photo credit: (Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Office)
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick counts emergency preparation and management, creation of a strategic plan and having jail staff wear body cameras as high points. Improving outreach and diversity in hiring remain on the docket.
He announced Thursday he would not seek re-election. With three decades in law enforcement, Essick says it wasn't an easy choice. "It is hard sometimes to make that decision, but it's just the right time."
He's also known controversy. Declining to enforce the county's COVID stay-at-home order, raised questions of insubordination. Essick said he was concerned about overstepping his authority. "Trying to explain to some of our elected officials that, 'hey, I can't do that in good conscience as a cop, I think it violates my oath of office, I think it violates the constitution. We can't stop people and ask them for their papers,'" he said. It may have also proved a political miscalculation in a place that has among the highest vaccination rates in California.
There was also a confrontations supervisor Lynda Hopkins during a fire, resulting in a formal harassment complaint. The report hasn't been released.
Essick said use of force isn't an issue in the office and cited the quick departure of a deputy following a fatal traffic stop.
Jerry Threet, former head of the county's Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, a civilian oversight body, has a different assessment. "Over the two years he's been sheriff, payouts and lawsuits have skyrocketed, their insurance premium skyrocketed and they had multiple incidents where individuals were brutalized by sheriff's deputies and I think that is a reflection of Sheriff Essick's leadership."
Essick, for his part said he's grateful the public has been patient.
"I am human. I've never been a sheriff before, never been in an elected position before. I went from being a lifelong cop and thrust into the politics of being sheriff."