Race for Riverside county sheriff getting heated

The race for Riverside county sheriff is getting crowded-and contentious, with four candidates vying for the county's top law enforcement job.

Sheriff Stan Sniff is the incumbent in the race and has held the position since 2007.

But his opponents are critical of his leadership.

"He's done nothing to cut costs," said Lt. Chad Bianco, one of Sniff's challengers. "Other than allow the morale of our department to sink so low that everyone leaves."

Bianco currently works out of the Hemet station of the Riverside County sheriff's department. He says the rank-and-file aren't happy, partly because of how they're currently deployed.

"I mean, you send a deputy out to handle a call because tree branches are falling into a neighbor, and then someone gets assaulted, and that deputy is not able to respond," said Bianco.

Bianco says consequently, a lot of deputies are fleeing the department for other jobs. It's a claim that another Sniff opponent, Dave Brown, is also making.

"I recently decided to run for Riverside County sheriff after watching the incumbent Sheriff Sniff politicize the office and severely compromise public safety in Riverside County," said Brown, at a news conference in downtown Riverside, alongside county second district supervisor John Tavaglione.

Brown retired from his position as Hemet police chief last summer, when he announced his candidacy for sheriff. Brown also claims that Sniff isn't deploying his deputies properly and isn't implementing common-sense strategies.

"Things like deploying resources during times of day when there are more calls for service," said Brown about an idea that he says the department doesn't employ. "They don't do that. They have static staffing across the board."

"That's false," said Sniff. "We've always been demand-based."

Sniff disagrees with his opponents who say because of the shortage of deputies, more calls for service should be handled by community service officers, instead of sworn duties.

"When the public calls and wants a cop, they want somebody who's going to get there with a gun."

Sniff admits his department needs more deputies, but claims violent crime in Riverside County is down 10 percent this year, despite lack of funding.

But opponent Bianco accuses the sheriff of waste.

"We're told the same thing every year," said Bianco. "Spend all that you have, or you're not going to get it next year."

Things have gotten particularly testy between Bianco and Sniff.

Bianco also ran against Sniff for sheriff four years ago. He claims the day after he lost that election, he was reassigned to a small office in sheriff's headquarters as punishment, and was tasked with remedial jobs, while still making his full lieutenant's salary.

"I got stripped of all my responsibility, and all my supervisory duties," said Bianco. "I was there to ensure that I wouldn't run (for sheriff) again."

But Sniff scoffs at Bianco's claims, saying Bianco was due for reassignment anyway. Sniff says he was just waiting until after the election to make the move official.

"Lt. Bianco likes to play the perpetual victim on many different things," said Sniff. "I appreciate that employees want to go where they want to go, but they need to go where we need them to work."

All of Sniff's opponents say morale in the department has plummeted in recent years.

"When I started (in law enforcement), the Riverside County sheriff's department was the premiere law enforcement agency in the county," said Dave Brown. But he says that's not the case anymore.

"The morale within the organization, and the esprit de corps and the reputation has soured."

The fourth candidate in the race also claims morale in the department is suffering. Miguel Garcia, who is currently a deputy in the Riverside county sheriff's department in Moreno Valley, and was the fourth and final candidate to join the race, has not responded lately to repeated requests by Eyewitness News for an interview. But on his website, he attacks the current administration.

"Due to the lack of supportive leadership, budgeting constraints, and minimal staffing morale has hit an all-time low," said Garcia in a statement posted on his website.

But Sniff disagrees that morale in the department has suffered.

"I think the morale thing is typical nonsense that comes out election time," said Sniff about his opponents. "When you don't have anything else to run on, you talk about morale."

The primary is June 5. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.
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