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Both Stanislaus County Sheriff candidates spark controversy with public appearances

Candidates running for Stanislaus County Sheriff, Juan Alanis (right) and Jeff Dirkse answer questions during an editorial board meeting April 18, 2018 at The Modesto Bee downtown offices.
Candidates running for Stanislaus County Sheriff, Juan Alanis (right) and Jeff Dirkse answer questions during an editorial board meeting April 18, 2018 at The Modesto Bee downtown offices.

In the race for sheriff of Stanislaus County, Lt. Jeff Dirkse and Sgt. Juan Alanis have turned heads with their efforts to appeal to different groups of voters.

It spiced up what appears on campaign disclosure sheets to be the typical contest between a well-financed establishment candidate and underdog.

Dirkse, who's supported by retiring Sheriff Adam Christianson, has raised three times more money than Alanis, with most of the campaign funds coming from agriculture and business donors. As of April 21, Dirkse had raised $204,744 and spent $166,987, compared to Alanis' $61,139 in contributions and $45,184 in expenditures.

Dirkse has received endorsements from law enforcement unions and political leaders, including Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association, Modesto Police Officers Association, Christianson and former sheriff Les Weidman and county supervisors.

Alanis has support from the adult detention deputies and sergeants in the Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff's Association, Oakdale police officers and Stanislaus Consolidated Firefighters Local 3399. He also won the endorsement of the Republican Central Committee of Stanislaus County, which requires two-thirds approval from the group's 25 voting members.

Central committee chairman Jim DeMartini, who also chairs the county Board of Supervisors, said Alanis and Dirkse both performed well in the interviews with GOP leaders in early April, but Alanis' ideas on concealed weapon permits seemed to sway the panel.

Both candidates favor access to concealed carry permits for responsible gun owners. Alanis just wants to allow owners to list more guns on the permits issued to them.

"Why not trust them with the rest of their firearms if they have passed the full background check?" Alanis said. "My opponent says the printer won't allow it. Why don't we invest in a different printer?"

The current technology can put three handguns on the back of permits, and most agree there's space for five.

Dirkse says three guns is enough and he won't address the issue anytime soon if he is elected.

Some of their public appearances are one of the reasons the sheriff's race is the most-talked-about contest on the June ballot.

Earlier this month, Dirkse received the blessing of Pastor Glen Berteau at a church service at The House in Modesto, irking those who prefer to keep church and state separate.

At the GOP's Lincoln Dinner on April 20, Alanis posed for a picture with Milwaukee's controversial former sheriff, David Clarke, who was guest speaker for the annual event. Clarke is a figure in the Constitutional Sheriff movement, which holds that the authority of local sheriffs is greater than that of federal government officials.

Alanis and Dirkse also were guest speakers at meetings of a State of Jefferson group, which proposes turning parts of Northern California and southern Oregon into a new state.

Alanis said he is not in agreement with a major position of the Constitutional Sheriff movement, in which local sheriffs would refuse to enforce gun control regulations that come down from the federal government. Alanis said that when asked about his position on the movement, he has promised to stick to his oath to defend the county against a takeover by the federal government.

"Everyone seems to have a definition of a Constitutional Sheriff," Alanis said. "Some people fear the federal government will want to take over the state and county. I doubt it will ever happen."

Dirkse said: "I don't think it is a tenable position for a law enforcement professional to be in. If you Google 'Constitutional Sheriff" and read the things that pop up, that is not what I am about."

Some issues in the sheriff's race have touched more on the everyday concerns of community life.

Alanis, who has 23 years of experience in the Sheriff’s Department, has promised to bring back community deputies for Salida, Empire and other unincorporated towns. He said his interactions with different ethnic communities and nonprofit groups will build trust in the Sheriff’s Department and prevent an incident from erupting into crisis, as has happened in numerous cities across the country.

Both of the candidates favor body cameras for deputies that provide a record of law enforcement encounters with the public.

Dirkse is the chief for Patterson, which uses contract sheriff services. The West Point graduate commanded an infantry company in Iraq in 2005 and since 2007 has held several jobs with the Sheriff's Department from patrol deputy to detective, sergeant and internal affairs.

He said the county needs a leader who can manage the Sheriff Department's budget, its expanded jail facilities and more than 700 employees.

Dirkse said the next sheriff will need to fill vacant patrol positions and groom quality leaders in the department. "In about four years, the entire leadership will turn over," he said, referring to under-sheriffs, captains, lieutenants and sergeants who will reach retirement age.

"We can't restore (community deputies and school resource officers) until we fill the current staffing needs," Dirkse said. "We have to train and continue to train a fairly young staff. Training is one way to offset these public dramas with law enforcement."