California lawmakers will consider a proposal to allow candidates with no background in law enforcement to run for county sheriff.
Under current law, candidates must be certified by the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training or have experience and education in law enforcement.
Senate Bill 271, which was introduced Thursday by Sen. Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco), would remove those eligibility requirements.
“They're often the most or one of the most powerful elected officials in the county … and almost no one can challenge them for reelection,” Wiener said. He added that often results in a “lack of accountability” for sheriff’s in office.
He says the bill would expand the candidate field beyond those with a traditional law enforcement background, and allow voters to choose from a more diverse field of candidates.
The current requirements for law enforcement experience and certification were established in the late 1980s, Wiener noted.
The bill, which has early support from at least six other lawmakers, was developed in partnership with the California Immigrant Policy Center.
Orville Thomas, director of government affairs at the center, argues the legislation would advance the “larger conversation about the role of law enforcement, the funding of law enforcement, and ways in which we should think through mental health funding, housing funding and other county services.”
Thomas says the center’s involvement also stems from concerns about sheriff interactions with federal immigration services, which can lead to deportations.
He adds that the bill should not be misconstrued as “anti-police” and is not meant to dissuade people with law enforcement backgrounds from running for sheriff.
The California State Sheriffs’ Association has not taken a formal position on the bill. But Cory Salzillo, legislative director for the association, raised some concerns about nixing the candidate requirements.
“It's not clear how erasing those standards would create more accountability for the office of the sheriff,” he said.
He added that policing requires “very technical skills,” and that candidates without a law enforcement background may lack the operational knowledge to run a sheriff’s office.
The Legislature passed a law last year that gives counties the ability to install an inspector general or review board to oversee sheriff offices.
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