We’re currently in the throes of the 2018 primary season and there are elections heating up across the country. At American Police Officers Alliance we’ll look to highlight both national and local campaigns where the outcome is critical for our men and women in blue. Every week it seems the media is reporting some form of violence and corruption within police forces across America, like the unusual case of Sterling Brown this month. New and incumbent elected leaders have a lot of work ahead of them to not only reset the stage but help engender police-community relationships.
Orange County California Sheriff Race
One such election is happening in Orange County, California, which has seen its own corruption debacles of late. The incoming OC Sheriff their work cut out for them as they seek to put the past behind them and become a shining example of transformation for other districts across America. As a matter of fact, three law enforcement veterans are vying to take charge of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, after Sheriff Sandra Hutchens announced last year, amid the aforementioned controversies, that she would not seek re-election.
Undersheriff Donald Barnes, Hutchens’ hand-picked successor, has been with the department for 29 years and touts himself as intimately involved in most of the department’s operations and the only candidate with management experience. Since Hutchens’ announcement, he has been the public face of the department and appears at most major public events instead of the incumbent sheriff.
His two challengers both say they would bring major reform to a department that has faced controversy after controversy.
The top-two vote getters from the June 5 primary will advance to the November election. If one of the candidates wins more than 50 percent of the vote in June, he wins outright.
The election comes amid pending investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and California Attorney General into the illegal use of jailhouse informants by county law enforcement, and controversies over a 2016 jail escape by three inmates and conditions in county jails.
Aliso Viejo Mayor Dave Harrington, who retired from the Sheriff’s Department as a sergeant in September 2013 after 28 years, argues Barnes is part of a management team that has responded to crises by doubling down and shutting out public scrutiny.
Duke Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who came to the United States in 1981, says he will tackle “systemic corruption, racism, and disenfranchisement” of minority communities. Nguyen is an investigator for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. Before that, he was Santa Ana police officer.Nguyen believes the department needs to diversify its hiring racially and linguistically to improve trust with the changing demographics of Orange County.
Barnes is backed by most of the county’s top elected officials, including four of the five county supervisors, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, several state legislators, seven congressional representatives and the county deputies’ union. He said the Sheriff’s Department has admitted when it’s made mistakes and followed up by holding staff accountable and making reforms. Harrington is endorsed by several mayors, including Irvine, Mission Viejo, Huntington Beach, Dana Point, San Clemente and Newport Beach.Nguyen, the only Democrat in the race, has been endorsed by the Democratic Party of Orange County.
The current Sheriff, Hutchens, was appointed in 2008 to clean up the department after her predecessor was indicted for official misconduct and convicted of witness tampering. She came from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and was credited with stabilizing a department where cronyism, sex scandals and allegations of abuse in the jails were rampant.
When misconduct and mistakes have been identified, management has responded to fix the problem.
Barnes and Harrington share similarities. Both blame laws that reduce penalties for low-level drug and property crimes and release some criminal offenders back onto the streets, for increasing local crime and exacerbating homelessness. They say the next Sheriff needs to take the lead on state legislation to change those laws. Both also lament the loss of Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, as a key tool that allowed law enforcement to push more drug offenders toward rehabilitation.
Barnes and Harrington also oppose the SB 54 or the California Values Act, known colloquially as the “sanctuary state” law that limits law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Earlier this year, Barnes announced the department would post inmate release dates online to make it easier for federal authorities to locate unauthorized immigrant criminals upon their release.
Barnes called the Act “bad public policy” and said the decision to post inmate release dates was based on a desire to curb serious criminals, not to affect the broader unauthorized immigrant community. Barnes acknowledged that fear of deportation has prompted many immigrant communities to interact less with law enforcement, pointing to scant participation in a bike helmet and car seat giveaway program, aimed at Spanish-speaking residents.
Democratic Nguyen says he supports the California Values Act and that it’s his job to enforce state law. While he believes in enforcing the law, he believes that the state we should still communicate with the federal authorities internally to provide public safety.
The Orange County election is complex with a lot on the line. Historically the district has skewed Republican, but incumbent officials have challenged the public’s trust at a time when it was crucial not to. Elections like these will play out over the coming month. If you live in a state where one of these elections is taking place we urge you, as an APOA supporter, to get involved and vote in a way that sets a path to police transformation and ultimate success.