Candidate profile: Joe Cortez

Joe Cortez
Joe Cortez The Tribune

Joe Cortez’s top priority is getting more deputies on patrol and reducing response times to calls. To do so, he suggested giving county residents with non-emergency needs the ability to submit a report online or by phone, or training volunteers to take reports.

(Currently, deputies respond to all calls. The Sheriff’s Department has not explored an online reporting system because officials think it’s important for residents who want to make a report to be able to interact with a deputy, Bolts said.)

Both would free up deputies to handle more serious calls, Cortez said.

He’d also save money by collaborating better with neighboring agencies to share equipment. He also wants to examine the idea of creating satellite holding cells through various city police departments on certain nights so that deputies don’t have to drive arrestees to the main jail in San Luis Obispo.

A former Pismo Beach police chief overseeing 23 sworn officers, Cortez, 56, has led two other smaller police departments in Aspen and Brush, Colo. In Brush, where he oversaw a department of about 16 employees and 5,000 residents, Cortez said he worked to restore trust in the police department and retain state accreditation.

“My experience is leading individuals,” he said. “Management is management. The size of the (sheriff’s) organization is much larger, the budgets are larger … but the success I’ve had in police departments is what they need in the Sheriff’s Department: accountability, people recognized for good work and being rewarded for good work.”

Q&A: Four questions for Joe Cortez

Q. There have been some high-profile examples in recent years of problems within the Sheriff’s Department that have caused image problems and led the public to question the leadership of the department. How would you restore public confidence in the department? How would you change the culture within the department?

A. I would welcome independent citizen review of the thoroughness, timeliness, and findings of our personnel complaints. I'll also establish a professional standards unit as a stand-alone division that reports directly to the sheriff. Its mission will be to attain national law enforcement accreditation for the Sheriff’s Department (see calea.org) to reduce liability and increase professionalism. It will also conduct on-going audits/inspections of every aspect of the department to ensure efficiency and effectiveness and the best use of taxpayers’ money. Organizational culture will change when promotions consistently go to employees that best practice our values of honesty, integrity, and accountability.

Q. What do you view as the top crime issue facing the unincorporated areas of the county and how would you address it?

A. Gangs are out of control in our surrounding counties and we must make every effort to keep gang violence at bay. I'm particularly concerned about bullying in our schools as gang members intimidate, harass, and victimize innocent students. I'll maintain the presence of school resource deputies on our campuses. Likewise, we must be vigilant about sex registrants populating our communities. I'll continue the department's excellent sex offender monitoring program. The grip of drug addiction continues to waste lives and tear families apart. I'll work with non-profits and social service organizations because education and rehabilitation are the best ways to reduce future addiction.

Q. If asked to cut 10 percent of your budget, how would you do that while still maintaining current levels of service?

A. I'll review our entire operation looking for redundancies, new ways to streamline costs, and ensure full cost recoveries. We'll look to generate new revenue such as potentially charging jail inmates for medical care and other services. We'll seek to combine some jobs and eliminate outdated programs. Part-time positions may replace some full-time positions to ensure essential programs are retained while saving money. We will make use of part-time reserves to ensure community safety remains high and use volunteers to avoid cuts to needed services. We will work in partnership with our allied agencies to share resources and maintain safe communities.

Q. If elected, how would you establish a relationship with other elected leaders, especially the Board of Supervisors? What specifically would you do to improve relations with the board?

A. I've earned the trust and respect of every council I've worked for which in turn led to excellent support for the goals and objectives I held for the organization. They know me as being fiscally prudent, highly skilled, and an honest broker. Those same qualities will serve me well in my relationship with the Board of Supervisors and other government leaders. I have strong relationships with our local police chiefs as I helped hire most of them. These relationships will allow us to collaborate, consolidate, and share our finite resources. That is a win for our taxpayers.