By Miriam Raftery
April 18, 2022 (San Diego) – Kelly Martinez is the first woman to serve as San Diego County's Undersheriff. Now she's a candidate hoping to become the first woman Sheriff in our region, aiming to fill the vacancy left by long-time Sheriff Bill Gore’s retirement. Last week, with East County Magazine held an in-depth interview with Undersheriff Martinez, which also aired on KNSJ radio.
She’s spent 37 years in the department, where the started the Sheriff’s Homeless Assistance Resource Team and Marijuana Enforcement teams. She helped manage the department’s responses through the pandemic and civil unrest. She says she’s committed to investing in improving public safety and jail safety, as well as filling vacancies amid critical staffing shortages.
“I’ve risen through the ranks and I’m currently the Undersheriff, which is the COO of the organization.I run the day to day operations … It’s a big job. It’s a $1.1 billion budget, and we have 4200 square miles, the public safety area we cover, as well as nine contract cities, all of the jails and the courthouses…I’m very passionate about San Diego County.”
She has three priorities. First is to find ways to attract quality workersf particularly those hardest to fill: deputies and healthcare workers for the jails.
San Diego County has had at least 209 jail deaths since 2006 and a state auditor recommended legislative reforms. Asked what steps she is committed to take to reduce this, she said, “I fully embrace the audit and I’m really grateful to the state auditor.” She adds, “We’re investing in the jails” as well as building new detention facilities. “That will help a lot.”
She started a wireless improvement project in jails to help connect healthcare data and computers “so a psychiatrist might not know what another doctor has done,” as well as knowing healthcare history. She’s working toward a mental healthcare assessment at intake, “right now it takes a week or more, which takes too long.” She says she implemented a body camera program as a pilot in the Las Colinas women’s detention facility. which “changes the way people behave. It’s been really well received by our staff. We’re hoping to move it to the men’s jail next.” A substance abuse program is also starting up for assessment on entry.
How would she reduce crime, particularly violent crime and human trafficking? “The human trafficking task force was started a number of years ago…I was one of the first lieutenants who sat on that…we’re working aggressively to stop that,” adding that human trafficking includes slavery as well as sex trafficking. “We are seeing more guns all the time, the ghost gun problem.”
“It’s really a balance between lawful gun ownership and those who would do harm,” she says, noting that ghost guns are used mostly by those prohibited from owning guns.
She supports alternatives to law enforcement in some cases, working with the county to establish crisis response units but so far they are in North County. “The odds are really good” of getting one in East County, she says, noting that dispatching these teams and mental health clinics free up officers to be back on the streets.
Asked how to improve trust in law enforcement following racial justice protests in our region, as well as concerns over white supremacists’ violence locally, she replied, “I think it’s really important – we need to trust our communities in order for them to trust us…I encourage our sergeants and supervisors to constantly look at body worn cameras” and make sure procedures are being followed, among other things.
ECM asked if Martinez would restore public and media access to most traffic on scanners, which the Sheriff’s department has blocked since January. A new law requires that privacy information be encrypted, and while some law enforcement agencies kept everything else available to the public, the Sheriff has encrypted all scanner communications. “The media and the public need to know what’s going on as quickly as they can so that they can take action,” she said, but stopped short of agreeing to restore scanner access.
She did, however, note that the Sheriff just unveiled a live CAD that the public can access online at: https://callsforservice.sdsheriff.gov/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery It tells what incidents they are responding to and where in clear language, but it does not include details such as descriptions of suspects or whether there is an immediate public danger. “We will be improving it and suggestions are welcome.” She says for “officer safety reasons” they haven’t been able to transmit all data on scanners but said this is a “bridge” while “we’re trying to fix that.”
Asked her approach to homelessness, she replied, “I started the Homeless Assistance Team,” working with various agencies and the county to help hundreds of people so far. But she added that now the challenge is dealing with some who don’t want to accept help or resources. “We just refer them to services and hope we can get them the help that they need.” She noted that officials in San Diego are trying to build more housing and the state is reconsidering laws regarding the mentally ill, noting, “There is so much political will right now” to address these problems.
On illegal pot shops, she says last year illegally marijuana dispensaries especially in Spring Valley created “a terrible environment for residents.” She dedicated a team and an analyst to address the problem. “They’ve bene very successful. We’ve had zero illegal dispensaries in that area for some time,” she reports. She praised Supervisors Joel Anderson and Nathan Fletcher for providing funding for this.
Response times in rural areas of East County are often far slower than in urban areas. Asked how this might be improved, Martinez replied, “It’s a staffing issue…we haven’t had enough funding for staff for a long time…The other key, in North County, was purchasing staffing and eventually building a station,” which made response time faster. “When you only have one or two deputies on a beat and they get tied up at the jail or a hospital” you don’t have enough. She said she is committed to finding more staff for the rural areas.
She believes in regional collaboration among law enforcement. She hopes to continue Sheriff Gore’s legacy of the information-led, data-driven approach to policing with 33 analysts now, but says, “We haven’t invested enough in our jails and that’s something that I hope will be my legacy, is a better jail environment not only for our staff, but also the individuals in our custody.”
She concludes, “I’m the most experienced and qualified candidate in the race. I’m passionate about San Diego and passionate about public safety.”
The primary is June 7, with a run-off in the November general election.
You can learn more about her candidacy at https://kellymartinezforsheriff.com/.
You can view the full list of candidates running at https://www.sdvote.com/content/dam/rov/en/election/2022June/Candidate_List.pdf#