Q&A with Joe Moses Candidate for Monterey County Sheriff faces questions about police sent to home


By Royal Calkins

The race for Monterey County sheriff will be held during the primary election in June. Unless one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two candidates receiving the most votes will compete in a runoff as part of the November 2022 general election.


Joe Moses | Provided photo

On paper, Monterey County sheriff’s Capt. Joe Moses is the best prepared of all five candidates to become the county’s next sheriff.  He has worked most jobs in the Sheriff’s Department and has been involved in most major decisions. He also, however, seems to be carrying the most baggage because of his years of close association with the man he seeks to replace.

Four years ago, then-Commander Moses was the point man in a successful effort by Sheriff Steve Bernal to “dirty up” Bernal’s opponent at the time — sheriff’s deputy and Salinas City councilmember Scott Davis.

Moses, with the aid of commanders Arche Warren and Mark Caldwell, publicly accused Davis and two associates of embezzling money from the deputies’ union, the Deputy Sheriff Association.

Heavy news coverage of the accusations clearly helped Bernal’s re-election campaign even though the allegations proved to be unsupported by the facts. The state Department of Justice quickly discounted the accusations as unworthy of official attention.

In the Question & Answer text below, Moses clings to his position that the accusations were on target. Two lawsuits over the claims remain active. One of them accuses Moses and the other commanders of defaming Davis and the other has been upheld by the court and is headed to the county Board of Supervisors for settlement talks in upcoming weeks.

In legal papers filed throughout the litigation, lawyers for Moses and the other commanders have not taken the position that the accusations against Davis et al were true, even though truth is the ultimate defense in a defamation case. Instead, they have characterized the allegations as First Amendment-protected political rhetoric, a position weakened by the fact that the commanders aired their allegations while on duty. Monterey County taxpayers are paying for their defense.

Another portion of the Q&A is also likely to invite additional conversation. It involves four Pacific Grove Police Department reports involving calls to Moses’ former home in Pacific Grove because of reports of disturbances there. According to associates of the candidate, he filed a public records act request for the reports in preparation for the campaign out of concern they might be construed as reflecting cases of domestic violence.

See the text below.

The other candidates so far are Marina Police Chief Tina Nieto, former sheriff’s Commander Jose Mendoza, Del Rey Oaks Police Chief Jeff Hoyne and sheriff’s deputy Justin Patterson. The Q&As with Nieto, Mendoza and Hoyne have appeared previously and Patterson’s also appears this week.

The candidates will square off in the June 2022 primary election. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top finishers will face off in the November election. Voices has been featuring these Q&As early in the campaign season to help voters get a handle on the issues and the people involved at the start rather than in the final weeks.

Q: What do you bring to the Sheriff’s Office that sets you apart from the other candidates?

A: Monterey County deserves a leader with the experience, knowledge and mindset to lead the Sheriff’s Office into the future. I am uniquely prepared and equally excited to navigate the waters that lie ahead for law enforcement and the Sheriff’s Office.

I have spent the last 27 years learning every aspect of the job. From my time as a deputy beginning in 1994, I have been promoted steadily. Today I serve as the only captain in the office.

During that time, I have worked in every division and nearly every position within the Sheriff’s Office: Patrol, Corrections, Detectives, Special Operations, and Internal Affairs. That experience will be key if the voters elect me sheriff.

The Sheriff’s Office is a big, complex organization that far exceeds the average police department in both size and scope. I know and understand the safety needs of each of our unique communities throughout our county from Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula to the Salinas Valley from Pajaro to Bradley.

I have also developed a unique leadership style to inspire and motivate our employees and volunteer staff to provide the best service possible. I have learned to provide the vision of what is needed and allow my staff to work toward making it a reality.

I have also worked hard to earn numerous degrees to perfect my skills and knowledge, including a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, a master’s in emergency services administration, a POST Management Certificate, and a Senior Management Institute for Police certificate, to name a few. For a more complete list of my educational accomplishments, you can visit my website at joemosesforsheriff.com.

Improving every aspect of the office has been the driving force behind my professional career. These skills have been put to practice on the streets and in the jail, in the chambers of the Board of Supervisors and in the back country of Big Sur with the Search and Rescue Team.

