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Candidates for Sonoma County Sheriff weigh in


By Chris Rooney

The three remaining candidates for Sonoma County Sheriff have been trying to distinguish themselves from each other in the campaign to replace Sheriff Mark Essick, who is not running for reelection. Via virtual events, Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram, former Sheriff ’s Lt. Dave Edmonds, and former San Francisco Police Sgt. Carl Tennenbaum engaged in public forums — mostly without personal attacks. A fourth candidate, retired Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke, withdrew from the campaign for health reasons and subsequently passed away, but his name may remain on the ballot.

During a forum in April, Tennenbaum described himself as an “outsider” who said “there is a rift that needs to be remedied” within the department. Edmonds said “morale is at an all-time low,” and “we do need a change” within the ranks. Engram pointed out that he was second in command and relied on his 20 years in the county as a strong benefit.

The Kenwood Press asked the candidates to field three basic questions. Their responses follow.

Carl Tennenbaum

Kenwood Press (KP): Why should people vote for you?

Tennenbaum: I am running for Sonoma County Sheriff to bring much needed change. In 2020, I worked on Measure P, the IOLERO oversight initiative, which called for increased oversight of the sheriff ’s office, which was passed by 65 percent of the voters.

As a 32-year veteran police officer, I have a thorough knowledge of how law enforcement functions. The Sonoma County Sheriff ’s Office has struggled to find effective leadership. Working in various diverse communities qualifies me to make the sheriff ’s office more transparent and open, with personnel fully engaged with the public.

KP: What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

Tennenbaum: I am the outsider candidate who knows best how to deal with the broken trust between our sheriff ’s office and the community that [it] serves. I am the only candidate with compassion and care for the Sonoma community, who recognizes that the deputies and civilian employees are understaffed, overworked, and feeling demoralized.

I believe that it is a suite of skills and qualities that are required to be a great sheriff. Truly effective leaders possess all the traits associated with inspiring the people that they lead: Intelligence, common sense, dedication to duty, and compassion are the keys to inspiring others.

Traditional policing styles of the past need to evolve with society’s needs and expectations. As sheriff, I will redefine how the deputies are trained and how they interact with the community. Public safety is our highest priority; it’s how we deliver those services that need to change.

Balancing the traditional model of control and force with de-escalation training, I will place emphasis on fairness, dignity, and respect for the public and for each other. I will lead the sheriff ’s office to a place of renewed respect and appreciation with the people that we serve and who rely on the sheriff ’s office.

KP: What’s the biggest issue that needs attention at the sheriff ’s office?

Tennenbaum: The broken relationship with the community is one of the major problems facing the sheriff ’s office. The long history of excessive force, resulting in deaths and millions of dollars spent on lawsuit settlements and insurance premiums, has contributed to a lack of trust between the sheriff ’s office and the people of Sonoma County.

I will develop a refreshing organizational philosophy, reinforced with strong policies, robust recruiting, and modernized training, that will be more community-centered. I will work with all community groups, organizations, individuals, and elected officials, soliciting their input to develop sound strategies to create a modern sheriff ’s office that reflects all of Sonoma County.

Dave Edmonds

KP: Why should people vote for you?

Edmonds: The failed leadership under the last two elected internally selected sheriffs has caused the organization to lose much community credibility, and other problems, too. I want to return to the Sonoma County Sheriff ’s Office to not only heal its credibility, accountability, transparency, and performance deficiencies; my goal is to turn it into a model law enforcement agency, nationwide.

KP: What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

Edmonds: My experience (particularly my years of command-level leadership experience), my education and training, and my decades-long success in every assignment, all with documented outstanding performance ratings.

These things separate me from my competitors:

• 34 years as a sworn peace officer, 32 at the Sonoma County Sheriff ’s Office (SCSO), achieving the highest non-political rank of captain (nine years on patrol, four as a violent crimes/homicide detective, eight years as a Sergeant, three at the managerial role lieutenant, and six at the command rank of captain).

• M.A. in Organizational Leadership (2006, Gonzaga University).

• Five-year police management professor.

• Contributing editor and content director of the nation’s largest law enforcement magazine, American Police Beat.

• Decades-long documented history of Sonoma County civic-mindedness, with over 2,000 hours of volunteer leadership and service to local nonprofit organizations in the last 10 years alone. This includes board director of the Redwood Gospel Mission for the last 12 years, and board director and six-time president of the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Service of Sonoma County for 20 years.

KP: What’s the biggest issue that needs attention at the sheriff ’s office?

Edmonds: Staff morale. Since law enforcement is a government service industry, it is conditioned upon not only the abilities, but also the willingness of staff to perform. The atmosphere at the SCSO is very dark and, particularly in the Detention Division, hopeless. Vacancies, job-caused disabilities, and mandatory overtime have skyrocketed to all-time highs. This is due to poor, ineffective leadership. Deputies do not trust their leadership, so they are getting full pay but avoiding work.

I have a three-point plan to make department-wide morale take flight throughout the SCSO: A) Fix the workplace atmosphere. I will make the SCSO’s workplace atmosphere encouraging, hopeful, and supportive.

B) Focus on staff’s fitness and wellness. I have a comprehensive plan to help staff achieve better physical, mental, and emotional fitness and wellness.

C) Provide adequate, performance-based training so that staff are fully prepared to perform their vital community roles. If staff are better trained, they will be more capable, confident, and ready, and this will directly improve their morale, too.

KP: Why should people vote for you?

Engram: I am the most qualified candidate and the best person to move the sheriff ’s office forward in this challenging time. I’m the only candidate with executive management experience in law enforcement and detention. I’m the only candidate with disaster response experience, which includes patrol response to the worst flood in 25 years, major wildfires, and running the jail during a pandemic.

I have the trust of the employees, which is necessary for organizational change. I will focus on community-oriented policing and a proactive approach to crime reduction, serving all segments of our community.

KP: What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

Engram: I’m the only candidate with executive leadership experience in law enforcement, detention, and disaster response. I’m the only candidate currently working in law enforcement. Our profession is in transition, with evolving community expectations, conversations about the role of law enforcement, and changing laws affecting law enforcement operations. As sheriff, it’s imperative to understand the current and ever-changing legal landscape and community needs, including the perspective from people of color.

Growing up in a neighborhood infested with crime and drugs, I saw the positive impacts law enforcement can have on a community. The male cousins I grew up with have been incarcerated, and my father became a homeless addict. These lived experiences also distinguish me from the other candidates and have guided me throughout my life to act with compassion.

KP: What’s the biggest issue that needs attention at the sheriff ’s office?

Engram: The position of sheriff is complex because the sheriff is elected, which means they have responsibilities both internally and externally.

Regaining trust with the community, elected officials, other county departments, and community organizations. This takes honesty, openness, and collaboration. Starting my career later in life, I had to navigate my life not being in a position of authority. Having not initially held the authority that comes with being a peace officer, I’ve learned to be more collaborative. I also believe it will be easier for me to help bridge the gap with marginalized groups because I am a person of color who has experienced some of the same injustices. I already have positive relationships with many local elected officials.

Critical hiring and promotional decisions will be made during the next sheriff ’s term. I know current staff members’ abilities and who can best implement my vision for the office. I will identify and recruit a diverse group of qualified candidates for the office, ensuring it is more representative of our community.

Dave Edmonds

Eddie Engram