With Sheriff Mark Essick declining to run for a second term, Sonoma County voters will go to the polls June 7 to choose one of three candidates for the post.
If none of the candidates receives more than 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff during the November election. The winner will take office Jan. 2, 2023.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office is the largest law enforcement agency in the county, policing all of the unincorporated areas, the towns of Windsor and Sonoma, and managing the county jails. The sheriff’s office also provides courtroom security at the Sonoma County Superior Court and operates the county’s search and rescue program.
The agency employs 728 full and part-time staff. Among the 424 full-time sworn deputies and detention officers, only 66 are female. This year, the agency’s budget is $211 million. Since 2014, the county has paid $10.4 million to settle lawsuits brought against the sheriff’s department, plus millions more in attorney’s fees.
Dave Edmonds, the first candidate alphabetically, retired from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in 2013 as the senior captain after 32 years in the agency. In retirement, Edmonds founded, and currently directs, two law enforcement teaching nonprofits. He is also the contributing editor and content director for the national magazine, American Police Beat.
Edmond’s most prominent endorsements come from Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, Windsor Town Councilmember Debora Fudge and former Petaluma City Councilmember Matt Maguire.
Eddie Engram began his law enforcement career as a correctional officer with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department. He joined Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in 2002, where he currently oversees the county jail as assistant sheriff.
Engram has been endorsed by two retired Sonoma County sheriffs, current Sheriff Mark Essick, several local law enforcement unions, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and a variety of politicians, including Sonoma County Supervisors James Gore and David Rabbitt.
Carl Tennenbaum retired from the San Francisco Police Department as a sergeant after 32 years of service. In retirement, Tennenbaum has volunteered with Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) and worked to create community responder (mental health professionals) programs nationwide.
Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, Rohnert Park Mayor Jackie Elward and Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Natalie Rogers are among those supporting Tennenbaum’s campaign.
Kevin Burke, a fourth candidate who received the endorsement of the Sonoma County Democratic Party, dropped out of the race in mid-March, citing health issues.
With the June primary quickly approaching, the Bohemian asked each candidate the same six questions to get an understanding of where they stand on the issues which Sonoma County’s next sheriff will face. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to be sheriff?
I believe that I can turn the sheriff’s department around and make it a model agency, not only for the county or the state, but beyond. Under Essick, I saw the sheriff’s office’s performance and reputation getting worse. Then my friend, John Mutz (who ran for sheriff in 2016), contacted me and asked me to run for sheriff. John introduced me to people who have a real interest in change at the sheriff’s office.
I think that right now is a critical time for the sheriff’s department. First in terms of our relationship with the community and second because our agency is going through a transition where it is important that the next generation of leaders is the right generation of leaders. I think I am the person best suited to determine who those leaders are. Also, we are at a unique turning point in law enforcement. Several new laws have been passed in the last couple of years, and it is important that the next leader be well-versed in those changes.
I want to bring change to Sonoma County law enforcement. I have been a resident for 10 years, and I have seen some problems with the sheriff’s office, and a little bit of division between the sheriff’s office and the community they serve. I want to bring my common sense community-based law enforcement sensibilities to Sonoma County, improve those relationships and make the sheriff’s office more community oriented.
How would you deal with a deputy who uses excessive force?
I am concerned about what I have been reading, that the sheriff’s office has a bit of a cowboy culture. The public would be surprised at how little force-on-force training the officers receive. I want to bring in more law enforcement training so situations don’t escalate. I want to create a countywide peace officer training facility, where all of our officers fulfill their annual state mandated training together. Through merging our training budgets and resources, every one of the officers will get more and better training to make all of them optimally fit, optimally well and optimally ready to safely handle our county’s most dangerous encounters.
This will include a lot of force-on-force training that they do not get now. Doing this actually inoculates our peace officers to this type of stress so they don’t get fight or flight responses. This allows them much better chances to de-escalate, remain calm and peaceably solve volatile situations.
I would make it clear that the use of excessive force is not accepted. The next thing is the recognition that force is not always the first option. I would implement training in de-escalation, not only every couple of years, but on a continuing quarterly basis. I would set the expectation that excessive force is not to be tolerated and discipline officers when they violate the use of force policy. Additionally, I would not hire individuals from other departments with a history of excessive force or other problematic behaviors.
I would start with looking at the type of individuals we hire. How we hire now does not truly reflect the community we serve in diversity or gender equity. The training would de-emphasize the use of force and emphasize verbal skills. The current department policies come from a national corporation. They are vague and ambiguous and leave room for deputies to misbehave. I would implement policies that are clear and concise and leave no doubt.
