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A new sheriff in town | Sacramento County voters to pick new sheriff in June 7 primary

Two candidates are vying to become Sacramento County’s next sheriff as the current man in that position, Scott Jones, is running for Congress.
Credit: ABC10
Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) (pictured left) and Sacramento County Undersheriff Jim Barnes are vying to become the next Sacramento County Sheriff. Voters will decide in the June 7 primary.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — Voters in Sacramento County are going to choose a new sheriff in the June 7 primary with current Sheriff Scott Jones stepping down after 12 years to run for Congress.

Although they share the same first name and both have decades of law enforcement experience, the two candidates vying to fill Jones’ position have their differences.

Jim Barnes, 49, is Sacramento County’s current Undersheriff – second-in-command at the Sheriff’s Office, where he has risen through the ranks over the course of his 24-year career there.

Jim Cooper, 58, is a California Assemblymember representing District 9, which encompasses parts of Elk Grove, South Sacramento, Galt and Lodi. He has served in that role for the past eight years. Prior to that, he spent 15 years on the Elk Grove City Council, including as the city’s first-ever mayor. During that time and before it, Cooper also spent 30 years working for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, rising through the ranks and becoming a captain. 

He ran against Scott Jones for Sacramento County Sheriff in 2010 and lost by 3,660 votes, about 1% of the votes.

Here are excerpts from ABC10’s Q&A interview with each candidate. Watch Asm. Jim Cooper’s full interview HERE and Undersheriff Jim Barnes’ full interview HERE.

Q: Tell us about yourself and the work experience that qualifies you to become Sacramento County Sheriff.

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

I have 24 years on this organization. I've worked every level, from entry level as a deputy in the correctional setting to patrol to investigations as a sexual assault investigator, homicide investigator. I was a homicide supervisor, and then continued rising through the ranks into management and then a commander of three different divisions, which was South Patrol, Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center down in Elk Grove and then North Patrol, prior to being promoted to Chief Deputy, where I was overseeing Field Services, which - that's all patrol and investigations.

And then, in March, I was appointed to Undersheriff, and now I'm responsible for everything within the organization regarding, obviously, the budget, you know, personnel and operational costs. Obviously, we have Service Area Chiefs that oversee it, but that's my direction right now, just shy of 2,300 people, and I'm excited about that opportunity.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER JIM COOPER:

I spent 30 years with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, retired to the rank of captain. I spent 10 years in narcotics. For five of those 10 years, I worked undercover and bought drugs every night undercover and worked in the gang unit as a detective, sergeant and a captain and ran the actual division.

I was Elk Grove’s first mayor. 2000 to 2015 - so mayor and council member - we got to build a city from the ground-up, which is amazing. Form our own police department. I've got a lot of experience there.

And for the past eight years, I've been in the State Legislature, representing South Sacramento, Elk Grove, Galt and Lodi, so about half a million people. A lot of work, a lot going on, so I want to bring my experience and use my experience.

Q: What would be your top two priorities as Sacramento County Sheriff?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER JIM COOPER:

Number one issue of Sacramento County – as statewide - is homelessness. So far, we've probably spent in excess of $20 billion on homelessness. It's gotten worse. The public expects something to be done. They're frustrated, and they want government to do something to fix it. And you look at the American River Parkway: over 100 fires in the past two years. Large amount of resources dedicated to deal with that. We had a murder of the Rancho Cordova woman on the parkway. It's just gone on and on. Folks that normally ride out there and enjoy the parkway and walk on the parkway are afraid to do that. Most of that's in the county's jurisdiction...You have to go in and deal with that and try to make these people's lives better - and also be a good partner, working with county agencies and other local jurisdictions. 

And then really, number two, is crime out there. A lot of folks are scared and worried about things...The shooting downtown, the jails releasing folks. You've got to be cautious in how you do that and go about that. It never should have happened.

I want to use my background - 10 years of working in the gang unit and working narcotics. I know who the players are and what the issues are, and really get involved in-depth in that and make a change.

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

The retail theft – smash-and-grabs - is really impacting our communities. The violent crime is the big one right now, with gun violence. Also on the forefront is homelessness and mental illness.

They all go hand in hand, because some of these issues and retail theft is the homeless population, and so it all, you know, kind of morphs into the same issue.

When it comes to gun violence, we’re having to be very creative right now because of some of the laws that are on the books and zero bail and early release. We have people that are, you know, being stopped and caught with a handgun; they go to the Main Jail and they get out because of the early release. And later that day, we have statistics of people actually being rearrested with another firearm, you know, and when you think about, ‘How are we okay with that?’

As the leader of the law enforcement agency, we've had to be creative. So I get excited about the partnerships we've had with our other agencies, especially our federal partners, and now we're looking at, ‘How do we do federal crimes on these handguns on repeat offenders?’ Because that is where we can make a difference. Because right now, locally, based off the laws, it's a revolving door, and that should make everybody in the community concerned.

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Q: Why should voters elect you as Sacramento County Sheriff compared to your opponent?

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

My opponent, he says he has 30 years of law enforcement - which he does - but we don't need 30-year-old policing techniques in modern-day policing. And I've been relevant and consistent for the past 24 years, developing those relationships, developing those strategies in our communities on, ‘How do we combat this?’ Because we need accountability. People are tired of what we're seeing right now, and it really comes from the State Capitol.

My opponent…talked about billions of dollars being thrown towards homeless and nothing's changed. Yet he's going to become the sheriff and make change for homeless population? That's interesting when he's at the very institution to affect that change.

And so the biggest difference between us is: I'm a protector, not a politician. He has turned into a politician over the last eight years...And, you know, he'll talk about how he's been the ‘Cop at the Capitol,’ but he's been ineffective.

He's a co-author of SB 54, ‘sanctuary cities,’ and look at that. That has created death and destruction in our community, especially locally at the church where the three young girls died and an innocent man. And at no time have they taken that bill back and say, ‘How do we revise this, so it makes it safer and still accomplishes the same goal?’

It's important that you have someone that stands in front of you and not sit on the sidelines when it comes to tough times. I ran those teams down in those protests the last two years, and I saw what happened downtown. We have generational businesses that won't come back because of what happened, and there was a difference in an approach. You know, I was protecting the Main Jail and the District Attorney's office, and that's what we needed to do - was stand between destruction and safety. Allow people to exercise their constitutional right, but when they're busting windows, spray painting buildings and throwing fire objects inside of buildings, that's not what we want. And I say, ‘Where was he?’ Because he wasn't leading those teams; I was. And that's the biggest difference for me.

For me, this is not about a title...I have the relationships, I have the experience. And, you know, when I look back at our organization, both of us went in for candidate interviews in November to the (Sacramento County) Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, (Sacramento County) Law Enforcement Managers Association, and it came out very clear who they want to lead them…They chose me.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER JIM COOPER:

I guess the big thing that…I really point to is experience. My opponent, his is just the Sheriff's Department only…You take my time in the Legislature, on City Council, in the Sheriff's Department, my community work, my community involvement, working with a number of community-based organizations. It makes me more well-rounded and able to do those things and leverage contacts and really work with folks and bring about the change - and also bring about resources that we need in law enforcement right now.

I have the majority of the (Sacramento County) Board of Supervisors that endorse me…I'm supported by the majority of the mayors of the big cities in Sacramento County, from my 15 years in the (Elk Grove) City Council and being in the Legislature, so I've got relationships with those folks and to really work on that and help move the needle on how we do it. Law enforcement can't do it alone…You need relationships to deal with some of these issues, and I want to use my experience and leadership to really move things in a different direction.

(Barnes is) Scott Jones’ hand-picked successor. The voters pick the next sheriff; you don't get to anoint someone that picks that…There's no way that (Barnes) can distance himself from Scott Jones because Scott picked him...He's like, ‘I'm a different guy. I was never involved in those decisions.’ Well, you are a manager and one of the top managers over there, so either you're involved or you're complicit in it, so you don't get a pass on that.

I'll give you a good example: the Rancho Cordova police chief, the meme that was disparaging of African Americans. They let the county handle that…The person - who's no longer with the Sheriff's Department - was allowed to retire, was on paid leave for three or four months, getting paid to sit at home. And still, the Sheriff’s Department could have done a concurrent investigation and then made it so that person can't get hired in law enforcement anywhere else. They failed to do that. Someone owns responsibility. Jim Barnes…was her supervisor or manager. He was over her, so he failed to do anything with that. And they wonder why people mistrust law enforcement - because of actions like that and not taking the correct action.

That meme, which is very offensive - they dropped the ball on it. And it makes them look bad, and it makes the community distrust law enforcement even more.

Q: How can the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office build trust with historically marginalized and over-policed communities of color?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER JIM COOPER:

As an African American, I get it. I understand the feelings of the community, but it's really working with those folks. And one thing that the public wants, no matter what color you are, is transparency. That's so important.

Some of the rhetoric coming out of sheriff's department, you know, it just doesn't belong there. It's so much easier to get along with people, and we can agree to disagree, but we're still going to work together. And the sheriff’s department is closed off from the community and doesn't have those relationships.

Look at diversity. It's lacking in the Sheriff's Department. 

[Regarding the more than 100 open positions within the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office,] that's negligent. There's no way they're going to fill those positions before the end of the year. They can't, because right now they're competing with everybody else in law enforcement. And really, it's a candidate's market; you go to where you want to go, and they're not the only game in town

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

Since my opponent has been out of the sheriff's office, there are things that we've taken steps towards. You know, we have our Youth Services Unit that gets out into the communities and kind of interacts with children in a non-law-enforcement capacity. We have started our Community Relations Unit, we've had it for a few years now, that gets out and talks with faith-based leaders and community organizations. We have our programs for our Sheriff's Activity League…I mean, there's a lot of things that we're trying to do to integrate in a non-law-enforcement capacity, so they see us as human beings.

We just recently started a Community Academy. We brought a group of individuals as part of a community-based organization, and they're really going to look at the way we do things. And we're going to look at this as an opportunity to get feedback of, ‘Where can we learn from this?’

The community response team is designed — and it's a pilot, just because we want to make sure it works, I'd love to roll this county-wide — is, if we have a violent crime in the community, specifically in the region in which they look at, we call them out, almost like a chaplaincy. And as they come out, they will communicate with our supervisors on scene. We don't give personal information out, but we'll just say, ‘That's the family you need to go work with.’ Because what I've learned in law enforcement is, we show up and we will handle the scene, we will investigate, hold people responsible if we can find that at the time, but when we leave, that trauma is still there. So how do we find ways for wrap-around services: counseling and then the community group to be the liaison between the family and the sheriff's office? And so, it's not an informant, it's to build trust, and how do we utilize that?

Something that we've been working towards is look at all the high-crime areas, and what can we do using community-based organizations and faith-based organizations? When crime gets to where law enforcement is needed, that's when we come in. But it's really taking that holistic approach. I've proved it with this [pilot] group, and I'm excited about building that, really expanding it. How do we use some of the community intervention workers and crisis intervention workers to get in and make sure we can have everybody at the table that's there for the right reasons and not looking to get you know, credit for it?

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Q: Sheriff is a nonpartisan elected position, but political issues do come up. What role do you think politics should play in this office?

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

What I have learned in running for sheriff is the politics, it's the influence we have on bringing community leaders together, bringing county agencies together, and that's what I'm already doing. And I have been doing it over my career. So I think when I talk about the politics, it's not partisan politics. It's about, ‘How do you bring people together and work towards a common goal?’ That's what true leadership is. That's what I am.

So when it comes out of what party affiliation it is, if you look, I’ve voted on both sides of the aisle. My mindset is on law enforcement. We have to have accountability and safety in our communities for it to thrive. And every member in our community has a right to thrive and excel in life and their profession. And so, for me, that's not politics.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER JIM COOPER:

It really shouldn't play a role. At the end of the day, you want to make sure the residents of Sacramento County are protected and feel safe, and that's really what it comes down to. It comes down to resources: I bought a million dollars for after-school projects for kids to go in South Sacramento and Meadowview, $4.5 million for a food bank in Elk Grove, I've been on the board for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Boys and Girls Club, Children’s Receiving Home [of Sacramento] and Wind Youth Services for homeless teens. My passion is our youth to try and help them, and it's been a continual fight with that. It comes down to having that experience and leveraging it to make Sacramento better for everyone else.

Q: How would you improve recruitment and retention of Sacramento County Sheriff's Office employees?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER JIM COOPER:

There are a lot of good candidates and good diverse candidates at Sac State. They have a law enforcement candidate program. It’s been going on since 2015. That's a great pool of local kids to draw from to be deputies.

And really being engaged in casting that net wide to try and bring in the most qualified pool of candidates. Because law enforcement is tough. I mean, think about it, who wants to be a cop these days to get yelled at and, you know, some of the things that are said to law enforcement? It's tough for the men and women doing that job. It's very stressful. So it takes a unique candidate to want to be a law enforcement officer in this day and age.

A lot of departments are going out recruiting the military, going out of state, doing signing bonuses. So there's a lot of things that you can do to get those quality candidates. And the sheriff's department's not doing that right now, which is detrimental to Sacramento County.

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

Every law enforcement agency is facing that. My opponent will say we have all these vacancies, morale is bad.

We have roughly just shy of 20 laterals coming to our organization by June 1. And that's coming from other agencies, so if morale was such a bad thing in our sheriff's office, we wouldn't have outside agencies wanting to come here, we'd have people wanting to leave. I think we've had a small handful of officers move out of state and they've gone to other law enforcement agencies out of state. So that tells me what we're doing is right, you know, people want to be part of our organization. I'm proud of it.

It's important that we [consider] the mental wellbeing of our officers. You're going to have fewer use-of-force, and so you're going to have fewer issues off the job, you know, as far as conduct, and that's my goal. We're already moving towards that and trying to find other agencies that might be in front of us on how that's working, and we're going to bring it to the sheriff's office and take care of them. Because that's going to be important as far as the recruitment and retention.

Q: What would you change at the Sacramento County Jail?

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

Well, I would say when you look at the jail right now is, number one, is take an internal audit. Is what we're doing effective? Because, again, we're bound by policies, what we can and can't do, you know. There's certain things as far as capacity, the way that jail is just structured. I think finding innovative ways to get people, you know, maybe diverted from coming to jail, which we're already working with our county partners. The Jail Diversion Treatment and Resource Center [JDTRC]. And I'm already working with the county and leadership on, if we find an individual that might be cited and released or even cited and taken to the jail, can we take them to this diversion treatment center to get them the resources they need, instead of taking them to the jail?

Right now, it's just finding innovative ways with our county partners of, ‘How do we divert some of the people that don't belong in jail, that we believe?’

And then the ones that do, [if] they need to be held accountable, they need to go to jail. But with zero bail and early release, it's made it very difficult, and it's that revolving door. And our community is up in arms about it, and hopefully they're paying attention to the direct cause is coming from that Capitol.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER JIM COOPER:

Number one, be a good neighbor. When folks are released out of jail, they hang around down there. Some commit new crimes, some family members will pick them up, some don't have rides. But do that, it's very simple. You've got the ride share now, Uber and Lyft. There's a way if we can do it or the county can pay for it. That's not a big deal.

Most [agencies] have had body cameras for a long time on their officers: Elk Grove PD, Citrus Heights PD, Folsom, Sac PD, everyone. The Sheriff's Department, they still don't have body cameras in the jail, which didn't make any sense because the cameras protect the public and they protect the officer. It tells a story, a portion of a story. So why would you ever be objectionable to having cameras?

That's why when I get a majority of the Board of Supervisors, three of the five, endorsing me, I can work with those folks. I can work with the other two, to try and get things done. And we change the narrative with that.

Question for Undersheriff Barnes: Your opponent calls you Sheriff Jones 2.0 and the Trump candidate. How do you respond?

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

I'll tell you, I've worked for four different sheriffs: Glen Craig, Lou Blanas, John McGinnis and Sheriff Jones. I like some of the qualities from each one of them, but I'm me. I have my own vision. I have my own leadership style, and I'm confident of that.

I look at when someone — my opponent, specifically — is trying to tag me with ‘the Trump candidate’ because I've registered as a Republican. It's a nonpartisan seat. And I will tell you right now, I've voted both sides of the aisle because what I do is I vote for people that are going to do what they say they're going to do. And I want to people that are going to follow through with their plans.

But he's the one that's throwing out party-line politics: [Cooper saying he is a] lifelong Democrat [and that Barnes is] ‘the Trump candidate.’ He's talking in bullet points. He's talking from the institution where he could have affected change, and he's been ineffective. To think he's going to come to the sheriff's office as a sheriff and fix homelessness is so misguided.

Question for Assemblymember Cooper:  Your opponent says you are years removed from law enforcement and developments in the field. How do you respond?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER JIM COOPER:

I've only been gone eight years. I'm heavily involved. I'm called the ‘Cop’s Cop in the Capitol.’ I'm always involved. I’ve run 30 Public Safety bills that were for victims, for women and children and to deal with sexually violent predators. I work with statewide law enforcement on a regular basis, so I think I've got my finger on the pulse.

It comes down to experience. That's the most important. I know how to be a leader. I've done that 30 years in the sheriff's department, 15 years as the [Elk Grove] Mayor and Councilmember, eight years in the [California] Legislature.

The California Police Chiefs named me Legislator of the Year. The District Attorneys Association — all 58 DA’s in California — named me Legislator of the Year. A lot of councilmembers endorsed me, 50,000 police officers statewide endorsed me, and 30,000 firefighters endorsed me.

If I was doing such a horrible job and so out of touch, why are they endorsing me? Because I've put in the work. I'm not afraid to go against the system or anybody else to support victims’ rights. And I've done that for the last eight years. I'm proud of my record and what I've done.

Question for Undersheriff Barnes: Would you expand the use of body-worn cameras within the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office?

UNDERSHERIFF JIM BARNES:

We are expanding body cameras, and that's what I'm proud of under my leadership. Not only do we have it in patrol settings, but we're moving it to the correctional settings, as well, because we have found the value not only in the body cameras for transparency, but accountability.

We have some times where the conduct, it was within policy, but maybe the officer was talking not as professional as we would hope, and so we have those conversations and what we call ‘coachable moments’ that say, ‘listen, you know, if this was your family member, is this how you would want to be talked to?’

I have a saying: ‘best’ is a standard. And utilizing these body cameras in the communities, in our correction settings, it's going to offer up transparency but also it has really quelled the frivolous complaints when we call someone back and say, ‘We have this on body camera. Would you like to come in and see it?’ A lot of times, ‘Nope, I want to withdraw my complaint.’ Because the way maybe someone remembered it is not how it was accurately depicted on the body cameras.

So I'm a huge supporter of that. And transparency.

I will say, at some point in time, how much more equipment can these officers carry? You know, because we have a lot of less-lethal options. Now you’re asking a body camera, but I think that is where the public has gone. When the community's expectations change, we have to change, and we just have to balance that where we don't compromise public safety.

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