s Leadership have undermined its ability to ensure the health and safety of the individuals in custody.

If the department is using the State Auditor’s report as a “roadmap” as Sheriff leadership has described it, it is seriously misguided as the Auditor’s report only scratches the surface of what is really going on in our jails. As Sheriff, I would implement a comprehensive review to get at the systemic problems that are at the root of the jail deaths. For example, the last jail death involved a fentanyl overdose.

The question Sheriff’s leadership should be asking is, “How are the drugs getting in the jails?” As Sheriff, I would immediately implement robust mental health screening at intake, create monitored drug dependency step down protocols, create robust and ongoing suicide prevention/monitoring processes, implement quality assurance programs to measure and manage jail processes. I would encourage and participate in ongoing Community Oversight Boards to ensure transparency.

Gunderson: Culture, culture, culture. Based on the recent audit, it seems obvious there is a general lack of caring about inmates among jail staff and department leadership. From medical staff failing to communicate to detention staff about an inmate’s suicidal risk factors, to deputies placing an inmate in a cell only to find that inmate unresponsive two minutes later and then waiting four minutes for medical personnel to arrive before anyone started CPR, to an Assistant Sheriff who readily acknowledges it is known that employees are not following policy.

I believe that all of the jail staff begin their careers with the intention of providing excellent service and protecting all people in their custody, but somewhere along the line leadership is failing to ensure apathy does not set in, and that is costing people their lives. Not all deaths are avoidable, but we owe it to everyone in custody to provide them with the safest environment possible so they can focus on proving their innocence, or paying their debt to society and rehabilitating themselves.

I would start by meeting with the jail staff employee groups to find out what resources they are lacking to be able to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. I would then work to provide the necessary equipment, policies, additional staff, etc. Once the proper tools are present, I would set an expectation of excellence and accountability in order to develop a culture where employees thrive and are devoted to serving the public.

Peck: Three major issues need to be addressed. 1) Over-worked Deputies working 12-hour shifts with additional mandatory overtime because there aren’t enough deputies to relieve them; 2) Not enough trained medical personnel to address the health needs of inmates; and 3) The infusion of illegal drugs into the jails which is unabated.

The obvious answer is to retain and hire more qualified deputies and staff. The only way to rectify the understaffing is to make San Diego competitive to other counties and law enforcement agencies in wages, benefits and provide exceptional training. Institute a more frequent drug testing policy for incarcerated persons to prevent deaths from overdose. I will prioritize working with all parties, community groups, deputy associations, BOS, etc. to take steps to resolve this dire situation.

Battle: Of course any inmate death is tragic. However, not every inmate death is preventable, no matter how careful, dutiful, or diligent sheriff’s staff may be. Great care is taken by sworn, professional, and by medical staff to ensure inmates detained in our various detention facilities are released in the same condition in which they arrived.

Logic dictates larger systems in the state would naturally have more of everything. The “audit” suggests the other counties — with smaller inmate populations – are doing more than is minimally required by state law in handling and caring for their county’s inmates while we are not? Is our county – by contrast – “negligent” because we only do that which is minimally required by state law?

Funding for the Sheriff’s Department is controlled by the Board of Supervisors. How would a sheriff justify asking for funding that is above and beyond those specific things and services state law has deemed are minimally required for detentions? A responsible BOS should balk at paying for any such “extras” — not mandated essential by state law.

Nonetheless, as Sheriff, such negative connotations cannot be allowed to remain unanswered. I would convene a Jail Inspection Team comprised of one well-experienced sergeant from each of the department’s detention facilities and task them with thoroughly inspecting each detention facility, tracking a hypothetical inmate through the system from intake through release. I previously participated in one of these jail inspection teams myself in 1992 when jail escapes were the issue. The same process would work here.

As sheriff, I would expect to see a list of recommendations from these subject matter experts detailing what can be done each step of the way to improve how we might better monitor the health and well-being of an inmate while in our custody.

TCN: Several North County cities rely on contracts with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office to provide law enforcement services. What are some of your goals for improving services and preventing crime specifically for North County cities?

Gunderson: I think one of the most serious issues threatening our society today, and definitely negatively impacting North County cities, is homelessness. I am encouraged that we are working to provide safe parking areas and a variety of housing options for those members of our community who have fallen on hard times and need a little help. However, there is a segment of the homeless population who simply do not want to contribute to society.

We are a free country, but we are not a country of freeloaders. You are free to express yourself and to disagree with others, but that does not mean you are free to pitch a tent on some of the most valuable property in the nation that other hardworking members of our society have worked to develop into open spaces for community enjoyment, leaving used needles and feces for innocent children to find.

For those members of our society, I would work with regional and state partners to hopefully create a transient tent housing area in a remote part of the county where folks who have no desire to work can reside. I envision the community would be proportionally funded by the county and all of the cities within the county, based on population.

We would provide tent housing, food, medical & safety services, transportation, and education opportunities at this location and assist those who wish to do so with reentering society on their own schedules. In the meantime, they would have a safe place to sleep at night and we could move forward with prohibiting encampments on any other public property in the County.

