It was a capacity crowd on Zoom for a Sonoma County sheriff candidate forum held January 25.
One hundred members of the South Park community appeared attentive to what each candidate for Sonoma County sheriff had to say, and each candidate was asked a similar set of prepared questions, after their initial remarks.
Annette Arnold of the South Park Coalition neighborhood group, which hosted the forum, started off by answering why she didn't invite all the candidates.
"The reason is because I didn't invite any of the candidates. The candidates contacted me," Arnold said.
She explained Dave Edmunds contacted her back in November, Carl Tennenbaum called her in December, and she got a call from Kevin Burke just a few weeks ago.
Arnold said she set the format of the forum not knowing who all is in the race and gave each candidate thirty minutes to speak and answer questions.
The fourth candidate for sheriff, current Sonoma County Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram, did contact Arnold the weekend before the event and had to be turned down.
"I said no because we already had this arranged and it's already going an hour and a half long,” she explained. “And I know from past experience with these meetings that we lose people after a while. So, that wouldn't have been fair to anybody that came on too late."
With that clarification out of the way, Dave Edmonds was up first. Retired San Francisco police officer Carl Tennenbaum and former Healdsburg police chief Kevin Burke also participated in the forum. Their comments are included in a separate story.
Edmonds is a retired 32-year veteran of the very department he now wants to lead. Save for two years as a police officer in Hanford, California, his entire law enforcement career was with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
"I did nine years on patrol and while I was there I was in the field training program,” he said. “I was a field training officer. In fact, I trained many new recruits. I was on the SWAT team. After patrol I did four years in the violent crimes/homicide unit and I worked on a lot of cases that all of you have heard about if you've been in Sonoma County for a while, including I was the lead investigator on the Ramon Salcido mass murders. I pushed hard as a detective for four years and then I was promoted to sergeant. I did that for eight years and while I was there, I was in charge of the field training program. I was the lieutenant in charge of the investigation bureau for three years. And then finally I did six years at the command rank of captain."
Edmonds said his depth and breadth of experience within the department sets him apart and makes him uniquely qualified to now lead the sheriff's office.
He said he didn't really want to get out of law enforcement when he retired eight years ago, but felt it was time to move on to something new. Edmonds said he disdains politics, and said he was asked to run in this election by folks who see him as a positive change agent.
"I am the change candidate," Edmonds said. "I've got big visions. I write about these things nationally. Almost every chief and sheriff gets a copy of the magazine that I'm the content director and editor for."
Edmonds said we are in a truly unique time in law enforcement.
"These calls to reform law enforcement, I'm deeply involved in that on the statewide-level right now," Edmonds said. "I want to create a Sonoma County Sheriff's Office that is widely respected by this community. That is a model even nationwide. It is doable and I'm excited about it. I want to be your sheriff and cause that to happen."
When asked about improving relations with our Latinx community, he said he believes it is a recruitment problem.
"Our staff needs to mirror the community we serve," he said. "I am going to change the recruitment program so we invest in that community. Especially so that the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office can represent the demographics that we serve."
When asked about releasing data necessary to determine if systemic racism exists in the department, his answer was unequivocal.
"Absolutely. I think the brighter you turn up the lights, the better we need to look," he said. "And I need to get back in there and have a close look for myself. That should not be secret information right now."
Edmonds also said he would support independent oversight of his office.
"The director of IOLERO is a department head," Edmonds said. "There's 28 departments in the county. I will be one department head. The director of IOLERO is equal to me at that level with the county. He or she is going to be a partner for me, and you're going to see a positive relationship with them."
Edmonds also praised the city of Santa Rosa's new InResponse program, which sends mental health professionals to some calls, rather than armed officers. He said he hopes he can create partnerships to deploy a similar program county-wide.
He expressed unity with health department orders like mask mandates, and says he would foster a "guardian" spirit among deputies and staff, rather than a "warrior" mindset.