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Sonoma County Gazette
Ernesto Olivares

Sheriff Candidate Forum #1
Ernesto Olivares

Mar 28, 2018
by Vesta Copestakes


Introduction to 2018 Sheriff Candidates

As many Gazette readers know, we want our readers to make educated votes when they go to the poles. Our next election will be the first time in decades that our county has had a chance to elect a new sheriff. At this point in the primary elections, we have three candidates running. When votes are counted in June, we will know which two of the three will continue on to November.

We asked the candidates our first round of questions - and will ask another three questions for the May editon.Send your questions to order of candidate answers was the order in which they returned their responses. To be fair, each candidate is given equal space. In their own words....Ernesto Olivares, John Mutz and Mark Essick are all asking for your support.

Ernesto Olivares

With over 40 years experience in law enforcement and public service, and my leadership experience in and beyond law enforcement, I am uniquely qualified to serve as your Sheriff to build a new culture of 21st Century policing.

As an immigrant and son of farmworkers; I was fortunate to be the first in my family to attend college. I later joined the Santa Rosa Police Department, where I served for 30 years and learned that the safest communities are those where there is trust between law enforcement and citizens. We can and must do better on this front in Sonoma County. 

I am a Santa Rosa City Council Member and have served as Mayor. My experience provides a unique perspective to gauge where the Sheriff’s Office excels, and where we can do better. This includes improving public trust, promoting community policing, and improving training and education for Sheriff’s Office employees.

#1 - When the United States de-escalated the Iraq War, many weapons, military techniques, and training came home to our civilian police forces, including war veterans who joined local law enforcement. What impact has that training, equipment, and those military-trained police officers had on how the Sonoma County Sheriff’s department functions?

I do not have enough information on the impacts of military training, equipment, and military-trained staff on how the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office functions, primarily because the Sheriff’s Office lacks sufficient transparency. However, it is my goal to work in partnership with the community, the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), employees, community organizations, and many of the recommendations outlined in the 2016 Presidents Report on 21st Century Policing to regularly evaluate the training needs of the Sheriff’s Office and to make necessary changes to ensure the safety of officers and citizens and to promote strong relationships with the community we serve. This includes enhanced training in procedural justice and other fundamental practices of community policing.

I will implement real-time data sources to show on-going metrics related to crime data, policy changes, use of force, personnel complaints, commendations and other relevant data with an annual report summarizing key findings for the community. I will develop a strong collaboration with, and support the mission of IOLERO and its Community Advisory Council. I will also commit to making policies available on the Sheriff’s Office website.

There have been many articles written about the “Militarization” of police. We must understand that surplus military equipment varies from floatation vests, binoculars, ballistic shields, body armor, nigh-vision goggles, automatic rifles, armored vehicles and other equipment.

While we must ensure our law enforcement professionals have the tools and resources they need to protect themselves and the community, we must ensure there is transparency and community engagement the type of equipment obtained and in how the equipment will be used. For example, in Salinas California, the police department had acquired a surplus armored military vehicle for law enforcement use. By engaging the community and other stakeholders, the chief developed a policy in which the vehicle would only be used for rescue operations and not as an assault vehicle. There was also a requirement for the documentation and reporting of circumstances under which it is used. In developing and adopting policies and strategies, Law enforcement agencies should ensure they reinforce the importance of community engagement in managing public safety.

As it relates to the hiring of military veterans, they will be treated similar to any applicant and not be discriminated against because of their military service. They will undergo the same background investigation including psychological testing, medical exam, and polygraph as other applicants. They will also be subject to the same processes I have outlined in question #2 to determine their suitability for employment.

Finally, I must ensure Sheriff’s Office employees have access to current training and education resources for their personal and professional development including leadership training for all department personnel.

#2 - Inviting greater diversity in the Sheriff’s department keeps coming up – both in terms of ethnic diversity as well as gender diversity. Do you think it’s possible to have the Sheriff’s department reflect the gender and ethic diversity of the community it serves?

Establishing a strong culture of community policing can contribute to building an organization that values diversity and strives to creating an organization that is more reflective of the community we serve. Through a strong community policing philosophy, we can share with the community the responsibility to recruit, test and hire for diversity. However, we must first work to implement some fundamental changes in recruitment and hiring practices.

