Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones will seek a third term as leader of the largest law enforcement agency in the region, reversing his previously announced decision not to run for re-election.
Jones, 50, had planned to step aside while Kris Palmer, a top lieutenant to Jones, sought the office. But on Tuesday, Jones sent a memo to county personnel announcing that Palmer would not run due to “personal reasons.”
In an interview, Palmer cited family considerations as his primary reason for withdrawing from the race. He and his wife have been caring for his father-in-law, who has been in poor health. “The most important thing for me was to take care of my family,” he said.
In his memo, Jones said: “Obviously this was an unexpected development, and placed the future of the department in jeopardy. Since I am unwilling to leave the future of the Sheriff’s Department to an uncertain future, I have decided to seek another term as Sheriff.”
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This past week, Jones told The Bee that he didn’t want to leave the department in the hands of an outsider. There had been speculation that Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove Assemblyman who narrowly lost to Jones when he first was elected in 2010, again would run for the top-cop job.
Like Jones, Cooper had built a successful career by climbing the ranks of the Sheriff’s department. The 2010 election pitted two factions of the department against each other. On one side was Jones, his predecessor and mentor Sheriff John McGinness and a local Republican base eager for Jones to win. On the other was Cooper, former Sheriff Lou Blanas and local Democrats.
Cooper confirmed Tuesday that he would not run in 2018 if Jones were running. While saying he thinks he could beat Jones, Cooper is up for re-election for his Assembly seat. If he wins, he could still run again before being termed out. Rather than engaging in a rematch with Jones, where he would likely have to give up his Assembly seat, Cooper said he will bide his time for now.
“When Jones is done running, I’m interested,” said Cooper, 54. “I spent ... years in that department. I believe in the people. I love the people in the department. ... It’s a goal of mine to be Sheriff.”
Jones ran unopposed in 2014. If he wins the 2018 election and serves the entire term, his 12 years in office would make him one of the longest-serving sheriffs in recent history.
A career cop, Jones is both popular and controversial. He and his department enjoy strong political support across the county.
Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost, who oversees the unincorporated areas of Citrus Heights, Folsom, Antelope, Orangevale, Rio Linda and Rancho Murieta, said she would support Jones in a third run for sheriff because her “constituents love our sheriff and the sheriff’s deputies.”
She said she was disappointed when Jones announced in August he would not be running for the sheriff’s seat, adding that Tuesday’s news came as a pleasant surprise.
However, at least one of Frost’s colleagues viewed Tuesday’s news differently.
“While I understand his succession plan collapsed, reversing course like this should give Sacramento County voters pause to ask whether he’s running for the right reasons,” said Supervisor Phil Serna, who in recent years has engaged in public battles with Jones over his support for President Donald Trump and his issuance of more than 8,000 concealed carry weapons permits.
“Is it a good enough reason to ask for the voters’ confidence after you explained you would not run, just because someone you handpicked decides they’re no longer interested?” Serna asked.
The number of violent crimes has not changed much during Jones’ tenure. In 2016, the Sheriff’s Department reported 2,797 violent crimes, compared to 2,902 in 2010, the latest FBI data show. Violent crimes ranged from a low of 2,719 in 2011 to a high of 3,117 in 2015.
Property crime fell sharply during Jones’ time in office. In 2016, the Sheriff’s Department reported 10,142 property crimes, down from 14,506 in 2010, FBI data show.
Sacramento County’s population grew about 6 percent during Jones’ tenure. The FBI has not yet released crime data for all of 2017.
As sheriff, Jones has been a political lighting rod, particularly since his unsuccessful attempt in 2016 to unseat Elk Grove Democrat Ami Bera from his congressional seat. He currently is involved in a public fight with Elaine Howle, the state auditor, who accused Jones of breaking the law by going public with her report examining his office’s concealed weapons permit process before it was officially released.
In addition, Jones has taken on the local Black Lives Matter group, held a town hall meeting with the head of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement and criticized Sacramento city leaders because he felt they didn’t properly support the former Sacramento Police chief. Under Jones, the department has faced scrutiny regarding its use of force, leading to settlements and judgments against the department and accusations of a “good ol’ boy” culture.
Interviewed Tuesday at a ceremony celebrating new hires, Jones said he was sanguine about his decision to run. “Although there were certain things about retirement that I was looking forward to, not the least of which was not having to campaign and raise money ... those things really pale in comparison to my passion for the department,” he said.
The Bee’s Phillip Reese contributed to this report.