I remain committed to developing policies, procedures and programs to create efficient execution of the duties, including making sure the Sheriff’s Office is invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion so that the office best reflects the community that it serves.

As a new sheriff, I won’t need any hand holding or special training. I will be ready to lead from day one.

Q: What accomplishments are you proud of?

A: For the past two years, I have managed a balanced budget of $72 million and approximately 300 employees. Effectively, I have done everything needed to serve as Sheriff except wear the badge itself.

I am particularly proud of the work we’ve done to help those in the system who are struggling with severe mental health issues. We established the Jail-Based Competency Treatment Program to allow inmates with severe mental health issues to rapidly enter a treatment environment to balance medication with counseling. This helps them stabilize their symptoms and allows them to be processed through the court system quickly rather than waiting for space to become available at state hospitals. My command staff and I have coordinated with the Department of State Hospitals, WellPath Medical Group, Monterey County Superior Court, Monterey County Public Defender’s Office, and Monterey County District Attorney’s Office to create this program in the jail.

I am also proud of the way our department has handled the COVID-19 crisis. Running a jail, outbreaks are somewhat inevitable with a staff and new intakes coming in from the outside every day — especially before vaccines and tests were both available and reliable. We successfully navigated through two COVID-19 outbreaks using the Incident Command System principles to maintain communication and collaboration with the county Health Department, WellPath, and staff at the County Jail. When an outbreak did occur, we quickly enacted our plan and we were able to contain the outbreak to just a few housing units rather than have the virus running through the entire facility as it did in many institutions.  Our staff did everything they could to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus.  The subsequent reports written by the court-appointed neutral monitor praised the work we did. We also took immediate action to fix the areas they identified where we needed to make improvements.

I am proud to have led the Sheriff’s Office effort to upgrade our disaster response. I have served in incident command roles for most of the recent large fires and flood incidents.  Recognizing the work we had done here in Monterey County, the California State Office of Emergency Services asked me to lead the search effort for the people missing in the Camp Fire in Paradise. I had the daunting task of overseeing the search for thousands of people reported missing and conducting the search of over 1,000 destroyed structures to locate the remains of victims.  After approximately two  weeks of work with a force of over 1,200 people per day, we were able to cover every structure and identify every missing person.  We would not have been successful if I hadn’t been able to build an incredible team who came together to accomplish this monumental task.

I am really proud of the way that our volunteer services have grown and flourished under my leadership.  Whether it was the Sheriff’s Emergency Assistance Team (SEAT), Mounted Unit, Aerosquad, Sheriff’s Explorers, Search and Rescue Volunteers, or the Sheriff’s Advisory Council, I have always pushed these units to be force multipliers for our paid staff.  I believe that we need to continue to build these teams to help supplement the mission of the Sheriff’s Office to protect and serve.

Finally, I am really proud of the lives we have saved since I started with the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team in 1997. Back then, it was a small but talented group of rescuers who worked hard to rescue people trapped in the remote parts of the county. As I moved through the ranks, I pushed the Search and Rescue Team to new and improved heights of professionalism and capabilities by integrating the volunteer and sworn staff members to work seamlessly to bring an unmatched sense of camaraderie and teamwork in both training and mission execution. Under my leadership, the Search and Rescue Team has achieved the international standard of the Mountain Rescue Association. Today, it is capable of carrying out searches and rescues in all types of terrain and conditions including snow and ice, desert, and high angle environments. We are now frequently deployed to help with search and rescues throughout California.

Q: Current Sheriff Steve Bernal’s tenure has been decidedly controversial. He has been censured by the Board of Supervisors, investigated by the DA’s Office and remains under investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. In what ways do you support his management of the department and in what ways do you differ?

A: I believe that effective communication is the best way to overcome the obstacles of making meaningful progress in any endeavor. I lead through a collaborative approach and value the thoughts and opinions of all stakeholders.  That way we bring more complete and sustainable solutions to issues that will be encountered by the Sheriff’s Office and our communities.