The Sheriff’s Office currently lacks the full engagement of the County’s Human Resources Department (HR) in helping to identify the factors and barriers that contribute to a lack of diversity. Also missing is the engagement of the community in recruitment efforts. Just like building safe communities must be a community-wide effort, so is the effort to recruit and hire employees that reflect our diverse community. If our goal is an organization that reflect the community, then we must engage the community.

Changes I would implement include the engagement of HR as a proctor of the recruitment, testing and hiring processes. I would also invite members of the community to participate in the interviews of new deputies and in the interviews of employees seeking to promote.

I will ensure assessment panels for the promotion of sergeants, lieutenants, and captains are diverse and include members of allied law enforcement agencies. Besides this promotional assessment interview, employees will be interviewed by a separate diverse panel of community members who will ask questions related to the candidate’s engagement in community policing practices. Community panels could include but won’t be limited to, education professionals, community leaders, members of non-profit organizations serving youth or seniors, homeless service providers, victim advocates or other community members.

I have extensive experience in implementing these types of recruitment, testing, and hiring practices. In fact, you will find that many progressive law enforcement agencies across the country use these processes which are considered best-practices that contribute to increased diversity and public trust.

As it relates to active recruitment for diversity, we must also be willing to take diverse recruitment teams to outside venues. As the manager of recruitment, testing and hiring at the Santa Rosa Police Department, I have experience in bring recruitment teams to state and national venues including conferences of the National Latino Peace Officers Association, the California Asian and Pacific Islander Peace Officers Association, the California Black Peace Officers Association, the Nation Women in Policing, and the National GLBT Law Enforcement Professionals.

I also took recruitment teams to regional police academies around California to administer on-site testing and interviews for cadets who are unaffiliated with a particular agency. This accommodation reduces the number of trips a candidate must take to Sonoma County for the various testing processes.

#3 - Law enforcement agencies across the country have been accused of “shoot first – ask questions later” where victims of police killing were found to be innocent. Civilians are charged with different murder convictions depending upon whether they killed in the heat of passion, fear and self-defense, or pre-mediated murder. Do you think these same laws apply to police officers, or should they be shielded from these convictions behind their badge?

Officer involved critical incidents can be very complex and do require a high degree of scrutiny and transparency to determine if the officers actions were justified under the circumstance. 

Policies and procedures are the foundation of any law enforcement agency. They direct police chiefs and sheriffs, and their employees toward optimal safety and professionalism. They help create the culture of the organization and set the standard for everyone to be successful and to meet the community’s expectations. Policies must be legally defensible and regularly reviewed to ensure they meet changes in the law, legal standards, community expectations, and relevance.

Many law enforcement agencies across the county have been making changes to policies which have resulted in a reduction of officer involved shootings. There is research showing that in cities where use of force reporting policies have been changed, the number of citizens killed in police shooting has dropped. A standard policy in law enforcement is the documentation and investigation of circumstances where a firearm was fired. Some cities have changed their policies to require reporting and investigation anytime an officer draws their firearm. By review the incidents of when firearms were drawn, training needs can be identified and policies changed to reduce the number of officer involved shootings. 

Interactive scenario-based training is commonplace in today’s police use of force training. The scenarios are derived from real life experiences where officers have had to make use of force decisions. The interactive scenario can change based on the actions of the officer.  After each scenario, training officers debrief the officer to discuss their decision-making process. By developing scenarios that replicate the circumstances where officers draw their firearm but do not shoot, they can learn effective methods to de-escalate potentially volatile situations.

I will work to ensure Procedural Justice is at the core of all Sheriff’s Office training. This is based on four basic principles; Treating people with dignity and respect, Giving individuals “voice” during encounters, Being neutral and transparent in decision making, and Conveying trustworthy motives.

Key to success will be a strong collaboration with employees and the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach in the review and development of department policies.

I will make building trust a priority by engaging the community, employees, and IOLERO in identifying strategies and programs to strengthen relationships. My goal is to build a strong culture of Community Policing in the Sheriff’s Office. Strategies will include creating opportunities for positive non-enforcement activities to engage communities that typically have high rates of investigative and enforcement involvement with the Sheriff’s office.

Finally, I will support the mission of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach and its Community Advisory Council.


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