By Emily Rasmussen

After 10 years of leading the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ seat is wide open.

OCSD is the nation’s fifth largest sheriff’s department, which serves 3.1 million residents and oversees nearly 4,000 employees. On June 5, voters will choose who OCSD’s next leader will be.

With nearly 30 years of experience at OCSD, Undersheriff Don Barnes, second-in-command to Hutchens, is running a campaign based on his administrative experience in law enforcement, his accomplishments as undersheriff and his endorsement by Hutchens, among others. Barnes hopes to build on policies and strategies he’s been a part of since 2016, when he began as undersheriff.

Also with nearly 30 years of experience with OCSD, Aliso Viejo Mayor Dave Harrington is running a campaign on reforming the Sheriff’s Department and his experience as mayor. Harrington’s main goals are to increase efficiency and transparency in the Sheriff’s Department. Harrington’s list of endorsements largely include local mayors and councilmembers, among others.

Duke Nguyen, with more than 26 years of law enforcement experience, started out with the Santa Ana Police Department and currently works with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office in the Justice System Integrity Division. Nguyen is running a campaign largely based on community policing and transparency, and one of his endorsements includes the Democratic Party of Orange County.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which oversees 13 cities including Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, has been on the forefront of many local issues facing South Orange County.

Last year, in response to rising law enforcement contract costs with its 13 cities, a coalition was formed by the city managers to draft a study to look into the costs. The findings are expected to be released later this year.

Orange County made national headlines in its controversial response to vacating its some-700 people living in the Santa Ana riverbed, which led to lawsuits and finger-pointing countywide. A long-term solution is yet to be determined.

California Senate Bill 54—the Sanctuary State Law that prohibits law enforcement from cooperating with immigration authorities—has also put Orange County in the national spotlight, as cities including Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano publicly condemned the bill. OCSD’s response to the legislation was to make inmate information publicly available online.

San Clemente Times asked each of these candidates their views on these three issues and how they will handle them if elected sheriff. Here’s what they said.

Rising contract costs

  • Barnes said an approach that he’s been contemplating is to regionalize law enforcement, taking down city borders and creating a hybrid model with contract cities. That would mean cities would still fund patrol deputies and traffic enforcement, but to deploy those resources on a broader scale. “That gets overlaid as a patrol support provision, rather than something that you carry the full cost of,” Barnes said.
  • Harrington said his approach would be to combine cities between management services, such as combining police chiefs between multiple cities, and not to regionalize deputies out on the street. Said Harrington, “For example, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Hills want to share a lieutenant and an admin sergeant, so essentially between those two cities we’d eliminate $700,000 approximately from the contract.”
  • Nguyen said his plan would be to increase public safety by putting more deputies patrolling streets and curtailing services that cities don’t need as much. “I want to sit down with every mayor in every South Orange County city and visit the issues, and make sure that the contract is exactly what it’s called for, we don’t overcharge or undermine the contract,” Nguyen said.

Homelessness

  • Barnes said he managed to get several hundred people into services from the Santa Ana riverbed and made 500-plus arrests, and wants to build on that. His long-term plan is to educate the public on the homeless and to create an enforcement plan with a “larger collaborative strategy.”
  • Harrington said he wants to separate the different groups of homeless people, such as criminals and those mentally ill, because “those groups are all dealt with differently, they need different services, the mental health people need more wrap-around-style services, others need transitional housing and criminals need law enforcement.”
  • Nguyen emphasized that being homeless is not a crime, and his goals are to create a mental health evaluation team and provide long-term shelter. “We have $700 million in the county to utilize to get our people who are homeless into some sort of a long-term shelter,” Nguyen said.

Sanctuary State Law

  • Barnes is against the Sanctuary State Law, and said he plans to continue the OCSD’s practice of posting inmate release information online and to speak out against the bill with legislators.
  • Harrington is also against the Sanctuary State Law and said he agrees with the Sheriff Department’s posting of inmate information. He hopes the courts will sort the issue out.
  • Nguyen said that if elected, he would retract the online postings of inmate information and people who commit higher felonies are always deported anyway. Nguyen said he would release inmate information to immigration officers if they had proper court orders.

To learn more about the candidates, visit their websites: www.barnesforsheriff.com; www.harringtonforsheriff.com; and www.nguyenforsheriff.com.

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