Being Sheriff is a tough job. It is a large department with a large budget that many people resent. In a civil society, no one is eager to spend lots of money on incarcerating people — but it is also essential to ensuring public safety. There are many critics. Many people think they can do it better. I welcome this input while understanding that the sheriff is the expert in this field and needs to educate those who do not understand the complexities of the budget and the operation.

I won’t speak for Sheriff Bernal, but I will say he had a daunting learning curve when he was first elected. He had not held any supervisory or management positions in a law enforcement office. He had to learn quickly what each position required and he had to learn whom to trust within the department. As a result, he allowed me and other commanders to lead our individual Divisions the way we saw fit.  He also provided me with the opportunity to manage the jail — the Custody Operations Bureau — and develop a deep understanding of the largest part of the Sheriff’s Office operation.

Sheriff Bernal and I have a good relationship. He put me in a position where I could help professionalize the department, expand staff training, and make sure we run a modern law enforcement department ready to handle the challenges of an increasingly complex world. He has consistently seen the value I bring to the department and promoted me accordingly.

I would value his support in this race. That having been said, there are changes I would like to make. There are ways I will be different.

Q: Bernal’s campaigns were largely financed by oil and ranching interests, Sheriff’s Department vendors and potential vendors, and marijuana interests. Are there any categories of funding sources that you would rule out?

A: Campaigns in America require contributors to fund your ability to talk to voters. Until there is public financing, raising money is the only way to make sure you can have the conversations with voters you need to make your case. I have no problem asking for money from all legal sources. I will also have no problem saying no to campaign contributors if they ask for special favors or think the law doesn’t apply to them.

Q: What is your vision for the Sheriff’s Office? What changes would you make?

A: My vision would be first to focus on mental health. I would take meaningful action to address the homelessness crisis and substance abuse crisis by developing a Behavioral Health Treatment Center to help keep people in a mental health crisis from ending up in our jail or on our streets. I would also continue to expand the mental health crisis teams, provide up-to-date crisis intervention and de-escalation training for all deputies, expand the Jail-Based Competency Treatment Program and use the Behavioral Health Treatment Center as a collaborative effort to provide sustainable treatment of those suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues.

I would also focus on collaboration and transparency. This starts by making a paradigm shift in the Sheriff’s Office to expand the focus beyond just law enforcement by making sure the service component of the job is brought to the forefront. That will allow the office to expand its role as partners with the community working toward making our county a safer and more fulfilling place to live and work. Transparency is a key component of that partnership. Transparency is the only way to promote effective communication and tear down the silos that too often prevent meaningful progress. What better way is there to improve the lives of Monterey County residents than by changing the way we think of our duties and focusing more on being a partner in service to the community.

Thirdly, I would work to improve operational efficiency and morale. A focus will be put on evaluating and restructuring the Sheriff’s Office, putting those with the appropriate qualifications in appropriate positions. By analyzing those portions of the Sheriff’s Office that can be staffed by civilians rather than default to sworn deputies filling those roles, we will free up more sworn deputies to be assigned to patrol and the Enforcement Bureau and lead toward a more effective operation. By placing staff in their desired positions, we will naturally increase overall morale and efficiency in the office.

Q: Three years ago, you and two other sheriff’s commanders made serious, public accusations against a candidate for sheriff and his associates, accusations that were quickly disproved by the state. The accusations helped your political ally, Sheriff Steve Bernal, get re-elected. What do you have to say about your role in all that, a role that is part of continuing litigation?

A: Nearly four years ago now, I discovered irregularities in the finances of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association. It was not an easy decision to make my accusations public, but the more I learned about certain individuals’ efforts to support a candidate for sheriff by means I considered underhanded, the more I knew I needed to do something about it. In this case, there were many hard-working deputies in the Sheriff’s Office whose reputations were being put at risk. My claims certainly had merit and the Department of Justice did not exonerate the entities involved. They wrote a simple letter that stated the investigation was being closed without further action. This is far from an exoneration.  I would take the same action today as I did then. Unfortunately, I uncovered this evidence of malfeasance during a time when we had a contested election, but it is also clear the malfeasance was directly related to the election itself.