I believe addressing this one issue will significantly reduce the number of quality of life crimes that so severely affect North County residents today.

Battle: Law enforcement professionals understand that rising crime and a lack of proactive policing are tied at the hip. You want less crime in your community? You ask your police to do more proactive policing. Leadership cannot invoke proactive policing in even hot spots, unilaterally. Leaders must get buy-in from the community, first. Especially in these times, leadership has to have a meeting of the minds with our community leaders.

There are certain givens in policing: No matter how nicely they are asked, some criminals will not comply or cooperate with police attempting to exercise lawful control over them. Criminals who will not comply with lawful commands to submit to arrest provoke police into using force to gain their compliance. Defying police by physically resisting or assaulting officers will certainly result in some type of force being used to gain control of them for the safety of all involved.

When communities tire of being crime victims, all they need to do is to convey to their law enforcement agencies they are ready to support the police in their areas with proactive enforcement, even if that proactive enforcement means uses of force will rise correspondingly.

You cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Proactive policing creates complaints because criminals know that when they complain often enough, at least some leaders will blink and stop their cops from being proactive, making the criminal’s life far less daunting thereafter.

Martinez: I am proud of the relationships and long-standing contracts that the Sheriff’s Department has with our North County communities. We recently signed five-year extensions on all of our contract city contracts, and I am committed to providing the highest-quality public safety services to our communities.

I will continue to employ all of the policies and practices that are listed in answer #3 to ensure safe communities and a responsive Sheriff’s Department.

Myers: It is extremely important to engage with our youth before, but especially when they become involved with the justice system. We need to place the restorative justice process at the front of that involvement to break the school-to-prison pipeline.

Currently, in our schools, law enforcement is only used to enforce the rules, which only furthers the school-to-prison pipeline. I’d set up an elder abuse task force to prevent seniors from becoming victims and provide assistance when they are victimized.

In 2008, [I] led the application and implementation of a multi-million-dollar grant program funded by the US Department of Justice called “Operation Stonegarden” to address the increase in border-related crimes on the US side due to drug cartel violence in Tijuana and beyond. [I] brought together thirty state and local law enforcement entities from one county into a unified and cooperative team to combat border crime.

Peck: The rise in crime rates is directly related to the morale and understaffing in the San Diego County Sheriff’s department. Understaffing and low morale have created a void criminals are happy to fill. The response time to 911 calls has increased because there are not enough deputies to send on the calls.

The demonization and lack of leadership support of all law enforcement officers across the nation because of a few have lowered morale within and respect in the communities. The retention and recruitment of good-quality deputies is essential to making our communities safe and reducing crime rates.

I will support the outstanding deputy sheriffs in San Diego County both in private and in public so the public will begin to see the high quality personnel that are employed in our county to serve and protect. I will not enforce unconstitutional mandates nor require any Sheriff employees to enforce them either.

Hemmerling: Violent crimes, including property crimes, have risen to heights in San Diego County that we haven’t seen in many years. Under the current Sheriff’s Department administration, not everyone in San Diego County has received positive and proactive law enforcement support. I will ensure all communities, including contract cities, as well as rural and unincorporated areas, have full access to professional law enforcement, including traffic services, drug interdiction, and homeless enforcement.

I will immediately review all contracts for services, county-wide, to ensure all communities receive the best law enforcement services, while maintaining exceptional levels of public safety in every area of the county.

I am running for Sheriff to restore public safety. Crime is up in our neighborhoods and morale is down in our Sheriff’s Department. Property crimes have reached levels not seen in decades. Nobody knows that better than the families in North County, where organized teams of burglars have been targeting homes since mid-2021.

We need fresh, new leadership for a real change in how we safeguard our neighborhoods, run our jails, treat victims of crime, and protect guaranteed personal liberties. I am the only candidate with leadership in the entire spectrum of criminal justice, from arrest to prosecution to leading a large prosecution agency. I know what it takes to provide effective law enforcement.

Gunderson: There is a growing crime epidemic in our society from rampant retail theft and auto burglaries, to a very concerning issue of home invasion robberies. Criminals have become emboldened through decriminalization politics and policies that have seemingly left victims as the only ones who suffer negative ramifications from the actions of criminals.

I wholeheartedly support law and order, and the rule of law. I also believe in a well rounded community based approach to enforcement that includes education, diversion, rehabilitation, etc., but at the end of the day, there has to be accountability for the indifferent actions of criminals because without accountability, laws are meaningless.

To start, I would work with our criminal justice partners and legislators to advocate for laws that enhance sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders and remove the option for such predators to be released via citation or low bail. I would also, to the extent legally possible, cease the practice of releasing criminals early for “good behavior.” If someone has been proven guilty in a court of law, they should serve their entire sentence.

TCN: The Sheriff’s Department can now refer mental health emergencies to a Mobile Crisis Response Team. Do you believe this resource creates a safer and more improved situation for both officers and the members of the public, and why? Do you believe this is a step in the right direction toward future improvements in the department’s interactions with those with mental illness?

