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There aren’t many Sacramento-area and statewide races that will be decided during the June primary, as most have more than two candidates and the state’s election format sends the top two vote getters to the November ballot.
But one that certainly has the chance to be decided in June is the race to become the next Sacramento County Sheriff. It’ll be the first time in more than a decade that Sacramento County will have a new sheriff, as current Sheriff Scott Jones makes his second run for Congress.
During his time as sheriff, Jones came under fire for his office’s lack of transparency and oversight, squabbles with Black Lives Matter activists, conditions in the Sacramento County jail, and not enforcing the county’s COVID-19 restrictions.
The sheriff’s office is responsible for enforcing the law in a county with roughly 1.5 million residents, as well as overseeing the county jail in downtown Sacramento and Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.
There are just two candidates in this race:
- Jim Barnes: A 24-year veteran of the Sacramento Sheriff’s Office who is endorsed by outgoing Sheriff Scott Jones. He currently serves as undersheriff in the department, and previously worked as a sexual assault investigator and homicide supervisor.
- Jim Cooper: A Democratic Assembly member who previously ran against Scott Jones for sheriff in 2010. Cooper spent 30 years working in various positions at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office before running for elected office. Prior to becoming an Assembly member, Cooper was the first mayor of Elk Grove.
Below are a selection of questions CapRadio’s Insight host Vicki Gonzalez asked them about their campaigns. Click play below to hear the full interviews.
The following answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
On calls for police reform and diverting money to other resources
Jim Cooper: There've been a lot of reforms, some good and some bad, some of them in a vacuum. And part of the issues we're seeing right now with the increase in crime, violent crime, is because of some of those laws that were passed. They were in such a hurry to pass so many laws that in the end, I think it ended up hurting the criminal justice system in some aspects … I think some [reform] needs to happen. There's a balance though. I'll tell you what, the first time somebody in mental health gets injured or killed, that's going to change things dramatically because you never know what you're dealing with and it can change on that turn of the hat. That's the most important thing. Mental health — we're in a crisis right now, but what's ironic, though — and I've authored some bills and talked about in the Legislature — at some point someone has to be the adult in a room and put these folks under conservatorship. No one wants to do that. And in some people's minds, they would rather have that person be out at freedom, walking around with no clothes on in 30 degree weather, than to be the responsible person and really deal with it. And some of these folks would be better off, not in jail, but in some type of facility they can get meals and medications and hopefully get OK at some point.
Jim Barnes: We've seen many incidents not only locally but nationally that really have impacted not only our communities, but obviously the nation. But when you watched George Floyd, when you had officers standing by and allowing that to happen to him, from a law enforcement perspective, it was that time of need where I told my officers, ‘hey, we're always solution driven, but right now we need to be quiet and just listen.’ What does the community need? How do we come together to provide a better service and not compromise public safety? And the relationships I've established in the communities with the community leaders and community-based organizations has allowed me to come to tables because people trust me. And I say, when I come to the table, we're going to deliver — that's what we do. But we have to be committed to doing the work long after the TV cameras are gone, long after the politicians are gone. Really, when the work is now, when it seems like everything is OK, that's when we really need to get to work and really put in some of the fundamental shifts on how we approach law enforcement.
On the Sacramento County Sheriff’s role in dealing with homelessness
Jim Cooper: A lot of money is being spent towards homelessness — it's gotten worse. The sheriff, law enforcement, has a part in it. But obviously, mental health and a lot of other services need to do that. The issue is it's been very heavy on the housing part and very light on the mental illness and also substance abuse, because a lot of folks that have the opportunity to go in don't want to go in for a myriad of reasons. You can't reason with some of these folks. So they've got to realize housing, housing, housing is not the answer. And I'll be honest with you, when you criminalize drugs, that made a big impact on those folks. They go to drug court, got help, got off of drugs. You're not seeing that anymore. Then also you think about this — we have a Boise decision where if you're going to move somebody off of a public property, you have to have a place for them to go. That's true. But in the meantime, the law also applies. So in a lot of these camps, you have drug dealing going on, you have sexual assaults going on and murders here in Sacramento County — last time I counted it was nine homeless on homeless. And law enforcement has failed to go to these camps and really address these issues. So like I said, not necessarily the housing part, but dealing with the crimes.
Jim Barnes: Well, the challenge is funding. And if we can have additional funding, obviously, we want to be able to get increased staffing. For me, I think as we're working with the county partners on looking at these encampment response teams … we should be just safety, security. We show up, we let the professionals get in there, engage with the population, get the resources, and we step back and only engage when they ask us to or when the need to rises … For us to move an encampment right now, there is a whole bunch of work that goes into it. We look at environmental impacts. We talk about safety and hazards … We usually put a big binder together. We present it in collaboration with the County Supervisors office, saying this is an area that's come to our attention, this is how we would like to address it. And then working with the navigators as far as transitional housing, how can we get in there? So when it's not just an enforcement and a move, where are you going to move? Let's have a place to take them.
On firearms and the Sheriff’s role in preventing gun violence
Jim Cooper: Well, No. 1, look at the incident that happened on K Street Mall. Those folks are prohibited from owning firearms. You have to enforce the laws. It's not the folks that were legal gun owners, it's prohibited folks, and that's been the big issue. And as far as penalties, folks don't want to see any increased penalties with that. So you have to balance that and really look at the stats of legal gun owners. You don't see it there — our concealed weapons holders. I support concealed weapons permits. When you go back and look at the numbers on that, it's folks like Smiley Martin, who was on parole and wasn't supposed to possess guns… I got one of the only bills signed by the governor on ghost guns before. So ghost ghost guns are important. We need to enforce those laws. So the hard part is … we have some of the strictest gun laws in California. Violent crime is up because the people that we need to hold accountable aren't being held accountable. And that's really the big issue.
Jim Barnes: Statistics show that the violence that’s being committed in the community are not from concealed carry permit holders. These are from people that are prohibited from carrying these firearms and are getting access to them. And with the improvement in technology and 3D laser printers, there's people that are making them in their garages. So they're able to access them a little bit more. You know, California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. And right after the mass shooting downtown, we had elected officials saying we need tougher gun laws. And we haven't been able to enforce what we have now, because the accountability based at the state … it's shown more lenient where people are not being held accountable, so much so that we're having to really partner with our federal partners right now because with early release and zero bail, people are getting arrested for a firearm — and we have it in the statistics — in the morning, and later that night or the afternoon they get released. Later that night, they're caught with another firearm. And so that's scary that that many firearms are in our community.
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