Seeking his fifth term, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern touts numerous accomplishments: his deputies were first to wear body-worn cameras. He established a cold-case unit to investigate unsolved homicides, advanced department technology to solve crimes, and expanded his aviation fleet to fight crime. He’s instituted procedures to address issues like poverty, drugs and unemployment. He operates programs that distribute food to needy residents.
All of this good work is to be saluted, but we believe it's time for a change in leadership at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO).
Under Ahern’s 14-year watch, the suicide rate among inmates at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin rose to one of the worst in the United States. In an interview last year, Ahern blamed the Board of Supervisors (BOS), saying the jail’s problems could have been avoided had they listened to his calls a decade earlier for more funding.
But Ahern was Sheriff and appears to have done little to improve conditions in the jail until forced to do so.
In 2018, attorneys representing inmates sued the Sheriff and the county in U.S. District Court, charging that the jail needed an increase in staff and mental health programs to deal with the suicide problem. After experts analyzed the jail and agreed with many of the lawsuit’s allegations, the BOS approved $318 million to be spent through 2023 to institute changes. Officials said they knew they had to provide the money because they were going to lose in court.
The case settled in February with a “consent decree” requiring a federal judge to monitor over the next six years whether the county properly institutes what is necessary to improve jail conditions.
While funding can certainly provide the needed psychiatric care for those suffering from mental health disabilities, other mandates brought on by the lawsuit included things as simple as increased out-of-cell time and provisions for use-of-force, which could have been corrective actions taken long before litigation. There has been a clear pattern of poor internal training for employees who already were paid with taxpayers’ dollars prior to the jail receiving the additional funding. As a leader, Ahern should not have blamed this on financial woes alone.
Division Cmdr. Yesenia Sanchez would bring a fresh approach to running a department that has employed her since 2001. Rising through the ranks to the top, she would become the first Latina and woman to head the law enforcement agency.
Put in charge of the jail in April 2021, the Livermore resident already has first-hand experience to implement the consent decree’s requirements. Her campaign platform includes community engagement, transparency and accountability. She has vowed to listen to residents, work with community organizations, focus on crime prevention, provide mental health support services for those who need it, and institute crisis intervention training and de-escalation techniques for deputies.
Sanchez said she will listen to young deputies’ ideas and improve morale in the force.
The third candidate, veteran San Francisco police Officer JoAnn Walker, lacks the leadership experience to run a major law enforcement agency with a $523 million budget and about 1,500 authorized positions.
Sanchez has that experience and is our choice for Sheriff.