The city of Monterey appointed an interim police chief Tuesday and, from all appearances, he is a strong candidate to replace retiring Chief Phil Penko on a permanent basis.
Monterey County officials, and Monterey County voters, can receive a valuable lesson by watching the appointment process, which beats the hell out of the process the county uses to pick a sheriff.
The interim chief is Dave Hober, who was named deputy chief in February after 25 years with the San Jose Police Department.
In San Jose, Hober’s last assignment was to oversee field operations, including patrol, and to manage a $197 million budget. He worked his way up through the ranks after earning a political science degree from San Jose State University and graduate degrees in criminal justice administration and public administration.
When he left San Jose, the San Jose Mercury News called him “a well-regarded leader known for his eloquence in explaining police procedures and tactics in an accessible way, most recently shouldering the formidable task of collecting public input on potential police use of a drone.”
Hober also was the face of the department when the decision was made to eliminate an armored vehicle that had stirred concern in the community.
Another point in Hober’s favor was that when he was named deputy chief, he was the choice of Penko, an exceptionally capable and thoughtful leader who had spent his entire law enforcement career in Monterey and who understands the community as well as anyone. His latest appointment was by the city manager, who previously was the city’s personnel manager.
Compare this process with the recent election that created new leadership for the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department, new leadership in the form of untested, untrained and underqualified Steve Bernal, a former deputy who may or may not be up to the task. The point here is not the result as much as the process. The county’s top law enforcement official was picked as the result of a campaign that caused extreme bitterness and division within the department and that featured the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it Bernal family money, money primarily used to buy negative and often misleading advertising.
Philosophically, I favor elections over appointments except in certain cases. I don’t think it generally makes much sense for voters to pick people for highly technical jobs such as county assessor or coroner. I’d rather that personnel specialists and a locally elected body such as a board of supervisors make those decisions. Once upon a time I favored elections for sheriff. Not any more.
In the old days, before sheriff’s race became big-money affairs, elections were logical. Back then, the population was small enough and voters usually could use reputation and word of mouth to choose the better candidate. These days, however, the Republican Party locally has made local elections into a blood sport and somehow the electorate doesn’t hold even the most dishonest campaign tactics against the hopefuls. I, for one, have a hard time trusting a successful candidate who used lies and deception to win.
There’s also the issue of the influence likely to be extended to those who supported the winning candidate. Do they get a break when they’re pulled over for erratic driving? Do they get first crack at jail contracts? Do they get concealed weapon permits when they don’t really need protection for anything worse than paper cuts?
Even if Bernal proves his critics wrong and turns out to be a fine sheriff, Monterey County should take some of the politics out of law enforcement and professionalize the process. There is no question the interim chief in Monterey is qualified. Should we have to wonder about his counterpart at the county level?