San Luis Obispo County sheriff's candidates back Latino outreach

The two candidates for San Luis Obispo County sheriff on Friday debated how they’d reach out to Latinos and other minorities and whether to form a citizens review board to evaluate complaints.

Both candidates agreed the Sheriff’s Department should hire more bilingual deputies, though they pledged slightly different ways to reach the various communities.

Joe Cortez, Pismo Beach’s former police chief, and Ian Parkinson, a San Luis Obispo police captain, will face each other in the Nov. 2 election because they were the top two finishers in the June primary. They are running to replace outgoing Sheriff Pat Hedges.

Friday’s forum, sponsored by Vision Unida and the Latino Outreach Council of San Luis Obispo County, was the first public debate for Cortez and Parkinson since the primary election.

The candidates will also speak during a luncheon in Arroyo Grande on Wednesday, presented by the Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach chambers of commerce.

Candidates for state Assembly District 33 and Senate District 15 also debated Friday in the Paso Robles school district board room.

During Friday’s debate, Cortez criticized the department for not having a bilingual deputy at its substation in Oceano.

“I want to get bilingual and bicultural deputies on board,” Cortez said, adding that he’s committed to hiring first from San Luis Obispo County.

Parkinson agreed that more bilingual employees should be brought into the department, but he suggested creating a liaison in the North and South County to reach out to the community.“Our job as sheriff is to protect rights,” he said, “everyone’s rights.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Rob Bryn said the department has at least a dozen employees who work as correctional officers, deputies and dispatchers who receive an additional stipend for having a certain level of translation ability.

Cortez, 56, pledged that he would restore trust, honesty and dignity to the Sheriff’s Department and, if elected, would not be a sheriff in the “ivory tower” but would make an effort to meet community members one-on-one or with groups.

Parkinson, 46, stressed leadership as the most important quality to connect with people and create a vision for the Sheriff’s Department.

He said he plans to connect with the county’s seven police departments to help local law enforcement solve each community’s problems.

Other topics discussed included:

• Whether to create a citizens board to review the handling of personnel complaints against department employees.

Parkinson said forming a review board is premature, but that he plans to reestablish the department’s internal affairs unit, which was disassembled when Hedges was elected. Cortez said he was “absolutely for” a review board, and also plans to reinstate the internal affairs unit with someone outside the organization who reports directly to ensure fair and unbiased investigations.

• Whether they’ve been responsible for the development and management of a multimillion-dollar budget.

Cortez said, as police chief, he was ultimately responsible for the budget. He said he produced 15 budgets, every one in the black, and trimmed the Pismo Beach Police Department’s budget “during good times.” Parkinson said during the past five years he’s been involved in managing the police department’s $15 million budget. “A budget is a team process,” he said. “The more people involved, the more creativity, the better you are.”

• Whether to legalize marijuana.

Both candidates oppose legalization of marijuana, saying they do not believe it will bring a windfall to the state and that it will complicate law enforcement efforts.

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Parkinson captured 41 percent of the vote in the primary race, followed by Cortez with 18 percent. Retired San Luis Obispo police Sgt. Jerry Lenthall, a former county supervisor, came in third with nearly 17 percent.

The sheriff oversees a $57.2 million budget and a 368-member department that patrols about 3,200 square miles in the unincorporated areas of the county. The annual salary is $182,104.


For coverage of the 15th state Senate District and 33rd Assembly District debates at Friday’s forum, pick up The Tribune on Sunday.