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Scott Jones endorses deputy to take his place as Sacramento County sheriff

Scott Jones
Scott Jones jvillegas@sacbee.com

Chief Deputy Kris Palmer, a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department veteran, announced his 2018 bid for sheriff Thursday morning with an endorsement from the two-term leader he hopes to succeed.

Palmer, 47, will be running to replace Sheriff Scott Jones, who said in August he will not seek re-election for a third term. Jones approached him a few months ago, urging him to consider taking over the department after he left, Palmer said.

Palmer is currently assigned to the Contract and Regional Services division, which according to the sheriff’s website oversees traffic enforcement, the airport, courthouses and Folsom Dam, among other things. He has worked in various roles during his more than 20-year tenure, including a recent two-year assignment as the captain for the North Patrol Division in Sacramento County. In that capacity, he oversaw about 175 sworn deputies and 25 non-sworn employees.

Their ranks included one of the department’s most veteran officers, Deputy Robert French, who was killed in a hotel shootout in late August.

Jones publicly backed Palmer’s bid to take over the sheriff’s seat in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon, saying Palmer had his “absolute confidence and support.” Palmer also has the endorsement of former sheriff and current KFBK talk-show host John McGinness, according to Palmer’s website.

“Working with such a great group of men and women, I’m really looking forward to leading them,” Palmer said Thursday. “I don’t see changing a whole heck of a lot, but I want to focus on looking at things through a different lens.”

Not everyone welcomed his candidacy. Jones, a Republican who previously ran for Congress, has feuded with members of the local Black Lives Matter chapter. He has also dramatically boosted the number of concealed weapons permits issued in the county. And unlike the Sacramento Police Department, which recently executed a series of reforms aimed at greater transparency, the Sheriff’s Department generally does not release video of officer-involved shootings.

Its officers do not wear body cameras, though Palmer said he would like to explore having them do so.

The Democratic Party of Sacramento County publicly opposed Palmer’s run for sheriff Thursday. The group’s chair, Terry Schanz, said Palmer would likely continue a culture of “division that Scott Jones has led in his agency during his term in office.”

“There is no indication that Kris Palmer will be any different,” he said.

Schanz called Jones’ decision to invite the acting director of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to speak at a town hall in Sacramento – a gathering marked by emotional protests – insulting to people who feared deportation following the election of President Donald Trump. The organization has not yet identified who they would like to support in the sheriff’s race but is considering some potential candidates, he said.

Palmer was born in North Carolina and raised in Sacramento, where his father was stationed at the McClellan Air Force Base, he said. He graduated from El Camino High School in 1988 and later studied criminal justice at Sacramento State while playing football for the school. He said the idea of being on a team also drew him to law enforcement, where he said he also saw an “environment of relying on one another to reach a common goal.”

Palmer said he wants to continue building on changes made to the department during recent years. These include the greater use of data to deploy officers to areas of the county that need additional attention.

In the North Division, he said, “We reorganized patrol staffing entirely. We were able to really bring the resources where they were needed most.”

Palmer has sat on the committee that reviews concealed weapons permit applications submitted to the Sheriff’s Department, a process that he supports and said he does not intend to change. Under Jones, the number of concealed carry handgun permits jumped from about 350 in 2010 to about 8,000 in 2016.

Implementing the use of body cameras is a task Palmer also hopes to tackle if elected, he said. Currently, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department does not provide its officers with body cameras, but it is in the process of testing possible vendors. Such a move could not only hold deputies accountable but also show an officer’s perspective on what it’s like to handle a stressful, violent situation, he said.

Palmer is the first candidate to publicly announce his bid for Sacramento County sheriff. On Thursday, he said he does not expect any other employees of the department to run against him. Kevin Mickelson, the president for the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, also said he has not heard of any internal candidates.

The deputies’ union hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet, a process that usually involves interviews and a membership vote, Mickelson said. Though he has heard of possible contenders from outside the department, Mickelson said that as of Thursday, there was “no reason that we would not endorse Kris Palmer when the time comes.”

Mickelson said he worked patrol with Palmer for several years, and described him as a hardworking officer.

There is at least one potential candidate from outside the sheriff’s ranks. Darrell Fong, a former Sacramento City Councilman who previously rose to the rank of captain within the Sacramento Police Department, said he is “strongly considering” running for sheriff after some community members approached him in the past few weeks.

Fong is currently serving as primary caretaker for family members, but said he is ready to recommit his time to public service. His experience as a council member paired with his decades-long experience as a police officer would give him an advantage if he were to be elected for the sheriff’s spot, he said. Fong ran for state Assembly in 2014 but was defeated by Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove city councilman who spent three decades as a captain in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

Fong said he will decide in the coming weeks with the help of his wife, who has supported his political career throughout the years, he said.

“The clock’s ticking. People want to know, and people deserve to know, who’s running,” he said.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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