Written by John Hemmerling
Public safety and the protection of human life will be my top priority as San Diego County’s sheriff. From day one, I am committed to do everything possible to ensure that no one dies in our jails — just as I did as a Marine commander when overseeing four jail compounds in Iraq.
On Feb. 3, state auditors determined that 185 individuals died in the Sheriff’s Department care from 2006 through 2020 — more than in nearly any other county in the state. As a lieutenant colonel in charge of four jails in the Anbar province in Iraq, I made sure that my Marines and sailors provided a comprehensive medical screening of every detainee upon admission. Individuals who needed medical or mental health care were transported to a hospital for treatment, not booked into jail or left on the streets to die. I protected detainees in a war-zone jail, with rudimentary resources. I will safeguard the incarcerated in one of the largest counties in America.
San Diegans deserve safety, honesty and transparency. I will align the department’s priorities with the concerns of the community — providing information to the appropriate oversight boards and the public when visibility is paramount. When the people see that their sheriff is committed to transparency, trust and collaboration are sure to follow. As the new sheriff, I will be just what we need: an experienced, fair, dedicated leader.
In the meantime, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors must appoint an interim sheriff who must immediately take responsibility for the audit results. Otherwise, the county Sheriff’s Department will be ruled by an already overeager and overreaching state Legislature, as recommended by the audit.
I have provided strong leadership in times of crisis as the top legal adviser to two former San Diego police chiefs, including Shelley Zimmerman, who has endorsed me. I have helped craft proactive policies, encouraging transparency at every step of the way. I will ensure our policies align with best practices, not just the minimum standards (as seemed good enough at times in the sheriff’s audit response), when performing intake health evaluations, providing follow-up medical and mental health care, conducting safety checks, and correcting the other deficiencies identified in the auditor’s report. And I will enlist the top professionals, both inside and outside the department, to accomplish this.
I am committed to safeguarding public safety in every community. In my nine years of patrolling the streets as a San Diego police officer, I took the time to know and help families and small businesses in the high-crime Mid-City beats that I patrolled. Not everyone in San Diego County has the luxury of positive and proactive law enforcement support. Victims deserve a strong law enforcement response. Victims deserve to be heard. Victims deserve to be informed. Some communities currently suffer from increased violence. As sheriff, I will not delay essential support from underserved neighborhoods in need of reducing violent crime — equal protection is not just a constitutional issue, it’s a public safety issue.
According to the most recent reports on crime from the San Diego Association of Governments, violent crimes, including gang violence, have risen to heights that we haven’t seen in nearly a decade. Crime should be decreasing. As sheriff, I will make that a priority, and partner with every local agency, and state and federal partners, to root out the violent criminals who terrorize our neighborhoods.
I have 28 years of dedicated service to San Diego, patrolling the streets, giving legal advice to our local leaders, and upholding our laws in court. In my 30 years of faithful military service, I put my own life on the line to lead troops in battle. I cannot stand idly by when our county is in desperate need of leadership. A complete review and overhaul of the Sheriff’s Department is essential to fix our jails, support victims of crime and restore public safety in all our neighborhoods.
A leader not only stands with the community but also with the true heroes in law enforcement. I will never turn my back on the dedicated men and women who unselfishly place their lives on the line for us every day. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with our deputies as they protect you.
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, San Diego Councilmember Chris Cate, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, Santee Mayor John Minto, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, former San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and the Republican Party of San Diego County have endorsed me. Please vote for John Hemmerling for sheriff on June 7. Visit johnhemmerlingforsheriff.com for more information.
Hemmerling is the chief prosecutor in the San Diego City Attorney’s Criminal and Community Justice Divisions. He is a retired Marine Corps Reserve colonel, a decorated Gulf and Iraq War veteran, a former San Diego police officer and the endorsed Republican candidate for sheriff in the June 7 election. This op-ed first appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune on February 17, 2022.