The race for Del Norte County sheriff/coroner is an intriguing contest between an incumbent running on his record as he seeks a third term and a challenger who questions whether that record is good enough.
Sheriff Dean Wilson contends he's done a solid job of deploying his resources to protect all of Del Norte County in the face of tight budgets, a task that could be complicated by even tighter budgets to come as the state government continues to struggle. This is no time to put a new leader at the helm, according to Wilson and his supporters.
His challenger, Brian Clemann, said there's room for improvement in interagency cooperation that could make residents safer, especially in the outlying areas of Del Norte. He has worked for the California Highway Patrol for more than 10 years, and before that was a deputy with the Sheriff's Office.
When it comes to local law enforcement, clearly we are all in thistogether: the Sheriff's Office, CHP, the city police and the tribalpolice. The cops on the streets certainly know their colleagues in theother agencies and frequently back each other up on calls, but we can'tachieve optimum cooperation unless it starts at the top. Clemanncontends the sheriff has not done as much reaching out as he should.Wilson disagrees, although he acknowledges interagency communication ismade difficult by recent turnover at the CHP, the tribal police andPelican Bay State Prison. Even more turnover, as in a new sheriff, isnot the answer, he says.
The candidates also disagree on whether there is a sufficientSheriff's Office presence in the outlying areas. Clemann said thereshould be more routine patrols in the hinterlands. Wilson points to theneed to keep most of his resources in more populated areas that producemost of the 911 calls, and notes that cross-deputization of YurokTribal Police officers improves the first-response capabilities ofauthorities in the Klamath area.
One issue that Clemann doesn't criticize Wilson on is whether, inthe face of numerous lawsuits, his office is doing an adequate job ofpolicing its own personnel through the internal affairs process.
The legitimacy of the claims in many of those lawsuits may bequestionable, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that the countyhas just agreed to a settlement that will pay more than $100,000 to thefamily of a man who was fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy on theHiouchi Bridge. That came after the Sheriff's Office and the districtattorney determined in separate investigations that all three deputiesat the shooting scene performed appropriately.
Clemann, a lifelong county resident, talks like a leader and appearsto have a bright future in local law enforcement. He's in a sensitivesituation running for sheriff while working as a CHP officer, but we'dstill like to hear him get a bit more specific in his criticism of thecurrent Sheriff's Office leadership. And frankly, we'd like to hear awillingness from the challenger to tackle the issue of whether theoffice's internal affairs process is adequate.
Clemann might make a good sheriff, but at least this time around, hehasn't made the case that he'd be a better sheriff than Wilson. Thehard times are not over in terms of funding public services, and weprefer to rely on the incumbent's experience in getting the most out ofthe county's precious law enforcement resources.
The Triplicate endorses Sheriff Dean Wilson's re-election bid.