As a West Coast progressive and a child of the 1960s counter-culture, I have not had a lot of contact with police. I can’t recall ever having a preference for who serves as County Sheriff. The field of law enforcement always seemed like an unlikely domain for social progress. As a young radical, I could not have imagined myself endorsing a cop. As my political understanding has matured, I have grown to realize that the quality of law enforcement is a critical measure of social health in a community. We need good people with a strong ethical commitment to rule of law managing our police forces.
The race for County Sheriff is typically an uneventful campaign. This year is different. Former county Sheriff Steve Freitas resigned last year, leaving a department with strained community relations and lots of legal bills following the Andy Lopez incident. This unexpected vacancy has created an open race and a real contest for the office. Fortunately, we have a very clear choice for citizens who care about public safety and the rule of law.
There are three candidates for the top law enforcement post in Sonoma County: former LAPD Station Commander and current law enforcement consultant John Mutz; Sheriff’s Captain Mark Essick; and retired Santa Rosa police lieutenant and Santa Rosa Councilman Ernesto Olivares. I have followed the race from the start and I witnessed the candidate’s debate at the Sonoma County Republican Club recently. The debate made it clear that John Mutz is the only candidate who has the skills, experience, and temperament to effectively reform the Sheriff’s office.
The fact that he did not come through the chain of command in this department is an asset for a serious police reform program. He has not been captured by the current police culture in the county. Captain Mark Essick, who served under Sheriff Freitas, has no substantive critique of the department’s community relations. In the public debate I attended, he stated defensively that the department ‘already practices community policing.’ That does not sound like a candidate for the necessary deep reform project needed to build community trust with all social sectors. I like councilman Olivares as a person, but he does not have the drive or the vision to be a reformer. I don’t really get why he is running for this position. The Latino community and the poor white parts of town around the county have been the most affected by aggressive over-enforcement, with the subsequent over-population of the county jail. We can fix that with good management.
The Andy Lopez fiasco and an agency history of unresolved community tensions were factors in John Mutz’ decision to re-enter active duty in order to fix the culture of the Sheriff’s department. In his public appearances, he has stated that the impunity the former sheriff granted the officer involved in the shooting, the excessive paramilitary response to youthful high school protestors, and the failure to admit an error in judgment and charge or at least re-assign the problematic deputy were all signs of a failed departmental culture. I was astounded to hear such a clear-minded and candid assessment from a candidate for top cop in the county. We need a new Sheriff in this town. John Mutz is the man.
In my conversations with Mr. Mutz, he has educated me on the modern law enforcement school of Procedural Justice, which is the foundation for the concept of community policing (which is still just a slogan in many jurisdictions). Based on groundbreaking work at Yale School of Law, the key insight of procedural justice is that community assent to law enforcement is based on the legitimacy of their authority. Sheer force alone will not create a safe community.
From their introduction to Procedural Justice, Yale Professors Meares and Tyler state: “Research shows that when communities view police authority as legitimate, they are more likely to cooperate with police and obey the law.” Mutz is deeply committed to reforming police culture to come in line with community standards.
As a consultant, after decades of work in law enforcement at the upper management level, he has worked to remedy broken police departments. John Mutz has the experience (nearly a decade in the LAPD in a command the size of a city), the management skill set, and the levelheaded temperament to get the job done here in Sonoma County. He states: “Change requires knowledge, dedication, and expertise, and doesn’t happen overnight…together, we can seize the moment and develop a new culture. We can do this! Because the alternative is just not acceptable.” I believe he is the man for the job.