By Miriam Raftery
May 6, 2018 (San Diego) – In an exclusive interview aired recently on the East County Magazine Show on KNSJ radio, Sheriff Bill Gore said San Diego is the “safest urban county in America” and touted his nine-year record, also addressing controversies. Hear the full interview at the audio link above, or scroll down for highlights.
Gore has a 44-year career in law enforcement, including serving as Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), where he helped pioneer a cyber crimes squad and joint terrorism task force. A Navy veteran raised in San Diego, he comes from a law enforcement family and is married to one of the FBI’s first women agents. His department serves the county’s unincorporated areas and contracts with nine local cities, including Lemon Grove and Santee here in East County.
Gore says that the crime rate countywide is “probably at a 30 or 40 year low.” He cites statistics from the FBI provided to SANDAG for 2012-2016 (the most recent available) which show crime in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction dropped 24 percent. That’s 15 crimes per ever 1,000 residents, a rate lower than the city of San Diego or even Coronado.
“I’m very proud of the men and women of this department,” says Gore, adding, “but the real winners are the people of San Diego County, because they live in probably the safest urban county in the U.S.”
So how did his department help take that big bite out of crime? Technology played a major role, along with being proactive instead of reactive to crimes, the Sheriff says. In addition, his department has formed collaborative partnerships with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to form task forces. That means catching criminals early, after perhaps two or three burglaries instead of dozens, for instance.
Gore takes credit for a key role in those successes, building on his earlier work starting the first cyber crimes squad in the FBI, the first cyber-terrorism task force, and working with the U.S. Attorney in San Diego to form the first regional forensics laboratory in the U.S. “Now there are 23 in the country, based on what we did in San Diego,” he says.
We asked the Sheriff for an update on response times in rural areas of East County, based on an ECM investigation a couple of years ago that found long response times in places such as Campo and Boulevard. “We’ve managed to cut seven minutes off our response time from last year to this year, from 19 to 26 minutes average response time,” he replied, adding that the area is challenging because of 4,600 square miles in the county’s unincorporated area, about 2,600 square miles of that encompasses rural regions covered by about 34 deputies. “They live where they are policing,” the Sheriff notes, who sees that as a positive and adds that he hopes to improve response times further.
A key focus has been on reducing human trafficking in our region. A federal grant to study the problem showed that it’s a myth that young women trafficked in the sex trade are part of the problem. Gore says young women, and also some young men, forced into prostitution are “really the victims of this crime.”
A big problem is gangs moving into human trafficking, making more money than in drugs, says Gore. His department has worked to educate the public, teachers and counselors on how to spot victims and signs of trafficking. “We’re making a real impact,” he says, also praising the efforts of the district attorney’s office and Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
ECM posted on Facebook asking readers to suggest questions for the Sheriff. One woman wanted to know how many rape kits remain untested. Gore told us the department had about 400 kits that hadn’t been tested because the perpetrator’s identities were already known. But he says state law has changed, adding, “We’re going to test every one of them.” He expects to see results in about six months, an action that could potentially reveal DNA that might solve other crimes.
The biggest challenge is department has faced is adapting to prison realignment, after a court ruled state prisons were overcrowded and ordered California to downsize state prisons by 40,000 inmates. That’s meant transferring some inmates to county jails and also, new offenders sentences to all but the most serious or violent offenses are now being incarcerated in county jails, the Sheriff says.
“The state didn’t give us enough money to make it work, and we knew we couldn’t continue to rotate people through the jails, so everything we did focused on lowering the recidivism rate,” Gore says. That mean working with the juvenile justice system and courts, the D.A., local law enforcement, businesses, labor unions and other entities to “bring services into our facilities and give people a chance to be successful…so when the leave our facility, they have a chance to get good paying jobs so they’re not stealing your car…”
That’s meant bringing in literacy courses, drug and alcohol rehab services, mental health services and cognitive behavioral training – all important, since 95 percent of released prisoners wind up back in the communities. Inmates also receive job training provided by the carpenter’s union, restaurant association, local businesses and others.
It’s worked. While the state of California had an abysmal 72% rate of people released returning to prison within three years, one of the worst rates in the nation, Gore says, “Our return to custody numbers after the last three years is at 36 percent, so we’re on the right track and I think we can get that even lower.”
Gore has also worked to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline through a concept called “restorative justice.” He’s donated $100,000 in asset forfeiture funds to implement the program in city schools, ran a pilot program in the Grossmont Union High School District and plans to take the program countywide next.
