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.
As a deputy in the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department, Justin Patterson has less administrative experience than any other current candidate for sheriff. He doesn’t consider that much of a disadvantage, however, because he has considerably more experience than Steve Bernal did when he became sheriff seven years ago.
Patterson has been a patrol deputy 19 years, eight years more than Bernal, and unlike Bernal, Patterson has had experience with special teams and special assignments.
While Bernal never received any training beyond the basic police academy and never applied for any special units, Patterson is a longtime member of the SWAT team and has been a canine handler in addition to carrying out other special assignments.
“My years of patrol experience has given me vast knowledge and experience with all of the different areas of Monterey County as I have worked everywhere from Big Sur to Pajaro and Castroville to Lockwood,” Patterson said, adding that Bernal spent all his time a deputy in southern Monterey County, King City mostly.
Patterson is one of five candidates to replace Bernal, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election in 2022. Bernal’s tenure has been marked by various controversies documented by Voices of Monterey Bay, a censure from the Monterey County Board of Supervisors for misuse of county resources, and continuing investigations by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
The other candidates are Del Rey Oaks Police Chief Jeff Hoyne, former Commander Jose Mendoza, Capt. Joe Moses, and Marina Police Chief Tina Nieto. The other candidates’ questionnaires were published earlier.
These candidates, and potentially others, will face off in the June 2022 primary election. Unless one candidate receives more than 50 percent of that vote, the two top finishers will square off in November 2022.
Normally media outlets wait until the closing weeks of an election to publish such information but Voices decided it would be wise to alert the public to the personalities and issues at the front end rather than closing days of what is likely to be a truly spirited campaign.
Here is Patterson’s Q&A.
Q: What was the biggest factor that made you decide to enter the race for sheriff?
A: In my humble opinion, the Sheriff’s Office has lost sight of who they truly serve. It is the responsibility of the sheriff and his designees to serve the people of Monterey County, not themselves. The Sheriff’s Office has become far too political. I have watched as the Patrol Division has gone from roughly 130 patrol deputies to a measly 60. While this has partly been due to budget cuts, mismanagement is the true culprit. My goal is to bring the Sheriff’s Office back to its true purpose of protecting and serving the community.
Q: As a sheriff’s deputy, the department’s lowest rank, you presumably have little or no supervisory experience. Why do you believe you could run a large department with an annual budget of more than $130 million?
A: While it is true that I am currently a deputy, this does not disqualify me in any way from being able to run the Sheriff’s Office effectively. I would argue that I have just as much, if not more, leadership experience than some of my fellow candidates. I would attribute this largely to my extensive SWAT team experience and my Criminal Justice Management degree, which is far more management experience than the current sheriff had at the time of his campaign for sheriff.
Why I am qualified to oversee the department and oversee the budget is quite simple. I will not assume I know all and make decisions solely on my own. I will have an executive management team and a competent fiscal division that will actively collaborate with the many decisions faced by the Sheriff’s Office.
Q: Which part of your career has been the most interesting? The most important in preparing you?
A: The most interesting part would have to be my time as a K9 handler. The hard work, attention to detail and crime scene management that goes along with that particular responsibility is massive. It is a position where the handler – not a supervisor — has the authority to utilize the K9. As a canine handler, I managed multiple scenes and apprehended numerous felony subjects. I also learned how to work effectively with different agencies throughout Monterey County.
The most important thing that has prepared me to lead the Sheriff’s Office would be my time on the SWAT team. My 12-plus years on the team taught me how to work efficiently with others in a team setting that depended on our ability to communicate and rely on one another. We are only as good as the weakest person on the team, making training a vital part of who and what we are.
Q: If Steve Bernal was seeking re-election, would you have run against him? If not, why not?
A: My decision to run would not have changed. As with several issues that I have previously mentioned, the Sheriff’s Office has not been as effective as it should have been. Again a $100 million jail remains unoccupied, and retaliation and pettiness by the sheriff has demoralized deputies throughout the department. Promotions based on support of Bernal are very evident and the sheriff leaves the running of the department to his executive staff. The staffing levels in the Operations Bureau and Patrol Division have seen a nearly 50 percent staffing reduction, yet Bernal has provided no leadership in resolving the issue. Finally, Bernal has embarrassed the department with recent events including improper use of county funds to host the California State Sheriffs Association conference. Never in the history of the department has a sitting sheriff been unanimously censured by the Board of Supervisors. His conduct has had an embarrassing impact on personnel throughout the department.
Q: What is your view of how Bernal and the department have operated in recent years?
A: While Bernal did start off on the right foot by bringing in a good executive management team, that unfortunately was short-lived when his lack of experience and ego created division amongst the executive team meant to help bring our department together. During Bernal’s eight years as sheriff, he has been incapable of maintaining a constant executive management team. His initial team had several decades of experience under their belts, yet due to his unwillingness to adhere to their advice, he has had massive turnover within this team. Steve Bernal is most known within the department for promoting those who have stoked his ego instead of those who are qualified.
