Senate Bill 271 (Wiener): Sheriff Democracy and Diversity Act FAQ

What does this bill do?
SB 271, the Sheriff Democracy and Diversity Act, would restore California’s long-standing eligibility criteria for candidates running for the office of County Sheriff by reversing the restrictive 1989 law that added law enforcement experience and California peace officer certification as additional requirements.

Who can run for Sheriff, if we repeal the existing qualifications?
Any person that is registered to vote within the county where they are running (law enforcement would still be able run).

Why are we trying to do this?
By opening up the candidate pool, SB 271 would allow us to begin the work of diversifying the office of county sheriff, and to re-engage disillusioned community members in these critical, yet overlooked, local elections. In a moment of reckoning with racial injustice and inequity, by diversifying candidate pools, SB 271 empowers our community members— particularly those most impacted by a sheriff’s policies— to organize around candidates who will actually address our needs.

Do other states have broader eligibility requirements, like SB 271 is proposing?
Most states do not require any law enforcement background, for example: Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico, Florida, Delaware.

Don’t current law enforcement experience requirements professionalize the position and increase accountability?
These requirements are not necessary to ensure candidates will be accountable and skilled in their role as Sheriff. Many professionals are familiar with the responsibilities and role of Sheriff from their work in the legal, advocacy, and behavioral health fields.

How will this provide more choice to voters?
Returning to pre-1988 conditions that allow for an expanded, more diverse pool of eligible candidates will encourage contested races rather than the current pattern of incumbent sheriffs generally running unopposed.

What is this campaign really about…?
SB 271 empowers community members to organize around issues that matter to us and elect candidates who can actually address our needs. It also increases the likelihood that voters will have a choice.

Sheriffs are in a unique position of running on alternative policing practices and, if they are elected, directly putting them into practice. Sheriffs can:

  • Reduce arrests, cease treating arrests as the default response to crime, and depopulate — and ultimately close — county jails.
  • Promote programs that divert people from bookings.
  • Deemphasize tactics of punitive or large-scale enforcement and champion community programs and alternatives to incarceration.
  • Advocate for community investments. Sheriff’s play a critical role in county budget negotiations, as their departments often receive a disproportionate amount of county dollars. As advocates for the community, their partnership can encourage divesting from the sheriff’s department and investing in community alternatives.

For immigrant communities in particular, sheriffs can:

  • Work with other county offices, particularly the District Attorney’s office, to expand access to diversion programs. For noncitizen community members, access to these programs can prevent unfair and inhumane immigration consequences, including deportation.
  • Ensure full compliance with state laws intended to create safer and more inclusive communities, including the California Values Act and the TRUTH Act.
  • Perhaps most importantly, a sheriff has the capacity to go above and beyond mere compliance with the California Values Act and the TRUTH Act. Sheriffs have the power to completely end all cooperation with ICE and ensure no community member is turned over to immigration authorities from a county jail.

Will this bill change the criminal legal system and policing in my community?
Although this bill won’t solve the problems by itself, it gives us a vital tool to meet this moment. If this bill passes, there are candidates with a fresh, community-centered vision of public safety that could run and could win. The goal is to create communities where everyone can feel safe and protected by their local leadership.


On Sheriffs, Housing and Evictions:

What role do sheriffs play in evictions?

Sheriffs determine when and how people are forced out of their homes.

County sheriffs are not the ones who order evictions, but they do make the final call on whether an eviction moves forward. For an eviction to take place, sheriffs or their deputies must serve a writ notifying people of the possibility of eviction and it’s ultimately the sheriff that forcibly removes not just people but their property from homes.

Are sheriffs required by law to evict people?

Interestingly, and similar to immigration enforcement, Sheriffs retain a lot of leeway in the eviction process.

During the 2008 financial crisis, Sheriff Tom Dart, who is Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois (the second largest sheriff’s department in the country and he notably does not come from a law enforcement background), refused to enforce foreclosure-related evictions by removing people from their homes.

Q&A with Sheriff Dart and why he refused to enforce any foreclosure evictions in 2008

Are sheriff’s still evicting people despite a statewide moratorium on evictions?

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a statewide moratorium on evictions, which will expire at the earliest on June 30, 2021, Sheriffs across the state have resumed evictions. Fresno and Riverside counties were amongst the first to resume.


Recent Headlines:

Compton Mayor Brown requests investigation of Sheriff department
“We believe several deputies within Compton Station have a history of violence against Black and Latino men and women … [and] urge your office to open an investigation immediately into all potential civil rights abuses,” Compton City Atty. Damon Brown wrote.

Man with mental illness dies in LA deputy confrontation
“We called them to come and help us… and instead, they came and killed him, brutally killed him.” Sheriff’s deputies entered his room as he slept, and then beat and shocked him and compressed his neck, according to an autopsy and his family.

Poor management and communication leads to COVID-19 outbreak in jail
“For months, detention employees and community supporters have warned Sheriff Gore that under-staffing and a push to outsource medical workers with for-profit prison contractors is a threat to public health and detainees’ lives,” said Garcias, who heads the Service Employees International Union Local 221. “Sadly, this COVID-19 outbreak illustrates how severe the danger is.”

Sacramento Sheriff’s Office Breaks COVID-19 Enforcement Commitment After Collecting Millions In Federal Relief Funding
Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones has backed down from his department’s commitment to break up social gatherings and enforce social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus — a commitment that helped garner his department millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds at the start of the pandemic.