Peck: The Mobile Crisis Response Team is definitely a step in the right direction. Sheriff’s deputies are not mental health experts. The Crisis Team helps provide an alternative to arresting a mentally ill or homeless person and is definitely part of the solution. However, with our ever growing homeless population, The Mobile Crisis Team is overwhelmed and many times the only alternative is still arrest and jail. The effort is inadequate for the challenge San Diego County faces.

The cycle of arrest, release, repeat must be broken. There needs to be alternatives where people experiencing a mental crisis can be taken to receive care, temporary or transitional housing off the streets and start rehabilitation. There are many faith based organizations who are already doing good work in our communities that should be partnered with.

A deputy sheriff’s job is to protect all citizens’ constitutionally protected rights no matter the situation, preserving their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but are limited in their authority to do so by the rules and regulations passed by elected officials.

Martinez: Mobile Crisis Response Teams are a non-law enforcement response to individuals in mental health crisis. There are many times that individuals need counseling, psychiatric help, or other support, but resources aren’t available, and the police are called.

For too long this has been the only solution. These situations can escalate when a person who is suffering from fear, depression, delusions, or other mental crisis, sees an armed deputy or officer arrive and begin directing them to do things. Having trained, non-uniform and unarmed professionals provide mental health care is a much better solution. I have been very supportive of this program and our call takers are trained to route appropriate calls that come to 911 to the Mobile Crisis Response Team.

Crisis Stabilization Units are another alternative to the traditional model of a deputy or officer taking custody of an individual who is a danger to themselves or others. In those situations, an individual is handcuffed and spends hours with a deputy in an emergency room before they are provided medical care. The CSUs allow officers and deputies to drop someone off in 10-15 minutes.

The individual is provided care in a dignified setting, without law enforcement. These CSUs are free to the community and take walk-ins, which can help persons before they are in crisis. I wholeheartedly support these programs and other models that remove law enforcement from situations better handled by civilians.

Gunderson: Law enforcement response to calls involving persons in crisis have long been the result of society having no one else to call.

The fact we are now implementing teams of mental health professionals to respond to these types of calls for service is long overdue and most welcomed by law enforcement officers. Traditionally law enforcement officers have been given only two options to solve those types of situations, either commit the person to a mental health facility for an evaluation, or tell the family and friends who called there is nothing that can be done.

The most significant benefit to the MCRT is the fact it is comprised of a team that can focus on getting these folks connected with services that will help them over the long-term and not just simply resolve the issue for a night or two.

I would like to see us grow this program and use it as a model for other societal issues that have fallen to law enforcement by default but which do not truly necessitate the response of a law enforcement officer.

Myers: Over the last four years, I have been speaking out about law enforcement’s roles in responding to calls for people in mental health crisis. Law enforcement has a role in communities but I believe mental health professionals should be first responders to community members in mental health crisis.

The use of MCRT and Crisis Stabilization Centers will directly contribute to a reduction in the criminalization of those in mental health crisis and save lives.

Hemmerling: I fully support the expansion of Mobile Crisis Response Teams as an alternative to law enforcement to deescalate mental health crises in appropriate circumstances. However, law enforcement must respond to 911 calls where individuals become violent. Social workers should not respond in those situations.

Until San Diego County adequately addresses the lack of mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment with appropriate services like secured detox facilities that transition into supportive housing, law enforcement will always be necessary.

I met with San Diego Asian Americans for Equality after the tragic shooting of Dr. Yan Li in March. I pledged to institute de-escalation procedures to avoid mental health crises from spiraling out of control. San Diego County’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) consists of licensed mental health clinicians, paired with specially trained law enforcement officers and paramedics. PERT provides proactive outreach to decrease hospitalization and incarceration. PERT must be fully funded and expanded to all shifts—it needs to be the rule and not the exception.

As Chief Criminal Prosecutor for the City of San Diego, I have been a leader in criminal justice reform. Our Community Justice Initiative (CJI) is a post-plea program for low-level offenders, allowing cases to be dismissed by completing community service; participants gain access to education, job training, and drug treatment. Our San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track (SMART) program offers drug offenders social services, individualized treatment, and housing placement.

I will bring real change and strong leadership as your new Sheriff. I have been endorsed by the Republican Parties of California and San Diego, retired-Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, former-Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Councilmember Chris Cate, Mayors Richard Bailey (Coronado), Bill Wells (El Cajon), John Minto (Santee), the Deputy City Attorneys Association, Asian Americans for Equality and the Latino American Political Association.

Battle: Having this sort of mobile team on call is a great idea. I cannot agree it would be safer for everyone involved to send these folks in, either first, or alone, as opposed to sending peace officers to assess the immediate threat to such unarmed service providers and clearing the scene for them.

Irrespective of the benign intent of non-police service providers, those suffering from mental issues may still present as imminent, deadly threats to first responders of any kind.

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