In advance of the June 3 election, the Town Crier interviewed the two candidates on the ballot for Santa Clara County sheriff – current Sheriff Laurie Smith and challenger Kevin Jensen. Jensen’s responses are below. Smith’s appeared in the May 7 Town Crier.
Santa Clara County residents will vote for sheriff on the June 3 ballot. Los Altos Hills is among the areas patroled by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. There are no term limits for sheriff.
The Sheriff’s Office manages 1,725 personnel with a budget that exceeds $300 million. According to the Sheriff Office’s mission statement, among the agency’s responsibilities are providing neighborhood patrol services to residents; organizing security at all Superior Courts in the county; enforcing warrants, evictions, restraining orders and money collection; managing a county jail population that averages 4,000 inmates; and investigating criminal activity against persons and property.
• Santa Clara County (SCC)sheriff’s captain, 2004-2013
• SCC sheriff’s lieutenant, 2002-2004
• SCC sheriff’s sergeant, 1999-2002
• SCC sheriff’s deputy, 1985
Year elected to office: N/A
Donations received for campaign in 2014 (through March 17): $16,296.99
Cash available: $19,867.24
Local endorsements: Former Los Altos Police Chief Lucy Carlton and the Los Altos Police Officers’ Association
Why are you running for office?
“After being asked for 10 years to run, it became apparent to me that someone needed to come in ... to hear about problems, rather than sweep them under the rug,” said Jensen, who retired last year. “I’m running because I believe that sometimes law enforcement loses sight of why they are serving. … It becomes more about politics than policing.”
Jensen said he would rebuild trust among all entities serving and working with the Sheriff’s Office – the public, elected officials, law enforcement in San Jose and other chiefs across California.
What is the most important responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office?
“At this particular time, law enforcement should serve the public, protect the public and ensure that citizens can live safely,” Jensen said.
Jensen said he opposes many recent budget cuts to Sheriff’s Office programs. With some creativity and will, he added, the Sheriff’s Office could organize volunteers for more school outreach.
“We either fight for the money from the (County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors) or we don’t,” Jensen of his desire to preserve important programs.
What leadership and financial management skills are important for the job?
“The sheriff promoted me three times,” said Jensen of his career working in many facets of law enforcement, including in the courts and jails.
Jensen highlighted the need to conserve resources.
“There is very little discretionary spending (in the budget of the Sheriff’s Office),” he noted. “Voters don’t deserve to have taxpayer money wasted.”
To reduce training expenses, Jensen said he would like staff to complete their training in the district and not at locations that require they spend time away from their families. He added that he would seek out grants and other sources of available funding to bolster discretionary funds.
Jensen also cited a desire to develop more opportunities for reserve officers and other volunteers to work with the Sheriff’s Office.
What makes you a viable alternative to incumbent Sheriff Laurie Smith?
“We’re going to do a good job no matter who’s in charge,” said Jensen of the Sheriff’s Office staff. “But there are so many ways we can do a better job. “
With a fresh perspective, Jensen said, he would use people with “all sorts of skills and put them to work real time” in the community and solicit ideas for improvement from a host of sources.
Jensen would prioritize improving transparency and agency collaboration.
“If people believe in you and trust you, they’ll be motivated,” he said.
What are the most significant challenges the Sheriff’s Office faces?
“Our systems are archaic,” said Jensen of the Sheriff’s Office’s outdated patrol and computer systems.
Although he noted recent updates to the Sheriff’s Office website, he reported that there is a perception the office “would rather look good than be good.”
With the increase in prisoners in the county’s jails because of new state realignment legislation, Jensen said he would focus on preparing county inmates for life after incarceration, strengthening services and improving tracking with an eye to reducing crime rates.
“I want to get better services in the jail from faith-based communities and volunteer services for rehabilitation,” he said. “We can do a lot better.”
Statistics show that residents of Los Altos Hills cite exemplary services from the Sheriff’s Office. What will you do to continue providing this quality of service to residents?
Although Jensen said good men and women serve in the Sheriff’s Office, there are ways that leadership could improve services.
“We should have regular patrols,” he said. “If (an officer) leaves for two hours, (he or she) might miss a burglary.”