Story Corps
Carl Tennenbaum is one of four declared candidates for SoCo sheriff.
photo credit: Courtesy of Carl Tennenbaum

A Sonoma County sheriff's candidate forum drew in a capacity crowd of 100 to the Zoom platform on January 25. 

For just over ninety minutes, South Park community members weighed the words of three candidates running for Sonoma County sheriff. 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 clarifying why she didn't invite all candidates...

"Because I didn't invite any of the candidates," Arnold explained to forum attendees. "The candidates contacted me."

Arnold said Dave Edmonds first contacted her back in November, Carl Tennenbaum called her in December, and she heard from Kevin Burke in the weeks leading up to the event. 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, and I know from past experience with these meetings that we lose people after a while," Arnold said. "So, that wouldn't have been fair to anybody that came on too late."

With that clarification out of the way, Dave Edmonds spoke first. Retired San Francisco police officer Carl Tennenbaum spoke second. You'll hear from him today.

Former Healdsburg police chief Kevin Burke was third to speak. His comments are included in a separate story.

Tennenbaum said he worked his entire career in San Francisco.

"I joined the San Francisco police department in 1981," Tennenbaum said. "I spent the two years prior to that as a paramedic on the city ambulances working the streets of San Francisco. Throughout my 32-year career as a police officer, I worked in many diverse communities in San Francisco: Chinatown, North Beach, the Tenderloin, the Bayview/Hunters Point, Japantown, the Mission District... and in every one of those neighborhoods, I learned the different needs of those communities, and the one common denominator was that everybody in those communities wanted to be heard. And that's something that I Iearned was very important. Having done that for thirty-two years, when I retired eight years ago, I left the city that I loved, and I adopted Sonoma County as my new community. And since I've been here, I've been very involved in a lot of the issues that we face like every other community in the United States, and I want to take my expertise and my experience as a San Francisco police officer and bring it here and address the problems with the sheriff's office."

Tennebaum was asked about how he would improve relations between the sheriff's office and the Latinx community. He says the simple answer is "outreach," and he drew on his experience walking the beat.

"The best thing that a deputy can do, or that I can do as the sheriff is to be out there in the community listening to what the community needs, hearing what issues are plaguing the community, what the problems are, and also trying to get people to understand it's going to be a kinder, gentler sheriff's office where people are going to feel comfortable and comforted by seeing us,” he said.

When asked if, as sheriff, he will promise to release the data necessary to determine if systemic racism exists in the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office , Tennenbaum's answer was succinct.

"Yes, I do," he said. 

Tennenbaum is a long-standing supporter of IOLERO, the county's Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, which has an official mission to strengthen relationships between the sheriff's office and the community. He said he was active in getting it created by the county board of supervisors in 2015. When asked about holding deputies accountable for their actions, Tennenbaum leaned-in to that relationship.

"I would hold deputies accountable for their actions by partnering with IOLERO and with whatever internal affairs or inner investigative body that we have and legitimately holding those deputies accountable," he said.

He also believes that most officers and deputies go to work and maintain professional standards but the scope of police work is often complicated.

"There are going to be encounters with people that are hostile or violent, and there are also going to be days when the deputies are not on their best behavior," Tennenbaum said. "However, when a deputy makes an error or mistake, or screws up, or even if it's something done maliciously, they're going to have to be held accountable for it,."

Tennenbaum was also asked how he would combat the "good old boys club."

He chuckled briefly, then said it's a sad commentary on where we are that people have a justifiable perception that the club even exists. He added if elected sheriff, he would combat that perception with a top to bottom change in philosophy and command staffing.

"I will bring in high-ranking administrative officials who embody the new spirit of what we are doing," Tennenbaum said. "Police work is changing. Police work is evolving.  People have higher expectations of more professionalism. And breaking up or impacting the good old boys network would also be manifested on the ground level by actively and aggressively recruiting people who represent the community, who are not part of the good boy's network, or syndrome, or system, or whatever you want to call it."

When asked about how he would deal with white supremacy in law enforcement, he had this firm answer.

"There's no place for it," Tennenbaum said. "There's no place for any hate-based or extremist views of any type. And that's a matter I think of national security concern right now, with the domestic terrorism we have going on right now. Yes. So, it's something that has to be rooted out right away."

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