Closer look at candidates in race for Sheriff

After current Sheriff Laurie Smith announced on March 10 that she would not be running for reelection after 24 years in office, five challengers are aiming to take the position. In the past month, The Paly Voice has hosted discussions with three of the five candidates running for Santa Clara County sheriff, each of whom shared their stories and plans if elected.

Here is what they had to say:

Sgt. Sean Allen visited the The Paly Voice April 27. (Photo: Sophia Yang)

Sgt. Sean Allen

With more than 30 years of experience in the sheriff’s department, Sgt. Sean Allen is running with a focus on accountability, reform and transparency.

Allen said the key to increasing accountability is to improve transparency between the public and the department’s practices.

“Let the public, the people we serve, get involved and help us make decisions,” Allen said “There’s confusion sometimes that we’re law enforcement, you must obey me. No, I actually work for you, the public. So, your views are important and if you don’t speak up, you will have that institutional repetitive kind of responses to the system.”

Allen added that implementing civilian oversight is something he intends to do in the first 100 days of office. 

“State law gives the administrator complete, unchecked power,” Allen said. “What I want to do is create the balance by offering the civilian oversight to come in.”

According to Allen, since 2015, two-thirds of the sheriff’s department’s annual budget has been spent on reforms related to the jail system. In 2017, after an inmate was murdered by three deputies in a county jail, additional money has been directed toward increasing reform efforts.

“We’ve spent about $40 million extra [each] year on top of $400 million toward reforms because three of our deputies murdered an inmate in the jail,” Allen said. “When people hear that their taxpayer dollars are being wasted, lives are being affected. Cops are murdering people unjustly. Those are things that need to be exposed to help change the direction of where we’re going.”

Allen said the field of law enforcement has not reflected the increasing diversity in the community, and more diverse representation is needed.

“There’s only been one African-American sheriff ever elected in the state of California,” Allen said. “We’re not being reflective of the community in this profession.”

Sgt. Christine Nagaye visited The Paly Voice May 13. (Photo: Leena Hussein)

Sgt. Christine Nagaye

Bringing in experience as a former United States Army combat medic, Sgt. Christine Nagaye’s main focuses are addressing inequality within law enforcement and helping establish equity in minority and LGBTQ+ communities.

Nagaye said she believes everyone deserve equal treatment and equality regardless of background, and she plans to center her time in office around improving areas lacking equality.

“You need to be treated on how you feel that you are, it doesn’t matter what you look like, everybody gets treated the same,” Nagaye said. “That’s what I’m all about for my campaign and that’s what I will be about day one when I hit the office and ready to fight for our communities, and I’m going to be there to make sure we have the equality that everybody deserves.”

According to Nagaye, her experiences in the army shifted her focus towards increasing diversity in all sectors.

“You don’t just take men to complete a mission,” Nagaye said. “You just don’t take women, you’re not going to take all the Hispanic women or the or the white men, you have to get the whole group involved, and that’s what they’ve [the army] always taught us. Gather diverse groups of people.” 

Nagaye said she also plans on creating a strong alliance with the FBI and collaborating with specialists to help combat the fentanyl crisis in the county.

“One of the most difficult parts of this job right now is the fentanyl crisis,” Nagaye said. “Nobody knows how to combat it. … One gram of fentanyl can kill everybody in this room. It’s extremely dangerous and you need to be careful when you’re around it.”

Nagaye hopes complete reforms to the sheriff’s office to increase accountability and communal impact. 

“​​I want to completely reform law enforcement as it is and because we’re such a huge county, I want us to be the role model not for just law enforcement here in Santa Clara County or even California,” Nagaye said. “I have bigger aims and aspirations. I want Santa Clara County to be the best and to be the role model for the entire country.”

Former Capt. Kevin Jensen spoke to The Paly Voice May 20. (Photo: Benjamin Grimes)

Retired Capt. Kevin Jensen

Before running for sheriff, retired Sheriff’s Cpt. Kevin Jensen has held numerous leadership positions in the Santa Clara County sheriff’s Office during his nearly three decades of service. This run for sheriff will be Jensen’s second time. His first run was in 2014 where he won 40% of the vote against incumbent Laurie Smith. 

Jensen said his previous experience in law enforcement and training has given him the necessary skills to help the officers ensure personal safety while retaining approachability and compassion.

“How do I teach them [officers] to maintain their humanity and also maintain their vigilance?” Jensen said. “That’s the key: it’s balance. We cannot be everyone’s warrior, we have to be genuine, but also protect ourselves.” 

A crucial component to preventing racial biases in law enforcement is the hiring process, according to Jensen. 

“If you don’t have a great hiring program that holds people to a really high standard, then I think you’re asking for failure,” Jensen said. “If there was somebody who actually had a couple failures in their past and seems to have a pattern, I don’t want that person working. We have to start with the highest level of integrity in our job.”

Another key aspect of Jensen’s campaign is increasing the availability of psychologists and health professionals in jails.

“We need opportunities for rehab, for treatment, and for reentry,” Jensen said. “So that’s how these [new] jails are designed. The ones that we have now are just not capable of doing it. I don’t believe in building more jails. We cannot incarcerate our way out of a problem.”

Jensen said that his passion for serving the community combined with his past experiences is the reason he is once again running for sheriff. 

“My motivation is I’ve seen a lot,” Jensen said. “I experienced a lot. No better or worse than anyone else. It’s just my story. I am running because I’m shaped by these experiences. I saw injustice, I saw pain, and at some point, I thought that an opportunity to have a career with benefits and Medi-Cal for my children and an opportunity to serve people is what I want to do.”

Allen, Nagaye and Jensen are three of the five candidates running for SCC sheriff. Anh Colton and Robert Jonsen, the other two candidates, did not respond to The Paly Voice’s request for comment.