Three candidates for Stanislaus County sheriff said Tuesday that they would work to boost department staffing and respect the right of residents to carry concealed weapons.
Sgt. Juan Alanis, Lt. Jeff Dirkse and Deputy Tom Letras are vying in the June 5 election to succeed Sheriff Adam Christianson, who has announced his retirement.
The candidates took the stage at the State Theatre in Modesto in a forum sponsored by the Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association. It represents patrol officers but not the jail deputies or court bailiffs in the department.
Letras said low pay is one reason for vacancies in the department, but he also would try to recruit local residents who are likely to not move elsewhere.
“We can’t do the things we need to do until we are up to full staffing,” said Letras, who also ran in 2014.
He said he would withdraw from the 2018 race if he is not endorsed by department employees. The filing period ends March 14.
Letras’s own work there has included patrol and jail deputy, detective, hostage negotiator and public information officer.
Dirkse, who has been endorsed by Christianson, is Patterson’s police chief under a contract with the sheriff. He said the county department needs to fill 64 vacancies and do further training for a workforce that is generally young.
Dirkse is a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger with combat experience in Iraq.
Alanis joined the sheriff’s Exporer program as a teenager. He was later hired and has worked as a patrol and jail deputy, detective, school-based officer and SWAT team member.
Alanis was the only candidate to support creation of a citizens commission to review complaints against deputies. “I believe that transperancy is very vital to a department,” he said. “... It will make us better overall.”
All three candidates said they would grant concealed-weapon permits to anyone who meets the requirements.
“You can’t have a cop on every corner, and I fully support the Second Amendment,” Dirkse said.
Alanis said drug abuse is a major driver of crime and will soon get worse with California’s shift to legal marijuana as of Jan. 1. Letras urged help for mentally ill offenders rather than just putting them in jail.
One question was about the equipment-laden belts that peace officers wear on the job — and that Letras and Alanis said can cause back problems. They and Dirkse urged the use of vests that distribute the burden better.