Measure P, a ballot measure meant to expand and strengthen the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), was approved by voters in November 2020. It is currently in the courts, following a legal challenge from local law enforcement unions questioning the way the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors added Measure P to the ballot. If elected, how would you manage the implementation of Measure P?
Yes, I support the provisions of Measure P. Once it is ready to be implemented, I will implement it fully. The director of IOLERO will be a department head at the same level as me. I would welcome the director of IOLERO to sit in on interviews with staff. I think their assessment of the sheriff’s internal affairs investigations are right on. I ran internal affairs for a couple of years and I fired deputies who didn’t deserve the job.
I don’t think the sheriff can pick and choose what to implement from Measure P. It is the law. However, when everything is said and done, what the court determines to be legal will be implemented in its entirety. It is the law, and there is an expectation that the sheriff would follow the law.
I am the only candidate for sheriff who worked actively to support the Measure P campaign. If I am elected sheriff, the tenets and the perimeters of Measure P will be part of the organization’s philosophy.
How would you bring more diversity into the department?
I would have us go into minority communities and share with them the employment opportunities they might not be considering right now. And I would make the sheriff’s department a place where good people of diversity want to be. There is a nation-wide initiative called 30 by 30 intended to bring more female officers into law enforcement. That means hiring 30% female officers by 2030. Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro has signed onto that. The day I’m sworn in, I would sign that commitment and pursue achieving it.
My plan is to address it in several ways. One is to recruit more heavily from our detention division, which is more diverse. The second is to recruit entry-level deputies, focusing on qualified diverse applicants. The third is to recruit from outside the county, where it is more diverse. Historically, we have relied on lateral recruitment from other departments. As a result, we have taken the existing demographic, and we use that demographic to fill our ranks. I am also looking at the possibility of creating a police athletic league to engage with youth. Also important is the willingness of top-level staff to be engaged in the community, both at community events and in a day-to-day way, even when we’re not invited.
I would implement a very proactive and aggressive recruitment ambassador program. I would have female deputies and employees go out and recruit. What are the standards for hiring? Nationally there is an old-fashioned, maybe outdated, militaristic model of the ideal police. It narrows down the pool. We need to update the standards. I will look for people from the community who have the experience, and who represent the diversity of the community, to fill high-level positions.
How could deputies better connect with the public, given the enormous size of the unincorporated county?
The Russian River zone is 400 square miles with a minimum staffing of two deputies. I have worked that zone. The rural deputies need to get out of their cars and walk the areas that have some population and say hi to the people. I did it out there. I would institute a “Walk your Neighborhood” program. You put door hangers on the homes in the neighborhoods announcing the dates and times deputies will be walking around the neighborhood. Then you fill out a report on how it went and whom you met. You walk the neighborhoods with community members. I would read all the reports.
We can put on or attend events that are being held. The pandemic has shown us that technology has given us greater ability to engage with people, to meet with people and hear their concerns. We’ve seen that using technology is effective.
Deputies need to take an active role in community activities and attend meetings. It is not practical to walk some areas, but, where it is practical, deputies should walk those neighborhoods and let people know, “this is your deputy.” In other areas, we could use social media. Either way, the deputies assigned to those areas need to make themselves known. They need to be accessible. To make sure their information is out there. To make sure everybody in those zones knows how to get in touch with the deputies. To become part of the community.
Is there anything else you want to tell our readers?
I have a big bold vision to make the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office into all that it can be and all that it should be. It needs somebody who knows it from the inside. Somebody not beholding to the present way of doing things there.
My qualifications stand out. I have worked in the sheriff’s department for 20 years, in both the law enforcement division and the detention division. Also, there is the historic nature of my campaign. I am the first African American to run for sheriff in Sonoma County. If I am elected, I would be the second African American sheriff in the state. It’s important, but it doesn’t define me.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, I was the administrative assistant to the chief of police in San Francisco. I never crafted a budget, but I know how it works. I know how to relate to deputies because I did the work. I know what they’re facing. There should be no secrets in law enforcement. What are you afraid people are going to see? Policies are written to address liability after the fact. They don’t prevent bad conduct. I am the outsider. I’m the guy with the fresh pair of eyes, who sees the low morale at the sheriff’s office. I have no allegiance to the current sheriff or his underlings or his designated heir.
Find more information, visit the candidates’ websites: