Unions representing deputies and correctional officers today announced members voted in a “landside” to endorse a candidate to oppose Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith in the June 2014 election. Leaders of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association said they want Capt. Kevin Jensen to replace Smith, citing a number of criticisms of the incumbent, first elected in 1998.
DSA president sheriff’s Sgt. Dennis Moser said 90 percent of his members endorsed Jensen while peace officers’ head Sgt. Lance Scimeca said 100 percent of his group chose Jensen, although they did not provide vote totals. Moser said it was the first time in 35 years that the unions’ members failed to support an incumbent for sheriff and described it as “a vote of no confidence” in Smith. Scimeca said the peace officers’ group gave its members a week to vote and by Sunday, every ballot cast was for Jensen. “We’re concerned about the current lack of vision, inadequate staffing, lack of training, outdated technology and the isolation of the department from other law enforcement agencies inside this county,” Moser said.
The unions are impressed by Jensen’s 28 years of experience with the sheriff’s department, his background with “community outreach” and his willingness to ask sergeants and lieutenants for advice, Moser said. The department is suffering from low morale, inadequate computer technology and a fear of retaliation from Smith for speaking out, Moser said. Sheriff’s deputies are also concerned that the department dropped out of the U.S. Joint Terrorism Task Force and that Smith seemed not to welcome officers from the San Jose Police Department interested in joining the sheriff’s office, Moser said. Smith also has not kept promises she’s made, such as providing appropriate tactical dress uniforms for wearing in inclement weather, Moser said.
“Laurie Smith has been in office now for approximately 14 to 15 years, it would be her fifth term that she is seeking,” Moser said. “The community doesn’t know who the sheriff is. You can ask them they don’t know who she is. We want to change that.” Some correctional officers, who guard county jail facilities and whose jobs merged with the sheriff’s office in 2010, are upset with Smith for ordering extended background checks and not awarding them sheriff’s deputy badges. Smith won reelection in June 2010 with 62 percent of the vote against two other candidates, according to the Registrar of Voters.
In response to the unions’ complaints, Smith said that when she heard they were considering an endorsement, she contacted them but they never responded and did not offer her name as a candidate. “I think they should have interviewed the candidates,” Smith said. “I would have welcomed that.” Smith said she was compelled to remove some positions from the federal task force because she needed to make budget cutbacks that would bring the least disruption to the department. She said the department will be using smart tablets and other technologies in patrol cars and that the DSA has been involved in that process.
Smith said that she is proud of how the department has dealt with the influx of inmates into its county jails due to the state-mandated reassignment of low-level offenders from California prisons in 2011. “I think my record is very solid,” she said. As for correction officers, after the merger, Smith said she gave officers a year to apply to be sworn deputies and undergo extensive background checks that included physical, polygraph and psychological testing that take a long time to complete. She said the unions sued the department to stop the background checks she ordered and now wants them to continue.
“They are saying you can’t do it, then they are saying do it,” Smith said. Smith said the department’s personnel division focuses on hiring the most qualified people and has brought in former San Jose police officers in the past. “We definitely hire as quickly as we can,” Smith said. “We get the very best. It’s just a long process from start to finish.” “I’m really, really proud of the organization and we have great people,” Smith said.
“I really think that the sheriff’s office is one of the preeminent law enforcement agencies in the nation. I think the public recognizes that. We have provided vision. We have been recognized for the work we do.” Jensen, who was not at the unions’ news conference, could not be reached for comment Monday. Moser said that the unions would be setting up a public candidates forum “as soon as we can set something up” for both Smith and Jensen.
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