Q:  In October, you filed a public records act request for four Pacific Grove Police Department reports that are unavailable to the public. We’re told that they involved disturbance calls to your home while you lived in PG. Please provide the pertinent details. Will you make the reports public? Former sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Mitchell also filed a public records request for a case involving a call to your home. Can you explain that one, or is it one of the four you requested?

A: The incidents occurred more than 10 years ago when I was going through a contentious divorce. In those situations, emotions can run raw and accusations can fly. I may not have been at my best, but there was never any violence involved. To protect the privacy of my former wife and children, I will not publicly release the police reports. However, I will tell you that people like retired Pacific Grove Police Chief Vicki Myers and former Monterey County Weekly editor and reporter Mary Duan would not have publicly endorsed me and my campaign if there was even an inkling of wrong-doing in these incidents.

(Author’s note: Duan acknowledged this week that she has endorsed Moses. She said she has not seen the police reports but has been advised of their contents. “I would not have endorsed him if I thought he had committed domestic violence,” she said.) 

Q: What past and present members of the Sheriff’s Department do you expect to support you?

A: I have earned the endorsement of former Monterey County Sheriff’s Gordon Sonne and Mike Kanalakis. I have worked hard to earn the respect of my colleagues both past and present. So far, I have received a lot of encouragement from employees of the Sheriff’s Office who are excited about implementing my ideas and vision.

Q: Who else is endorsing your campaign?

A: I have a very diverse group of supporters from every part of this county. Your readers can find a complete list of endorsements on my website at www.joemosesforsheriff.com/endorse.

Q: The jail is of special concern, with escapes, rapes, serious COVID issues, overcrowding, etc. What would you do to put it on a better path?

A: As the captain in charge of Custody Operations for the past two years, we have already made great strides in improving the professionalism and efficiency of the jail.  This is evidenced by the progressively better reviews submitted by the state-appointed monitors who are reporting back to the court on our progress.  We still have corrective actions to take, but I have communicated the vision that I expect our staff to embrace and I continue to drive our staff to meet our goals.  I welcome the input from anyone who has constructive criticism about how we can improve the operation.  My top priority is to ensure the safety and security of both our staff and the men and women under our care.  When we miss that mark, which happens occasionally, we take immediate action to correct the issue.

Q: Bernal’s COVID policies make staff vaccinations voluntary. If you were sheriff now, what would your policy be?

A: I would require all Sheriff’s Office employees to adhere to the mandate of the state public health officer as I do now for the Custody Operations Bureau. That mandate is for all corrections employees and contract staff to be vaccinated unless they have an approved exemption.  If they have an approved exemption, they are required to be tested on a weekly basis. We are 100 percent compliant with that mandate and all exemptions are approved by the county Office of Human Resources.

Q: Much of the population is pushing police departments to become less militaristic and less confrontational, especially when dealing with communities of color, homeless people, mentally ill people and others. As sheriff, would you support measures to increase cooperation with social workers, mental health agencies, community activists, etc.?

A: This is a large part of my platform. I believe that many of the issues we see today are a result of poor communication and the failure of people with opposing viewpoints to truly listen to each other.  Throughout my career, I have encouraged open dialogue with our government and community partners to understand our differences of opinion and come to mutually agreed upon resolutions.  As sheriff, part of my responsibility is to be open to input from all parts of our diverse community and to communicate the reasons the Sheriff’s Office is taking a particular path.  I will continue to hold town hall meetings and form citizen advisory councils made up of leaders from all political and social spectrums so that robust and sustainable changes can be made that increase the safety and security of all our communities.

Q: What else would you like to tell us?

A: The Office of the Sheriff is a critical position in our county government and the decision on which candidate to vote for should not be taken lightly.  I encourage the voters to educate themselves on the responsibilities of the sheriff and take into consideration the necessary experience, commitment, and practical knowledge it will take to lead the office into the future. I am confident that I am the only candidate in this race with the necessary experience and the practical understanding of the responsibilities to be successful in serving the people of Monterey County as their next Sheriff.

Featured image: Monterey County Sheriff’s badge | Adobe Stock Photo

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About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.