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Race For Santa Clara County Sheriff Pits 16-Year Incumbent Against Retired Captain Backed By Unions, Guards

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SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — The race for Santa Clara County Sheriff in Tuesday’s election has 16-year incumbent Sheriff Laurie Smith up against retired sheriff’s captain Kevin Jensen, who has the backing of unions representing deputies and jail guards.

The sheriff’s office provides law enforcement to unincorporated parts of the county, courts, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the county parks and recreation department and the cities of Saratoga, Cupertino and Los Altos Hills.

Smith, 61, said that her department has weathered big changes in recent years, such as when the county asked her office to take over managing the county jails from the troubled Department of Corrections in July 2010.

While some union jail employees were upset about being under new management and cutbacks that resulted in the demotions of some lower-ranked jailers, Smith said by absorbing the jails she saved the county more than $10 million in annual costs without laying off any employees.

Her office also took over the security force at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose and the medical examiner-coroner’s office, and both transitions were successful, according to Smith.

Related: Netflix Development Plan On Santa Clara County Ballot

The sheriff has boasted that Saratoga, one of the office’s contracted cities, has the lowest crime rate of cities in California of more than 20,000 people, Cupertino the third lowest of cities populated by 50,000 or more and the crime rate of Los Altos Hills is even lower.

“We’ve been able to achieve an extensive list of accomplishments,” Smith stated on her campaign website.

“An agency with an annual budget of over $340 million and 1,300 sworn officers is best served by a person with experience and proven ability to continue the successes,” Smith stated.

Smith, who joined the sheriff’s office in 1973, served in a variety of positions including undercover vice before she was first elected sheriff in 1998.

She stated she has received “bipartisan support” in the county and that “all members of the Board of Supervisors support our effort.”

Her top three challenges will be managing prison realignment—the state-required transfer of low-level prison inmates to serve their time in county jails—gang suppression and preventing youths from joining gangs, according to her campaign website.

Jensen, 50, who retired after a nine-year stint as one of Smith’s captains last year, has the backing of the Santa Clara County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and the county Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, labor organizations whose members have been vocal about their opposition to Smith’s reelection.

A number of local police officers associations also have endorsed Jensen, including those of Los Altos, Campbell, Los Gatos, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

He joined the sheriff’s office in 1985 and was a sergeant from 1999 to 2002, when he was promoted to lieutenant and became a captain two years later.

Along the way, Jensen left the sheriff’s office to become Assistant Chief of the Department of Corrections prior to its merger with the sheriff’s office.

He then returned to the sheriff’s office when Smith placed the jail system under her management in 2010.

Jensen, on his campaign website, states that his priorities are crime prevention, better community policing, holding sheriff’s employees “accountable on all levels in all areas,” expanding youth programs and guaranteeing “two-way” communication with employees to improve morale.

He complains that the office under Smith is too “reactive” about crime and not “proactive” with crime prevention in mind and that there exists a “tremendous void” within the sheriff’s office in its relationships with other law enforcement agencies.

Jensen and his supporters have been disparaging about Smith’s management of the office and some criminal investigations, although Jensen’s statements have been more general that specific.

Jensen, on his website, stated that he wanted “to restore ethics to the Sheriff’s Office” and “rebuild trust” in the office.

“It’s time for less politics and more policing,” he said.

He said he also endeavors to “end the practice of special treatment to celebrities and campaign donors.”

The statement was a veiled reference to contentions by the unions that the sheriff allowed San Francisco 49ers player Aldon Smith to leave the county jail early after he was arrested for DUI in San Jose last year.

Jensen’s supporters also criticized the sheriff for inviting Aldon Smith and other 49ers to a fundraising event in 2013 for the sheriff’s campaign at the office’s gun range about a year after deputies found three assault weapons in the 49ers’ home outside San Jose in 2012.

Aldon Smith this month pleaded no contest in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose to three felony charges of possessing assault weapons and misdemeanor DUI.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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