A dark spot on the Sheriff’s record is a high number of deaths in county jails – 22 as of when our interview was conducted in late March. Those deaths results in several lawsuits and hefty settlements paid by the County. But Gore says comparisons to state prisons and some other incarceration facilities are unfair, noting that the risk of suicide for example is highest during an inmate’s first two weeks behind bars, which occurs in county jails. “We’re not trying to make excuses,” he says, adding that suicide prevention programs are in place.
Gore’s opponent is Dave Myers, a commander within the Sheriff’s Department. Myers has been sharply critical of Gore on a variety of issues. (Hear our radio interview with Myers from May 2017, when Myers first announced his candidacy, here.)
Myers has called for increasing diversity and community policing on the force. But Gore fires back, “I don’t think his criticism is really based on the facts.” He cites these statistics as evidence. The area served by the Sheriff’s Department has a population that is 6.2% Asian Pacific Islander and 7.8% of the Sheriff’s sworn personal are Asian Pacific Islander. African-Americans are 3.2% of the population the Sheriff serves and 7.8% of deputies are African-American. Latinos are 30% of the population here and 28.7% of deputy Sheriffs are Latino.
Asked about sanctuary laws, Gore notes that 300,000 undocumented immigrants are estimated to live in our region. “I don’t know a chief or sheriff in the state that wants our officers out there enforcing immigration laws,” he says, adding that this would make immigrants fearful to report crimes if they are witnesses or victims. But Gore says an early version of the sanctuary law “Values Act” would have gone too far and prevented his department from sharing even information on terrorism with federal officials. “That was crazy,” he recalls. He met with the Governor and legislators to make the law more acceptable. Now if federal immigration officials want information on people in county jails who have committed any of 800 serious offenses or even been charged and had an initial court appearance, the Sheriff can notify ICE of release dates. “If they don’t take custody in my facility, then they will be out in neighborhoods doing sweeps,” he says.
Gore has drawn criticism from gun owners critical of concealed carry policies. But Gore says the policy is a state law and has been implemented in San Diego by prior sheriffs. A lawsuit against his department was broadened to include the state of California. It went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the law as constitutional.
“Since I won in the Supreme Court, we only have a denial rate of 4%,” says Gore. That means 96% who apply get a concealed carry permit. “We have more concealed weapons permits out there than Los Angeles County that is three times bigger than we are.” He says part of the frustration of gun owners is that 41 states have must-issue laws, but in California, an applicant must show good cause to need a concealed gun. He says since the court ruling, his department has worked to define those good cause requirements as broadly as I can.”
Combatting the opioid crisis has been another challenging for San Diego and many counties across America. Gore believe the crisis has been less severe here than in many areas because of policies he implemented, including allowing people to drop off prescription drugs anytime at any Sheriff’s station. He also fought to change laws and allow deputies to carry life-saving antidotes to opioid overdoses, administered as a nasal spray. “In two years that we’ve done this, we’ve saved 60 lives—brought them back from the dead,” he says. Those saved are also given help to break the cycle of addiction. Anytime a drug overdose death occurs, narcotics deputies investigate where the drugs came from. “We’re making arrests and prosecuting people,” Gore says, adding that methamphetamines remain the most serious drug problem locally.
Asked his views on appropriate regulation of marijuana dispensaries, the Sheriff states, “The people of California have spoken. It’s legal in this state,” noting that voters passed legalization overwhelmingly. “My job is to enforce the law that exists.”
His focus is going after illegal dispensaries, while not targeting legal dispensaries in jurisdictions that have authorized sales. “I’ve talked with legal recreation and medical ones,” he says. “They are all for this.”
Gore affirmed that there have not been any crime problems with the county’s only legal licensed dispensary. Yet the county supervisors recently voted to outlaw all marijuana sales, phasing out the only legal operation over the next few years. (State law legalizes only growing up to six plants per household and possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, leaving sales and commercial growing up to each municipality.) But Gore notes the vote by Supervisors was 3-2, and elections could change the legal framework locally yet again and he will enforce whatever laws are in place.
The Sheriff views homelessness as a critical issue facing the county and local cities. “There is no simple solution,” he says, adding that substance abuse and mental illness are big parts of the problem. “I’m very disappointed with what the state and feds have done…I’m the biggest provider of mental health services in my jails.” He adds, “We’ve got to do a better job as a country at addressing those problems.”
His department has dispatched homeless outreach teams into areas such as riverbeds in rural East County to bring resources and help to homeless people willing to accept them, and clear out camps when needed to protect public safety from risks such as fires and unsanitary conditions.
