By Miriam Raftery
April 17, 2022 (San Diego) -- East County Magazine interviewed Dave Myers, a retired San Diego Sheriff Commander running for Sheriff to fill the seat left by the retirement of long-time Sheriff Bill Gore. He says it’s time for a new Sheriff in town to change the culture of law enforcement to one that respects everyone while assuring safe communities and rebuilding trust between residents and law enforcement.
He's served in law enforcement for 35 years, won awards for exceptional service and lifesaving, volunteered in nonprofits and community groups, and led efforts to form the Sheriff’s Youth Advisory Group.
Asked how he would restore trust between law enforcement and minorities, Myers says, “Right now unfortunately, law enforcement not only here locally but nationally have been seen as occupiers, not community members, not peace officers who need to come in and control crime and prevent crimes.” He notes that studies show “there is racial profiling in policing.” A key is to embed law enforcement in communities, talk about these issues and “more importantly listen to community members” as well as having independent community oversight.
He notes a double digit increase in violent crime and says he has a proven record of reducing violent crimes over three decades. “Law enforcement needs to respond to these instances…but must take a very active role in partnering with community organizations” such as youth alternative programs and gun violence programs.
Asked about the revolving door for some violent criminals, such as one who tried to kill an El Cajon Police officer after being released despite multiple convictions for attacking police officers, Myers says, “The system failed the police officer” and also failed the community. He supports mental healthcare within the system and working with community groups and probation after release “to reduce the 60-70% recidivism rate that we’re seeing today.”
As for accountability by officers engaged in wrongdoing, Myers has noted he was first to raise questions about Rancho San Diego Sheriff’s Captain Garmo who was later convicted of gun trafficking and tipping off marijuana dispensaries of raids. “Historically, law enforcement when one of their own does wrong, they circle the wagons and cut off communications,” Myers says. “I truly believe that anybody in law enforcement who violates the public trust should be held to the same standard as someone who is not in law enforcement…” He recalls an officer accused of sexually assaulting 20 women on duty. He calls for immediately addressing violations of public trust and dismissing officers found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing.
County jails have had at least 187 deaths since 2006, the highest of any major county in the state, as well as the highest number of jail suicides (30). “Four years ago I was talking about jail deaths,” he says, “and just now the current acting Sheriff Kelly Martinez wants to do something about it…to me that’s like the arsonist who sets the fire and then gets praised for putting it out…She has been in charge during all this time and has been aware of previous reports…” He praised supervisors for accepting a state auditor’s report and striving to take action. Instead of housing drug addicts and those with mental health issues, he wants to invest in drug treatment and mental health treatment, while still holding individual accountable for crimes. “Let’s treat the underlying issues…not just allow overcrowding because the Sheriff wants to open up a new jail. And if they are in jail, let’s provide the basic healthcare…let’s embed mental healthcare professionals in the onset of people being booked into jail,” he says. “What we are experiencing now is deputies who are not medically trained” making placement decisions.
Myers supports body-worn cameras for jail deputies. He was in charge of piloting the body-worn camera program for deputies five or six years ago. “My recommendations were adopted just for the fields and not for the jails or court systems,” he says, also criticizing the department for editing such videos. He wants to see videos loaded on the website for the public to access, while protecting privacy of victims.
A new state law requires private information such as victims’ ID not be broadcast over scanners publicly. While SDPD went to a secure channel only for privacy details, the Sheriff moved everything onto a secure channel. This prevents media from accessing emergency information on incidents such as high speed pursuits, roadblocks, and searches for armed suspects.
Myer pledged to restore full access by media and the public to scanner information. “They currently have encrypted channels for operations taking place,” he said, noting that the Sheriff has long used this for things like SWAT incidents. “It’s the Sheriff’s department leadership that does not want to be transparent and share information with the general public, which I think they have a right to access…There is absolutely no reason to encrypt it (other than privacy details…In my information they’re hiding information.”
