What will it mean to have a new sheriff in San Mateo County?
At this writing, challenger Christina Corpus was leading incumbent Carlos Bolanos by 11 percentage points, separated by more than 12,000 votes, in the two-person race for San Mateo County Sheriff. More than a week after the polls closed, the tally may not be complete. However, the vast majority of votes have been counted — including all by-mail ballots and vote center ballots. All that remains, according to county elections officials, are conditional and provisional ballots. More may trickle in, but there don’t appear to be nearly enough hanging in the balance to overturn the early results. And, though this was a primary election, the results of this one will decide who holds this countywide office.
The primary attracted fewer than 1 in 3 eligible California voters. That’s unfortunate. While the presidential election always attracts attention, there is a way in which smaller races have a bigger impact in a given locale. National policy can seem remote to our lives, but we all encounter sheriff’s deputies regularly on the coast.
And lately, law enforcement has been a primary concern. Many — perhaps most of us — have favored some police reforms in the long months since the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not hard to understand why meaningless phrases like “defund the police” have alarmed law enforcement officials. Some of the criticism has been unfair, an insult to the difficult and often thankless work of many professional cops, and often comes at the same time Americans bemoan a perceived spike in crime. We are humbled by the selfless efforts of Capitol Police officers to defend the hallowed halls of our democracy and hurt to learn of deadly delays storming Robb Elementary School as a killer mowed down children. We have a complicated relationship with our cops.
What most of us really want is not to defund police, per se, but rather redirect some money into social services and mental health care and housing programs and educational opportunities that, taken as a whole, will create a stronger, healthier and ultimately less lawless society. It would take a visionary sheriff to understand that, and it remains to be seen whether Corpus will be that kind of sheriff.
In her campaign materials, she says she stands for “transparency,” “integrity” and “community engagement.” We may learn that Corpus, who has said that misogyny she experienced while a corrections officer informed her later years on the force, attaches real meaning to those buzzwords. Corpus comes from inside the department, but claims an outside perspective on things like use-of-force policies and the way Tasers are deployed. She says she will cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement only on a case-by-case basis. These seem like baby steps rather than big strides toward more cooperative relationships with the communities the sheriff serves. Time will tell.
One thing is certain: Bolanos wasn’t particularly interested in any of it. He’s resisted the establishment of a citizens oversight committee, declined to honor the city of Half Moon Bay’s request that all Coastside deputies be vaccinated against COVID-19, shrugged off a reform proposal from two City Council members, waited for an election year to discover transparency, and has generally taken a paternal stance toward any public request for greater accountability.
Today we have hope that a new sheriff means a renewed Sheriff’s Office. Even Bolanos admits that morale is low and recruiting more people to serve and protect is more difficult than ever. Perhaps the election of Corpus will help change that and more.
— Clay Lambert