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Endorsement: The vote for Sheriff

John Mutz, 68, is positioning himself in the race as the candidate who can truly change the culture of the Sheriff’s department. He was the Los Angeles Police Department station commander in 1992 where the infamous Rodney King beating occurred and he says in the wake of that he led a group of progressive-minded LAPD officials who brought a “cultural overhaul” to the department. Since retiring from law enforcement in 1999 and moving with his family to the outskirts of Sebastopol, Mutz has worked as a mediator and career coach with particular expertise in “transforming law enforcement cultures in order to improve community trust.”

Despite the many daunting challenges the Sheriff’s Office faces in the years ahead, there is genuine reason for optimism based on this Sheriff’s race – as county voters have three highly impressive candidates from which to choose. Two are seasoned leaders of sizable law enforcement divisions, the third offers a career of experience in the Santa Rosa Police Department as well as a second career in the service of its City Council.

We previously mentioned several issues directly facing the Sheriff’s Office and they’ll all be significant during the coming term. But the matter most under the microscope of many Sheriff’s Office watchdogs is that of reform:

A re-envisioning of the Sheriff’s role — beyond crime prevention and safety, to one of a community partner with mutual respect, a transparent work ethic and level of trust among the community that hasn’t existed in the past. Sonoma County’s is far from the only law enforcement agency undergoing such evolutions – but undergo them it must.

Olivares understands this well. He has strategies for 21st century hiring and promotional practices that would likely lead to a more diverse force and well-qualified command. A

s a childhood immigrant from Mexico, he’d identify with the county’s too-often marginalized Latino community – a key partner in hopes for better community-law enforcement relations.

His work with the California Cities Violence Prevention Network and on the Santa Rosa City Council have provided him a breath of experience in working alongside community partners to deal with city strife at the street level. If municipal reform were the goal here, or if he were running for another city office, he’d likely get our vote.

But this Sheriff’s Office reform is about properly run county jails, the transparency awarded through properly functioning (and turned on) body cams, warding off ICE threats, recognizing inherent bias among deputies, and holding law enforcement officers accountable, while still holding their respect. The world of law enforcement is evolving at a rate like never before.

Mutz’s work to reform his L.A. station command in the wake of the Rodney King beating is probably about as high a hill as a reform effort could be. His priority is to reform the Sheriff’s Office, but his experience in directly overseeing personnel – over 400 in L.A. – is demonstrative of a proven capability to manage a full department. “Cultures are changeable,” he has said of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. But they are based on “service, education, trust and respect.”

Essick is the insider in the race but he, too, makes a vocal call for reform.

He served on the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force formed to increase community engagement in the wake of the Lopez tragedy. He also testified last March against a former county Sheriff’s deputy, Scott Thorne, in a case involving alleged use of excessive force. In interviews with the Index-Tribune he’s been openly critical of former Sheriff Steve Freitas’s handling of the Andy Lopez tragedy and his former boss’s lack of community engagement in general. He says he’d pattern his sheriffing closer to Giordano’s openness for transparency and accessibility. He says he knows the department more than anyone, and knows how to transform it.

It’s been nearly five years since Andy Lopez was killed at the tender age of 13. But there seems to be another Andy Lopez every day. On March 18, 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot more than six times in his grandma’s backyard by Sacramento police who thought his cell phone was a weapon.

His senseless death just the latest in an ongoing string of killings that stun minority communities and tragically justify their disenfranchisement and distrust of authority.

The ghost of Andy Lopez walks on. It will be the burden of the next county Sheriff to ferry it toward peace.

Assuming two candidates continue on toward a November election runoff, we recommend John Mutz and Mark Essick.

– Jason Walsh, editor

– John Burns, publisher