Story Corps
Kevin Burke is one of four declared sheriff candidates in June's primary election.
photo credit: Courtesy of Burke's campaign.

On January 25, a candidate forum drew 100 members of Santa Rosa's South Park community to the online event. It was a chance to get to know three of the men who are running for Sonoma County sheriff in June.

Annette Arnold of the South Park Coalition neighborhood group, which hosted the forum, started off by clarifying who was invited to participate.

"I did not invite any of the candidates," Arnold explained. "Each of these candidates contacted us in the weeks and months before this event took place. Over the weekend, another candidate asked to join, and I said it was too late to accommodate him because I knew we were already going into an hour and half meeting. And I've done these meetings with our neighborhood before and they don't do very well after an hour, generally speaking."

That other candidate was current Sonoma County assistant Sheriff Eddie Ingram. KRCB has reached out to Engram and will bring you what he has to say in the coming days.

At the virtual forum, Dave Edmonds spoke first, Carl Tennenbaum spoke second, and today you'll hear what the third candidate, former Healdsburg police chief Kevin Burke, had to say.

Born and raised in the town of Saint Helena, Burke went off to Whittier College near Los Angeles and majored in economics, then went on to law school. But, he said, he always had an interest in police work since his early days as an explorer scout in his hometown. He found he had a passion for the work so, he got a job a reserve police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.

"I did that for about ten years while I was getting my law degree," Burke said. "Graduated from law school at Berkeley; passed the bar. Went ahead and practiced law privately for a couple of years. Then I became a deputy district attorney and I liked being a deputy DA, but it wasn't the same. What I found about being a cop is it was this profound sense of contribution that you get when you help people and I really enjoyed that aspect of law enforcement, helping other human beings and making a difference. So, it kind of got me hooked on the work and I decided to stop being a lawyer and join the police department full time and have never looked back,”

While with the LAPD, Burke said he was blessed with a variety of challenging assignments and held a variety of positions.

"At some point I ended up as a law instructor at the Los Angeles Police Academy because of my legal background," Burke said. "Eventually promoted to sergeant and got to work some busy patrol divisions as a field supervisor, and then transitioned into some other assignments. Vice, undercover for a couple years, working employee relations for a couple years, and in my last two years at the LAPD as an internal affairs advocate. Wrapped up there, took my first police chief job in Lakeport. Great small community. Everybody knows everybody. I really enjoyed my time there. and after a few years there, I wanted to be closer to where I'd grown up and take on a little bit larger of an organization. So, I applied for the Healdsburg police chief job. A job I held for ten and a half years."

Burke said leadership is as much art as it is science, but at the end of the day,  it is, "all about relationships, all about trying to get a pulse of what the organization needs, what the community needs, and then endeavor[ing] to match those needs,” he said.

When asked about how he would improve relations between the sheriff's office and the Latinx community, Burke acknowledged that our county's population is roughly a third Latinx and pointed to his achievements in Healdsburg.

"I started some programs that had never been done before, importantly, town hall meetings that were completely in Spanish. I would address the crowd at those town hall meetings in Spanish, as their police chief, and those were very successful events," he said.

Burke also used the question to reinforce his former department's stance against immigration enforcement. And he touted having a local Latinx business owner on an internal promotional panel.

Burke was then asked how he could see the department rebuilding trust from the community.

"Stopping at a school to have lunch with kids in the cafeteria is law enforcement," Burke said. "Stopping into a business to introduce yourself as a deputy sheriff and find out what the issues in that area and with that business might be. Those types of interactions should be encouraged, and a culture should be created to establish and build trust between the two.  And I think changing that culture at the organization is something that I would lead, and set be example. They would see me out there doing that every day and would go a long way to restoring trust."

Burke also advocates for transparency and believes that partnering with IOLERO, the county's Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, would go a long way to regaining trust from the community.

"The leader sets the tone," Burke said. "And I think from day one, the elected sheriff needs to go in and shake hands with IOLERO, shake hand with the auditor, have a strong relationship with the [Community Advisory Committee] and working on how we can take that annual report and make it so it doesn't have that much conflict over outcomes. And that will go a long way to establish again community trust and strengthen that relationship outside. So, I think there's and opportunity there for the next sheriff and one that I will absolutely embrace from day one."

Burke was the third and final candidate for Sonoma County sheriff to speak at Tuesday's online community forum.

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