San Diego County will probably be getting a brand new sheriff. What adjustments may observe?


For years, critics have referred to as for reforms in legislation enforcement, together with altering how officers work together with neighborhood members, acknowledging that racial bias exists throughout the system and taking honest motion to counteract it.

These calls for have been amplified in 2020, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, and folks throughout the U.S. marched by the 1000’s in protest.

So what adjustments — if any — may the general public count on when San Diego County voters choose a brand new sheriff, the primary in a dozen years?

The 2 candidates — Kelly Martinez, the county’s undersheriff, and John Hemmerling, former chief of the San Diego metropolis legal professional’s prison prosecutions unit — every say they are going to take a high to backside take a look at the division with a watch towards making enhancements.

“I’m not shying away from this in any respect,” Martinez stated. “I’m actually excited concerning the alternative to sort of shepherd in a whole lot of these foundational adjustments that I believe our division wants and is prepared for — every part from the jails to the way in which that we work with our communities, and our workers, insurance policies and coaching.”

Hemmerling stated the general public “absolutely can’t be proud of the established order in place” on the Sheriff’s Division even when the individuals on the high try to make change.

“Both these insurance policies and procedures aren’t working,” he stated, “or they don’t have efficient management to make certain these are being finished correctly, and have correct oversight and observe up.”

Reform advocates say there ought to be extra de-escalation coaching to forestall police interactions from turning lethal and better restrictions on when officers can cease individuals. Some have referred to as for a ban on “pretext stops” — the time period for when when a police officer or sheriff’s deputy stops somebody for one thing minor, like a automotive’s damaged tail gentle, to be able to search for proof of a criminal offense.

A number of research have proven that such stops occur way more typically to individuals of shade, which reform advocates level to as proof of racial bias.

Research of information from native businesses, together with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Division, have discovered that individuals of shade have been stopped, searched and subjected to drive at greater charges than their White counterparts, even after accounting for components like crime charges and poverty.

The Sheriff’s Division can be below stress to forestall in-custody deaths. An investigation by the Union-Tribune in 2019 discovered that San Diego County jails have the best mortality fee amongst California’s six largest jail programs. To this point this yr, 19 individuals have died in sheriff’s custody, a document excessive.

All through her 37 years with the division, Martinez has labored within the jails, in addition to on patrol, investigations and, finally, administrative management. In 2021, then-Sheriff Invoice Gore promoted her to undersheriff, making her answerable for day-to-day operations.

Martinez has stated she respects Gore, who helmed the division for greater than 12 years, however she refutes any suggestion she represents extra of the identical. If elected, Martinez could be the county’s first feminine sheriff.

“I’m new management,” Martinez stated final week at a discussion board sponsored by the Union-Tribune editorial board.

Hemmerling stated the Sheriff’s Division wants a tradition shift.

“If we hold doing the identical previous issues, we’ll hold getting the identical poor outcomes,” he stated.

The newly retired prosecutor spent 9 years as a San Diego police officer and 30 years as a Marine (each energetic responsibility and reserves), retiring as a colonel. Throughout his army time, he oversaw 4 jails in Iraq with greater than 6,000 detainees, post-Abu Ghraib scandal.

In interviews and on the discussion board each candidates spoke of adjustments wanted within the jails and talked up the worth of deputies de-escalating tense encounters on the streets. Each stated they need to leverage expertise to make enhancements. Neither stated they might finish pretext stops.


Martinez stated earlier this month that in her a long time with the division, she has “by no means seen the sort of adjustments we’re seeing proper now.”

She stated the division is making “monumental adjustments” within the jail services, together with spending $50 million to modernize the almost 30-year-old George Bailey Detention Facility in Otay Mesa.

New arrestees now get bodily and psychological well being screenings when they’re booked, in addition to a drug take a look at so jail staffers can put together drug withdrawal protocols if wanted. Deputies are sporting body-worn cameras at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, and different jails are anticipated to observe swimsuit.

To assist combat fentanyl overdoses, the division put naloxone — which reverses the consequences of an opioid overdose — into inmate housing, and mail to inmates will get an in depth inspection for medicine.

Requested about racial bias in policing and what adjustments — if any — the division ought to make, Martinez stated society is “very divided proper now,” with a “tone of what’s completely different about one another reasonably than what’s proper.”

“I don’t assume anybody comes onto the Sheriff’s Division planning to be biased,” she stated. “Actually, the aim is to assist individuals.

“No one needs to be unfair within the work that they do or deal with individuals otherwise. However I believe we should be vigilant to forestall enforcement choices which are based mostly on race or socio-economic standing or different causes which are something however honest, unbiased and lawful. And we’ve insurance policies and oversight in place to hopefully to forestall that.”

She stated she needs to collaborate with communities, to “co-determine what sort of legislation enforcement responses they need.”