Gore said he is working with a businessman who created a large tent as a temporary shelter in the city of San Diego to provide resources for the homeless. “It’s not a long-term solution, but it’s a start,” he says, adding that he hopes to get a similar structure built for people released from jails to get transitional services such as mental health counseling or drug rehabilitation before being release back on the streets. “The problem is where do you put it? Everybody wants one, but nobody wants one in their neighborhood.”
Asked about Deputy Richard Fisher, who was accused of sexual harassment against 14 women, Gore notes that his department immediately put Fisher on administration leave but took time to thoroughly investigate. He notes that unlike some places around the nation where there have been controversies over officers not charged in cases of apparent wrongdoing, Deputy Fisher was charged with crimes for action that “clearly was inappropriate behavior, criminal behavior. I feel terrible for the victims.” His department has 2,600 sworn deputies, and Gore says their record overall is a good one.
We posed a question on behalf of media, asking why the department doesn’t release mug shots of people arrested. Gore said that’s been a long-term department policy to prevent witnesses from being biased, but said such cases are “rare.” He adds, “We’re examining this now and like a lot of sheriff departments in California, we are looking to start releasing those photos.”
Body cameras are now fully deployed on every deputy, Gore says. “My opponent says we were slow, which I find interesting since he chaired the committed that rolled this out and made the recommendations,” he adds. Gore also led efforts to come up with storage for body camera footage as well as other digital evidence, a move he says saves the county $800,000 a year. “We will soon make that available to other jurisdictions once make sure that works. Again, it’s better to do it right than to do it fast.”
We asked Gore about his opponent’s allegation that Myers (photo, right) was transferred to forensic lab work in retaliation for speaking out against Gore.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the Sheriff contends, noting that the department has 4,300 employees and an $850 budget. He says he runs a management team where “you have to be able to openly discuss what’s working, what’s not.” If Myers worked at a large company and went after the boss’s job, Gore says, “ He would probably last about two days and be fired.” As a public employee, Myers has protections, however, so Gore says, “I felt it was important for the sake of the organization to take him out of the chain of command” but adds that heading up the over to a new forensics lab is a significant position. He also disputes Myers claim that he was moved to a “broom closet” noting that the office has two windows.
Gore initially refused to debate Myers, noting that Myers could freely criticize him, while personnel laws prohibit Gore from discussing Myers’ record. Myers has since stated in writing that he would waive his personal privacy rights in order to debate Gore. We asked Gore if he’s now willing to participate in a debate or forum. Gore says his campaign has asked Myers if he would waive rights to allow discussion of “any internal affairs investigation and any discipline that may have been taken” but has not received a reply.
We also asked Gore, the former Assistant Director of the FBI, his take on what listeners should know about President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey James Comey and Assistant Director Andrew McCabe, as well as the President’s calls to shut down the investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.
Gore notes that all law enforcement agencies depend on the trust of the public to be successful. He is troubled by efforts to undermine credibility of the FBI, which is “widely recognized as the finest law enforcement agencies in the world,” though not perfect, he notes. “To try to attack the department of Justice and FBI will not be beneficial long term,” says Gore.
He finds “most disturbing” the House Intelligence Committee’s Democrats and Republicans issuing conflicting and separate reports that including criticism of the FBI on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders. The House Intelligence committee is critical to provide nonpartisan oversight of FISA, which of necessity is a secret court (overseeing wiretapping in counterintelligence and terrorism cases),” says Gore. “I testified before that committee back in the early ‘80s three or four times a year, and there was never a hint of politics in that. The country is the loser if committees become politicized and we can’t count on them to provide legitimate oversight of the FBI…That my big concern—we are going to destroy some institutions that need the public’s trust.”
As for the special prosecutor, Gore revealed, “I know Bob Mueller personally. I’ve worked with him. He is a man of impeccable integrity,” he says, noting that Mueller (photo, left) is a Republican appointee and the Deputy Attorney General is a Republican. “Let them do their job, and we’ll see what the facts are when they’re done,” he concludes.
Gore’s campaign for reelection has been endorsed by numerous law enforcement organizations including the San Diego Police Officers Association, Latino Police Officers Association, and the San Diego Deputy Sheriffs Association. The latter was by a unanimous vote of the board and the board’s president has labeled as “false” a claim by Myers of high retirement rates due to low moral.
Gore says a hiring spike 25 years ago led to retirements but adds, “We’re up to full staffing almost all the time…That doesn’t happen unless there is good morale and people want to work for you…We’re the best-trained, best equipped law enforcement agency in the state of California, if not the country.”
He concludes, “I think we’re doing better than 90% of jurisdictions in the state, and I’m excited about some of the challenges that we have in the next four years that I hope to address.”
Read more about Gore’s candidacy at https://www.goreforsheriff.org/