Laurie Smith’s decision not to run for a seventh term means Santa Clara County will have a new sheriff next year.
Wow. what a relief.
It’s a shame that the county’s top law enforcement officials still under oath refuse to answer questions about whether she was aware of the corruption in her office or was herself involved.
The question for county voters is which of the five candidates is best suited to transform the department’s culture and restore the trust and integrity that has been lacking for more than a decade in office. It’s not an easy choice.
Two candidates — Palo Alto Police Chief Bob Jonson and retired Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office captain Kevin Jensen — stand out as having experience running on the field and knowledge of what will be a significant task.
Jonson is an outsider in the race and has more executive experience than any candidate. He became Palo Alto’s top police officer in 2018 after serving as the police chief of Menlo Park for five years. He also spent three decades in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, serving as a deputy before becoming captain of the Lancaster unit.
Jensen is well-versed in the inner workings of the Santa Clara County Department, having served in a variety of roles, including assistant chief of the Department of Corrections and commander of the Elmwood Detention Facility. He lost an attempt to defeat Smith in 2014, securing 40% of the vote.
We give Johnson the edge, believing the department will benefit most from an outsider who brings fresh ideas to the beleaguered office. Someone who can clean the house and get rid of Smith’s department of ministers.
It is still possible that Smith could be removed from office before the end of his term. A county civil grand jury in December charged him with seven counts of willful misconduct, alleging he took political favors in exchange for a concealed-gun permit and his office’s handling of the injury of a high-profile 2018 prison inmate. External investigation stopped. A jury trial will determine whether he should be removed from office.
Smith must resign and allow the board of supervisors to select an interim sheriff who is not running for office. His repeated pattern of indecent conduct is unacceptable to a public official, and especially to the top law enforcement leader of the sixth largest county in California.
Johnson lists accountability and transparency as his top priorities when elected. When police reform became a national issue in 2020, they worked with Palo Alto City Council to expand the scope of investigation by the department’s independent police auditor to include internal complaints of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. He also calls for greater cooperation among regional law enforcement agencies, which Smith’s leadership has severely lacked.
The other three candidates are Christine Ngaye, Sean Allen and Anh Colton.
Nagaye and Allen both have decades of experience in the county sheriff’s department. Both sergeants who have served primarily in the prison division are stunned by Smith’s leadership and want major reforms. Both would be better leaders than the current sheriff. But neither Jonsen or Jensen have managerial experience.
Colton isn’t running any serious campaigns for office. Her qualifications are also under question, as she admits she does not meet state law’s requirement that only certified law-enforcement officers can run for county sheriff positions.
Johnson and Jensen stand the best chance at restoring honor to the sheriff’s office. In a challenging alternative, we recommend Johnson to voters in the June 7 election.