“I believe that we’re open to these conversations,” she stated. “And I believe that’s what our communities are asking for.”

Martinez stated pretext stops can flip up weapons and medicines and assist hold the general public protected. On the discussion board final week she stated the stops are “an vital instrument and an vital approach for for deputies to cease prison exercise.”

Martinez stated she critiques a whole lot of body-worn digital camera footage, and sees that deputies are “getting higher at speaking to individuals and to de-escalate,” together with them “understanding that we are able to stroll away from sure conditions.”

She stated the division lately has grow to be extra clear, releasing body-worn digital camera footage and details about in-custody deaths “extra rapidly than the previous.”

And he or she famous that when protestors demanded reforms within the days following Floyd’s demise, the previous sheriff agreed to finish the usage of the carotid restraint (additionally referred to as the sleeper maintain). Critics say it’s harmful and is used disproportionately on individuals of shade, and native activists had been pushing for years to ban it.


Hemmerling stated the foundation of the division’s issues is lack of management.

Requested on the discussion board for his ideas on pretext stops, Hemmerling stated he helps deputies having “the instruments to have the ability to do correct investigations to maintain our public protected.”

Concerning the racial disparities indicated in cease knowledge, Hemmerling stated every incident ought to be seen individually to find out if the cease or drive was mandatory, reasonably than pointing to a set of information and reacting to it.

“You simply can’t take a look at it in a single big broad brush,” he stated on the discussion board. “You must really take a look at every a type of stops and say ‘What’s happening with that? What was the result?’”

Earlier this month, he stated the welfare of officers and the general public’s security “can’t fall sufferer to a social scientist’s knowledge sheet.”

Hemmerling stated deputies ought to have extra coaching on de-escalation and stated he would evaluation present insurance policies to increase choices for deputies to make use of, and to incorporate greatest practices.

“Generally de-escalation requires strolling away,” he stated. “I’ve been on the streets. I’ve arrested lots of people and had a whole lot of confrontations. Ego will get concerned generally and also you don’t need to stroll away, despite the fact that you in all probability ought to. That’s a part of de-escalation and telling deputies it’s OK” to take action.

Hemmerling stated he needs to vastly increase the provision of the Psychiatric Emergency Response Workforce, or PERT, that are groups of deputies and psychological well being clinicians dispatched to 911 calls that contain an individual with mentally sickness who could also be in disaster.

“It must be the rule and never the exception,” he stated.

He additionally stated deputies who encounter people who find themselves below the affect of medication ought to have the choice of taking them on to safe sobering facilities as a substitute of jail.

Offering diversion earlier than arrest saves time and money, he stated. Beneath the legislation, if the case goes to court docket, the offender seemingly could be provided the choice of therapy.

“Why would you wait till step seven?” he stated. “Now you’re a number of steps down the highway and (have spent) 1000’s and 1000’s of {dollars}.”’

Such a program is already in use within the metropolis of San Diego. Hemmerling needs to see it within the county areas.

Earlier this yr, a state audit of San Diego’s jails discovered that inmates would proceed to die with out significant change to medical and psychological healthcare supplied in these services. It additionally discovered that deputies weren’t adequately performing security checks. The audit steered “underlying systemic points” undermined the division’s skill to make sure that individuals in custody have been protected and wholesome.

Hemmerling famous that months after the state audit, the jails nonetheless have a document variety of deaths.

“I need to deal with it just like the emergency and precedence it’s,” he stated.

He stated he needs investigations into how fentanyl is moving into the jails, and desires guests to the services, together with attorneys, to stroll by way of physique scanners to assist forestall medicine from being smuggled in.

He stated the division have to be extra clear — together with by sharing data with the households of people that died in jail.

Close to the tip of the Union-Tribune discussion board final week, a few dozen relations of people that died within the jails confirmed up, demanding details about what occurred to their family members. Members of 1 household stated they’ve been asking for 15 months.

Afterward, Hemmerling stayed and talked with them.

Martinez left when the discussion board ended. Requested about it later, she stated the setting “wasn’t going to be conducive to offering the households the respect, grace or solutions they have been on the lookout for,” and stated the division would work with the households privately.

Six-year time period this time round

The county Sheriff’s Division has greater than 4,600 staffers and an annual price range of $1.1 billion. It handles legislation enforcement in 9 cities, from Imperial Seashore to Vista, in addition to the county’s unincorporated areas. It additionally offers safety within the courts and runs the county’s seven jails.

Whoever wins this yr will get the job for a six-year time period, not the standard 4.

That’s as a result of new laws added two years to the time period for all sheriff and district legal professional races throughout the state on this election yr. The one-time enhance is designed to place these races according to presidential election years sooner or later.

The sheriff and district legal professional phrases will revert to 4 years in 2028.

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