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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday questioned three candidates seeking to be tapped to serve as interim sheriff, asking them about possible improvements to the jails, recruiting efforts and community trust.

Applicants Michael Barletta, Edwin Brock and Anthony Ray were selected to move forward to the final selection round next week after taking questions from supervisors during a public job interview process that ran more than 90 minutes.

Ray, Barletta and Brock each have leadership experience within the department, which has about 4,600 staffers and an annual budget of more than $1 billion.

Ray is an assistant sheriff, in charge of courts and human resources. Barletta retired as a commander, and is currently an instructor and consultant.

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Brock, who led the San Marcos sheriff’s station and retired as a lieutenant, is now the chief of police in Arvin, a city outside Bakersfield.

They are competing for a short-term appointment, lasting through January, to fill the remainder of the term made vacant by former Sheriff Bill Gore, who retired last month.

None of the three candidates for the interim spot are running for the job in the upcoming election. The primary election on June 7 will mark the first time in more than 30 years that an incumbent sheriff is not on the ballot.

The job is now open as the Sheriff’s Department has come under intense scrutiny in recent years because of the number of people who have died in county jails — 185 deaths over 15 years. Last month, the state auditor’s office issued a finding that the Sheriff’s Department failed to prevent and respond to the deaths, and calling for change.

The three candidates were asked which recommendation from the state audit to implement first. Each said they wanted to see mental health professionals evaluate inmates when they are booked.

Brock said he’d like to see that same principle “pushed out to patrol as well,” to have mental health professionals screen people in the field.

Several studies have found racial disparities in stop and search data collected by the Sheriff’s Department. For example, a study released in December found that deputies stopped, searched and used force on people of color at higher rates than White people, even when analysis of the data took into account factors such as crime rates and poverty. The study had been commissioned by the department.

All three applicants spoke of focusing on community outreach, of gaining the public trust, and of making deputies approachable and holding them accountable when they engage in misconduct or break the law.

Barletta said he wants to see law enforcement make the first move toward establishing trust with the community, and it would be his role to do so through outreach to community groups.

Earlier this week, the Union-Tribune reported that the department is losing deputies faster than it can replace them. Data from the department show that in the last fiscal year, 28 more deputies left than were hired. San Diego police are similarly struggling with retention, as are departments across the nation.

Ray said he is working on recruiting, and said that aside from efforts on military bases and local colleges, the department is working with a social media influencer to reach its target audience — 19-to-34-year-olds.

After hearing from the three applicants, supervisors were allowed to vote for up to three of them to move on to the final selection round. Four of the supervisors voted for all three to move forward. Supervisor Joel Anderson voted only for Ray to advance.

Ray also drew praise from three public speakers, including a vice president and a past president of the San Diego chapter of the NAACP, and the president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the local deputies union.

Francine Maxwell, past president of the local NAACP, said Ray has a “wonderful relationship” with the community.

“Our community is better for him being there,” she said. “Changes are coming, we need him there for the nine months so we can continue that train moving and that sense of urgency.”

None of the public speakers commented specifically about Brock or Barletta during the interviews.

The board will make its final selection March 22. The interim sheriff will be sworn in on April 5 and hold the job until the term ends in January 2023.

Until an interim sheriff is selected, Acting Sheriff Kelly Martinez is at the helm. Once an interim sheriff is selected, Martinez will return to her job as undersheriff.

The Sheriff’s Department handles law enforcement in nine cities, from Imperial Beach to Vista, as well as the county’s unincorporated areas. It also provides security in the courts and runs the county’s seven jails.

Only four men have held the job of sheriff in San Diego County over the last 50 years. The sheriff’s seat has belonged to an incumbent since Bill Kolender was elected in 1994.

When Kolender retired in 2009 — also before his term ended — he endorsed Gore, then the department’s undersheriff, to take over. The Board of Supervisors soon appointed Gore — who was also a candidate in the sheriff’s race — to fill the remainder of Kolender’s term, ignoring critics who said giving the interim sheriff job to someone who was also running for the position gave that candidate an incumbent-like advantage.

The field for the interim job shrank last week when a fourth candidate, Sheriff’s Cmdr. Hank Turner, withdrew his application, saying he had taken another position.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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