Q: Do you expect to receive support from any past or present members of the Sheriff’s Department? Who?
A: I know I will receive support from current and past members of the department. I will refrain from naming any past members until I formally announce. I will refrain from naming any current employees as I have promised them since, unfortunately in our current administration, this leads to career suicide.
Q: To fill key leadership positions, would you be more likely to promote from within or hire from the outside?
A: With more than 350 sworn personnel, I truly believe that we have greatness to offer from within. There is a vast amount of experience. We have many employees with bachelor’s degrees and above, and while that is not all that makes a person qualified, it is knowledge that can be used. Bringing in outsiders has proved in the past to have dire consequences, and when we bring in someone from outside the department, we are undermining capabilities that are right there within our own agency.
Q: If you were sheriff today, how would you handle Covid vaccine mandates?
A: Let me first state for the record that I am not an anti-vaxxer. However, as sheriff, I would not force Sheriff’s Office personnel to become vaccinated. There are far too many court cases at this time already challenging the legality of the vaccination mandate. I will not force a potential illegal mandate on any employee of the Sheriff’s Office, especially if they are already hesitant. The sheer number of first responders that we are seeing walk off the job due to forced vaccinations is astounding, which is a scary thought in itself. In a department such as the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, if we were to force such a mandate and fire those who choose not to be vaccinated, it would deplete an already understaffed department and further put the safety of our citizens at risk with longer response times.
Q: You have been a member of the deputy sheriffs’ union. How would you handle being on the other side on contract and disciplinary issues?
A: First and foremost, I will sign off on binding arbitration with the union. This creates a fair system of checks and balances, so that even as sheriff I am not the end-all, be-all in deciding punishments. As for disciplinary action, my first objective is to remain out of ANY and ALL investigations being conducted by my Internal Affairs Division. If there are issues involved with contract negotiations that I believe will have a negative impact on the community or the department, I will voice my objections with the county. It is the responsibility of the sheriff to maintain its budget and live within its means. This means making hard decisions when necessary.
Q: What was your experience working in the jail? How would you change things there?
A: I worked for 2½ years in the jail. During this time, I was field training officer for one year. I learned valuable information that assisted me when I made the transition into patrol. One of the biggest issues in the jail is lack of leadership. The past leadership has been in place while the citizens have watched multiple escapes, numerous lawsuits that have cost millions, and the inability to open a $100 million jail that should have been opened in 2018. These are issues that could have been avoided had the proper leadership team been put in place and a sheriff willing to roll up his sleeves and do the work instead of focusing on just being a figurehead.
Q: Much of the population is pushing police departments to become less militaristic and less confrontational, especially when dealing with communities of color, the homeless, the mentally ill and others. As sheriff, would you support measures to increase cooperation with social workers, mental health agencies, community activists, etc.?
A: I believe, as of now, that the Sheriff’s Office has a positive working relationship with the social and mental health workers of this county. They are a valuable resource that is utilized when necessary. However, they lack the funding necessary to assist 24/7. I would love to see more funding for them so they would have more availability to assist when necessary.
I believe in communication and open dialogue. I believe that law enforcement, the community and its leaders need to be able to have conversations so we can openly hear one another. We may not always agree, but you always need to agree to hear different sides of a conversation to come to a common goal.
Q: In many law enforcement agencies, the officers adopt an attitude of Us vs. Them regarding civilians. As sheriff, what would you do to change that?
A: I would institute a new community policing policy that would focus on deputies being assigned to a beat for a year at a time. This allows the deputy to create relationships within the community to help foster a positive, open relationship. I would push for more community forums where the deputy and members from my Executive Management Team would attend and help create community-based plans to help keep everyone involved. Having deputies assigned to beats for a year at time will help create trust between them and the community but also to help keep deputies highly involved in the areas in which they work. I would also like to set up quarterly meetings with the community to meet, greet and discuss any issues that they may have.
Q: How do you plan to raise money for your campaign?
A: From fundraising strategies and community events. I have also had several community members express support in setting up fundraisers to support me.
Q: What else would you like to tell us?
A: This county needs a sheriff who will not only stand up for them but will also help them protect their constitutional rights. We need a sheriff who is ready to tackle the important issues of homelessness and drug use. These issues will take a sheriff willing to sit at the table with all community leaders to solve the problems that currently plague this county.
For the past seven-plus years, the Sheriff’s Office has been led by a person who believes the role of a sheriff is to be a “figurehead.” This attitude, in my opinion, has led to a demoralized and ineffective department. The sheriff needs to be a leader and not just a figurehead showing up at events. My 21 years of law enforcement experience have instilled a work ethic that will be for the betterment of the department and most importantly, the citizens of Monterey County.
Featured image: Monterey County Sheriff’s Badge | Adobe Stock photo
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