Gangs, guns and accountability were among the top issues for the six sheriff’s candidates at Wednesday’s forum in San Luis Obispo hosted by the League of Women Voters.
The candidates spoke about the purported need of the Sheriff’s Department to quash gang activity here before it grows to levels seen in communities such as Salinas, Fresno and Santa Maria.
In addition, each emphasized the importance of developing a relationship of trust and openness with the public, which has been perceived as an issue by some under Sheriff Pat Hedges.
Deputy sheriff Mark Adams discussed making sure the public and media have access to how department money is being spent as well as releasing documented employee disciplinary action.
Adams emphasized a zero tolerance policy for gang activity and advocated early intervention programs that steer children away from gangs in the first through eighth grades.
He also plans to issue gun permits when legally appropriate, particularly for those who live in rural areas where law enforcement response times for emergency calls to those areas can be greater.
Candidate Joe Cortez’s comments emphasized fairness and what he said was his record of success when he was the Pismo Beach police chief.
He noted in particular the department’s high ranking (of B+) in a statewide public interest audit promoting open government in 2007. The Sheriff’s Department had an F+.
Cortez also said zeroing in on ringleaders of gangs and recruiters is key to attacking the problem.
Sheriff’s patrol commander Ben Hall discussed being available to public questions, including making himself available on talk radio.
Hall also said the department’s public information should be provided when people have a legal right to it. Hall also talked about setting clear lines for deputies to follow, and said he’d fire those who break the public’s trust.
He also emphasized the need to work together across all units to prevent a fractured department.
Former county supervisor and former San Luis Obispo police Sgt. Jerry Lenthall emphasized clear and consistent disciplinary action for sheriff’s staff and doing a better job of keeping the mentally ill out of County Jail — which is a big expense to the county.
Lenthall, a National Rifle Association member, said he would issue concealed weapons permits when applications meet legal requirements and give anyone denied a permit a specific reason. Lenthall also stressed consistent disciplinary action for employees.
San Luis Obispo police Capt. Ian Parkinson called for awareness of mental health issues and addressing problems on the street through community policing to avoid problems.
Parkinson talked about sharing with the public information to make the community feel comfortable about operations and tapping into the skills of all department employees from top to bottom. He also advocated periodic gang sweeps that could result in multiple arrests at a time.
Retired CHP officer Michael Teixeira’s talking points included donating 20 percent of his salary to fund gang diversion programs, training deputies for mental health response, and “very aggressively” issuing gun permits when appropriate by law.
Teixeira also said he would be available for media interviews and he feels that Hedges dispatched public relations staff to handle some questions that he should have answered personally.