Asked his approach to reduce homelessness under county jurisdiction, such as at a camp on Magnolia on county land in El Cajon that the city has repeatedly complained about, Myers says, “The homeless issue for law enforcement has been thrust upon them. It’s very much a community based issue where our local elected officials have not allocated appropriate resources for those individuals that do need help,” such as job training, education, housing and access to medical care. “Law enforcement must play a role to those who take advantage of communities, threaten people, damage property, but in my experience that’s a very small percentage of the people,” he says. He notes with new leadership on the Board of Supervisors, positive changes are occurring, such as efforts to build homeless shelters in the future. He opposes “displacement’ by temporarily jailing people for being homeless. The Sheriff has just one homeless outreach team with a handful of people countywide, which he says is inadequate. He supports mobile crisis response teams instead of armed responses for those who merely need resources, though acknowledges that in some cases an armed response is needed if an individual is violent.
Rural areas have long had far slower Sheriff response times than urban areas, as in Campo, Boulevard and Jacumba. Asked if he’d commit to fight for more resources for these areas, Myers replies, “I used to be a Lieutenant in the rural division and I did fight for more resources,” even writing federal grants. “We need to as Sheriff advocate for more resources for our rural areas,” noting that these areas don’t have 24/7 coverage; deputies respond from their homes at night. He wants more deputies to improve response times.
To help prevent young people from becoming involved in crime, Myers says law enforcement has discretion in dealing with youths. “Right now, the path has been juvenile justice involvement first, and then trying to figure out other paths afterwards…I want to embed the restorative justice at the front end,” referring to community based efforts. He recalled being called out for a youth who stole a loaf of bed and was truant; Myers took him home, found mother had mental health issues…”There was no bed, there was no food…so the kid was just trying to feed his family.” He got a church and school involved, got food and beds, got mental health help and a job for the mother. The kid went on to college with no criminal record, since the store opted not to press charges. “That’s the restorative process. How can we make the community better? And if we all pitch in, we can do it.”
Asked about the issue of hate groups in East County, per the Southern Poverty law Center, and a seeming lack of accountability for white supremacists even when assaults are caught on video, Myers states, “The FBI has identified white supremacy, white nationalism, as the greatest domestic threat and I’ve seen it…I’ve spent years trying to address it, not just in East County…I am absolutely committed to putting the same emphasis, the same staffing, creating a special unit of detectives over and above those committed to black and brown gangs, to address the activities of white supremacist gangs.” He recalls white groups that showed up at protests in La Mesa with large knives on their belts when other protesters were banned from even carrying protest sign sticks. “We need to have in law enforcement a very robust program where we monitor our own. The January 6 protest at the U.S. capitol, it’s very well documented that some law enforcement officers were participating” around the nation. He voiced concern over social media posts by some local law officers showing support for the insurrectionists.
When he ran for Sheriff in the past, Myers won endorsement of a local gun rights group for his support of open carry laws for those who need protection. “I myself have been a victim of gun violence,” he says. “I am absolutely committed to enforcing concealed carry policies” noting that all have to pass background tests and proficiency with the firearm. He supports the 2nd amendment, but wants enforcement associated with gun violence stepped up, such as on ghost guns .“There should be no guns that cannot be traced to a serial number.”
He is endorsed across party lines including Congressional members Sara Jacobs and Mike Levin, La Mesa Councilman Bill Baber and La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis. He is also endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party.
He says changes are needed in the Sheriff’s department. I have never supported any conversations of defunding anybody,” he says, “but I truly believe that law enforcement must reimagine policing, we must get a handle on the double digit crime increases, and I have a proven track record of reducing crime in neighborhoods.” He adds, “We must stop the jail deaths. I am not afraid to take on the status quo to change, to make things better, to be transparent, and to be accountable to the public. I will engage the community all over the county of San Diego,” adding that he wants to restore confidence in law enforcement.
Myers is one of several candidates running in the June primary. The top two will run off in a general election in November.
Learn more at his website: www.DaveMyers4Sheriff.com.