It’s important to remember that, six months ago, Scott Jones didn’t even want to run for a third term as Sacramento County sheriff. He had his handpicked successor, a loyal chief deputy named Kris Palmer, and was ready to move on, perhaps with another run at a congressional seat.
But then the unexpected happened. Palmer dropped out of the race and Jones, desperate to protect his supposed “succession” plan at a department he has led since 2010, jumped back in, clearly expecting to cruise to an easy victory as he has so many times before.
Not this time.
Heading into the June primary, Jones has an actual challenger in Milo Fitch. A former chief deputy who spent three decades rising through the ranks of the sheriff’s department, he is a better choice for voters than the incumbent.
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Endorsed by local Democrats, Fitch is running on a platform of reform. He has promised to make the department more transparent and accountable to the public, something that Jones has refused to do.
Changes would include requiring deputies to wear body cameras — as cops all over California have been doing for years. But Fitch would also go one step further and require any relevant footage to be released to the public within 30 days, matching a progressive policy recently implemented by the Sacramento Police Department.
Another priority would be community-oriented policing, particularly in the poor, minority neighborhoods that deputies patrol. Issuing concealed carry permits, which Jones hands out like M&M’s, would not be.
And in a move that should please immigration advocates, Fitch has promised to recommend against renewing Sacramento County's contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house detainees. Instead, he would share information with ICE and require the federal agents to get a warrant, instead of letting them in the county's jails, minimizing the chances of other immigrants being arrested.
For conservative supporters of Jones who remain unconvinced, consider this: Under the sheriff's insular, cowboy-style management, problem deputies who should have been fired have been protected instead, leading to a string of costly, taxpayer-funded lawsuits.
Most recently, there was the "five-figure settlement" awarded to Nandi Cain, who was allegedly stripped and verbally abused by deputies in jail. There was also the $6.5 million awarded to the family of a schizophrenic man who was killed by a deputy in his home. And before that, there was the $3.5 million awarded to four female deputies for harassment and retaliation by their superiors.
Meanwhile, we can all look forward to another eye-popping sum that will go to the woman a deputy hit with his SUV during a protest of the Stephon Clark shooting, after which he drove off. Jones, partisan and tone deaf as usual, blamed "professional protesters" for the incident.
Sacramento County voters deserve better. Two other candidates, retired Sgt. Donna Cox, who declined to be interviewed by this editorial board, and Bret Daniels, a Citrus Heights City Council member, are running on a platform of change. However, both are flawed messengers, particularly Daniels, who was fired from the sheriff's department for lying during an internal affairs investigation.
Fitch isn't without his own baggage. Jones says his former chief deputy steered $76,000 worth of county contracts to a program run by a woman Fitch later married. Fitch calls it a "smear job" and pointed out that Jones still recommended him for his current job at the California Prison Industry Authority.
Voters will have to decide which side they believe, but Fitch is right that the politics of law enforcement are changing and Jones has failed to keep up. Without new leaders and new ideas, institutions don't change.
Even Jones knows this. Asked in 2010 by The Bee’s Sam Stanton about how long he would serve, Jones said: "A sheriff should have a very compelling reason to serve less than two terms and more than two. For as many great ideas and vision that I might have, I also know that there are people behind me who can take it to the next level."
We won't argue with that.