We must pick our next sheriff very carefully

Candidate for Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse speaks during a debate at The State Theatre in Modesto last year.
Candidate for Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse speaks during a debate at The State Theatre in Modesto last year. aalfaro@modbee.com

There are no do-overs for Stanislaus County sheriff. The winner of the June 5 election gets to pin four stars on his collar and we get to live with our choice for the next four years. It’s important we get it right.

Unfortunately, the two candidates aren’t making that easy. On policy, there are distinctions but few differences. Nothing disqualifies either candidate, but there are concerns about both.

We invited Juan Alanis and Jeff Dirkse to The Bee to answer questions from our editorial board. Visiting editor Alana Scott, who endorsed Dirkse prior to joining our board, did not participate in post-meeting discussions. Video of the session is available on our Facebook page.

On the issues, both Dirkse and Alanis endorse body cameras. Both will continue retiring Sheriff Adam Christianson’s lax policies on concealed carry gun permits. Both will cooperate to the maximum extent possible with federal authorities, and both say finding and keeping deputies is a top priority.

Each has a compelling “back story” preparing them to lead. Dirkse attended West Point and served in the U.S. Army, re-enlisting after 9-11. He has done several jobs in the sheriff’s office, including contract police chief in Patterson. Alanis has spent 20 years in the department, on patrol, as a detective, court bailiff and top law enforcement official in Waterford and Hughson.

So what matters most? Appearances.

It matters when Jeff Dirkse appears at a church to receive the blessing of a popular pastor. We still believe in the separation of church and state; that keeping politics out of the pulpit is important. We fear some will be tempted to believe “God” has chosen one candidate. But Dirkse isn’t running to be sheriff of the evangelicals. He’ll be the sheriff of our community’s Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and atheists, not to mention Catholics, Pentecostals, Episcopals, Methodists and a few Universalists.

As inappropriate as we find The House Pastor Glen Berteau’s anointing of his favored candidates from the pulpit, we find the appearance of Juan Alanis at a recent event even more disturbing. Frankly, posing next to someone so openly antithetical to fairness and reason as David A. Clarke calls into question Alanis’ judgment.

Clarke, a former Milwaukee sheriff, continues the Stanislaus Republican Central Committee’s streak of inviting incendiary, wildly divisive speakers to their annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Clarke has recommended rounding up 1 million Americans and shipping them off to Guantanamo. A prisoner held in his jail for six days without water died of dehydration; another gave birth in shackles. Clarke calls those who insist on their Constitutional right to equal treatment under the law “rat bastards.”

But there was Alanis, posing with Clarke for a photo (later posted on Facebook). It sends a disturbing message.

No less disturbing to some is the message Christianson has sent – that Dirkse is his hand-picked successor. Alanis plausibly accused Christianson of trying to intimidate him out of challenging Dirkse, something that hasn’t gone over well with voters – or with us.

Many believe we need a clean break from Christianson’s tenure – which saw the county pay $9 million to settle lawsuits brought by employees, widows and others; lapses in training resulting in deaths; prisoners sued over jail conditions, and deputies winning settlements after being denigrated.

So deliberate have been Christianson’s efforts to sway voters that Dirkse felt compelled to tell us emphatically, “I am not Adam Christianson.”

If Dirkse is not Christianson, then Alanis is not Clarke.

So how to choose? We can listen to experts. Alanis and Dirkse each have been endorsed by at least five law enforcement labor groups, but respected former sheriffs Les Weidman and Jim Trevena both back Dirkse. All five Stanislaus County supervisors have picked Dirkse, as have a host of politicians – including the mayor and former mayor of Patterson.

Finally, we preferred Dirkse’s experience and approach. As someone who has served his nation twice in the Army and risen through the ranks of the Sheriff’s Department, we believe he will not stray into the wilderness represented by the David Clarkes of the world. The Bee recommends Jeff Dirkse for sheriff.