DAILY POST EDITORIAL
It’s possible that Santa Clara County voters will get two chances this year to vote for sheriff.
With five candidates in the June 5 primary, it’s unlikely that any of them will reach the 50% threshold necessary to win the job outright. That means the top two vote-getters will have a run-off in November.
And that strikes us as a good thing. Campaigns compel the public to study the issues in a race before they vote. Two campaigns, one right now and another this fall, will bring more attention to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, which has 2,025 employees and a budget of $437 million including the jail.
It’s a serious job that requires a large toolbox of skills.
The sheriff is in charge of the jails in San Jose and Milpitas. The sheriff’s deputies patrol unincorporated parts of the county and provide all police services to Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, Cupertino and VTA on a contract basis. The sheriff also bestows law enforcement authority to Stanford’s police, though that department is funded by the university.
To sort through the list of candidates, our first filter is experience. We need a sheriff who has years of law enforcement experience, both on the streets and in the jails. The sheriff has to be an administrator who can manage multi-million-dollar budgets. The sheriff needs to be an HR expert, a labor negotiator and have a solid understanding of the law.
Only two candidates have the requisite experience — incumbent Laurie Smith, who is seeking her 6th four-year term, and her former undersheriff, John Hirokawa, who has retired.
A focus on the jail
The campaign has focused on the 2015 murder of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree by three guards in the San Jose jail, which was run by Smith and Hirokawa. At the time, Hirokawa was Chief of Correction.
Immediately after Tyree’s death, Smith had the three deputies arrested. They were charged, put on trial and convicted. After an incident like this, there’s a tendency by politicians to launch a coverup and hide from the cameras. But Smith was aggressive in bringing the three guards to justice and pushing for changes in the jail to prevent such an attack from happening again.
That has resulted in more psychologists and psychiatrists in the jails, more training for guards on mental health issues and a new system for handling the grievances of inmates.
Shifting the blame
In an interview with the Post, Hirokawa — who was running the jail at the time of Tyree’s murder — wanted to shift the blame to Smith. But he didn’t offer much in the way of ideas to improve the jail’s operation.
The contrast between Smith and Hirokawa is clear — she took responsibility for the death and moved forward with ways to prevent it from happening again. Hirokawa tried to blame somebody else and doesn’t have a plan to move forward.
While the jail and Tyree’s murder have been the focus of the campaign, a couple of Smith’s accomplishments have been overlooked.
• It was her deputies that brought the killer of Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar to justice. Antolin Garcia Torres, 26, was convicted last May of first-degree murder even though LaMar’s body was never found.
• And it was Smith’s deputies who arrested the three teenage boys who sexually assaulted Audrie Pott of Saratoga High School, who took her own life after she learned her attackers had posted nude photos of her online.
Of the five candidates, we think Smith is the strongest of the candidates and we’re pleased to recommend her for re-election.
— Editor Dave Price
Other Post recommendations
• No on recalling Judge Persky
• Cindy Hendrickson for Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge
• No on Regional Measure 3, the toll hike
• Re-elect San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Buchwald
• Carlos Bolanos for San Mateo County Sheriff
• Nancy Magee for San Mateo County Office of Education superintendent