Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen is considering entering the race to replace Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, a six-term incumbent who is fending off accusations of corruption and misconduct.
Jonsen, who has been working as Palo Alto's police chief since January 2018, on Tuesday pulled papers to form a committee to run for sheriff. He told this news organization, however, that he has not yet made a final decision about whether to enter the race.
"I think there is a need for change and I think my background and my position makes me well suited for that," Jonsen said.
Jonsen said he expects to decide in the coming days whether to enter the race.
If he runs, Jonsen will be joining a race that also includes Kevin Jensen, who worked in the Sheriff's Office between 1985 and 2013, retiring as a captain, and Christine Nagaye, who is currently a sergeant in the Sheriff's Office, where she has worked for 19 years. Also running is Dave Knopf, who formerly worked as assistant chief in the San Jose Police Department.
As a candidate, Jonsen would bring more than three decades of law enforcement experience into the race. He served in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office for 26 years, working his way up to captain's rank, before he left southern California to become police chief in Menlo Park in 2013. He was hired as police chief in Palo Alto in November 2017 and began his job two months later.
The race comes at a tumultuous time for Smith, who last December was the subject of a scathing complaint from the Santa Clara County Grand Jury. The grand jury issued seven counts of alleged misconduct against Smith, which included allegations that her office mishandled mentally ill inmates in county jails, resulting in the death of one inmate and millions of dollars in settlements. She has also been accused of engaging in a bribery scheme that involved issuance of concealed-carry-firearm permits to political donors.
On Aug. 31, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a vote of "no confidence" against Smith. The supervisors cited "ethical violations" within her office, repeated "malfeasance and/or negligence in the county jails" and her obstruction of efforts to improve transparency.
The election will be held on June 7.