The Sacramento County sheriff’s race heated up on April 6 as its candidates shared their views on local issues in a one-hour online debate that was hosted by The Sacramento Bee.
Assembly Member Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and Sacramento County Undersheriff Jim Barnes are running to become the county’s first new sheriff since 2010. The primary election will be held on June 7.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones announced in January that he will run for the state’s newly redrawn 3rd Congressional District, which includes parts of Sacramento, as well as other areas.
Barnes, a 24-year veteran of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, has Jones’ endorsement.
As a 30-year law enforcement veteran with the sheriff’s office, Cooper is not a newcomer to the sheriff’s race, as he narrowly lost to Jones in the 2010 election. He has the endorsement of Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
The candidates addressed downtown Sacramento’s recent mass shooting that left 12 people wounded and six dead. It was reported that the shooting was a gang dispute involving at least five gunmen.
“Those guys that had guns, those five, should never have had guns — probations and parolees,” Cooper said.
The assemblyman also stressed his passion for addressing “soft” crime laws.
“That’s why I’m called the ‘Cop in the Capitol,’” Cooper said. “Bottom line: 30 bills for public safety put forward. So, my voting record on public safety issues is good.”
Barnes called the shooting a “tragedy on many different levels.”
“When you talk now as it unfolds, that there was gang violence and someone who should have been in prison longer than they were and they got out early, and now to have lost a life like this at this level is unacceptable,” he said.
The undersheriff called for “stiffer sentences” for those using untraceable firearms.
Barnes also responded to Cooper’s comment about being the “Cop in the Capitol.”
“If you look at (Cooper’s) record — and I would ask you to look at his vote record — he sat on the sidelines and didn’t take a vote on a lot of issues,” Barnes said. “But now he wants to be sheriff.”
In his rebuttal, Cooper stressed that his work has extended well beyond votes, and includes major endorsements and his work speaking about victims on the Assembly floor.
“I’ve been down there fighting that fight and getting beat up, but I never waver, because victims matter, public safety matters to me,” he said. “I’m not some talking head with that (issue).”
The candidates were also asked to speak about how they view the sheriff department’s role in responding to the homelessness crisis.
“As far as taking the enforcement side of it,” Barnes noted, “I think we need to take a more holistic side of approach as we do it.
“As we continue to bring the peer navigators in, the transitional housing individuals, for it to be up to the sheriff alone or law enforcement alone is not the best way to do it. We have to continue to work together on these initiatives.”
He added that it is important to have a mindset of approaching homelessness at a state level with laws that can assist people to “get the help they need and getting them off the streets.”
Cooper noted that approaching this issue involves both accountability and compassion in dealing with those in the community with mental illnesses and substance abuse issues.
He mentioned that in the past two years there have been 100 fires along the American River Parkway where many unhoused people reside.
“For the sheriff, to go on the parkway and start somewhere, because the public should enjoy that parkway, and find places for these (homeless) folks to go,” he said.
“Let’s start somewhere, on the parkway, because it’s been burned up. The sheriff can do that. As your sheriff, I’ll do that.”
On the same issue, Cooper stressed the need for change, noting that $15 million has been spent on homelessness in Sacramento, yet this crisis “has gotten worse.”
Cooper was also asked to respond to an incident that occurred last month, in which he attempted to board a flight at the Sacramento International Airport with a semiautomatic handgun confiscated in his carry-on bag.
He mentioned that as a retired peace officer, he can legally carry a handgun.
“I had a lot of threats on my life; I’ve had songs written about killing me,” Cooper said. “So, I do believe in CCWs (carried concealed weapons). I carry that gun. I was traveling out of town for work business and failed to put it in the safe.”
Barnes called Cooper’s incident at the airport “irresponsible.”
“Part of carrying a firearm responsibly is knowing where it’s (located) at all times,” he said.
The April 6 event also provided time for the candidates to speak about their backgrounds.
Barnes told viewers of the debate that he has had a diverse background with the sheriff’s department.
“I have worked every level of this organization, from the very entry level of officer, climbing up through the ranks, all the way up to now undersheriff,” he said. “And with that, I’ve also been able to navigate some of the fundamental shifts and changes that our community is expecting us to do so.”
He referred to his law enforcement career as his life’s calling, and an opportunity to serve the community by “being able to help those who can’t help themselves, and protect those who can’t protect themselves.”
Cooper explained why is running for sheriff.
“I’m running for three things: change, experience and leadership,” he said.
He also shared details about his experience with the department.
“Thirty years in the sheriff’s department; I retired as a captain, I commanded every division,” he said. “Ten years — a third of my career — I spent in narcotics and gangs.”
Cooper added that he also spent 15 years on the Elk Grove City Council, during which time he served as the city’s first mayor and helped build Elk Grove’s police department.