Sheriff’s race centers on big problems at county jail.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Mike Kanalakis walks over to a man on a bench in front of the Pacific Grove Post Office.
“Hi, I’m Mike Kanalakis,” he says, shaking the man’s hand and smiling. “I’m looking for support for my campaign to be your sheriff again.”
The man, local musician Jay Dancing Bear, looks at Kanalakis’ glossy brochure.
“I personally believe in freedom and decriminalizing victimless crimes like drugs and prostitution,” Dancing Bear says. “The jails are filled up as it is.”
“Thank you, that’s exactly it.” Kanalakis says. “We have laws in books for a reason, but we also need to balance our priorities. The jail needs to be a top priority.”
Dancing Bear has stumbled on the top issue of the Monterey County Sheriff’s race. At 150 percent over capacity, the outdated county jail casts a prison yard shadow over the June 6 election.
Both of his opponents, bailiff Vincent Earland and Sgt. Robert Oen, have criticized Kanalakis for ignoring the jail—and the officers who work there.
It’s a piece of sheriff’s department politics that Kanalakis downplays with highlights from his first term: balancing the department’s budget—not counting overtime pay—and helping to establish the county-wide gang task force.
Yes, the department may be $400,000 over budget because of overtime wages at the jail, but, Kanalakis notes, crimes such as robbery, rape, aggravated assault and homicide are down 22.4 percent in rural areas and down 15.2 percent in the cities. (Kanalakis does admit a 13.2 percent spike in property crimes.)
His opponents see things differently.
Earland, a 10-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, accuses Kanalakis mismanaging the department’s $66 million budget.
“He’s $400,000 over the budget,” says Earland. “The idea that he’s balanced the budget is a farce.”
And Oen, who’s spent 31 years working for the sheriff’s department, says that “there’s a lot of resentment” towards Kanalakis.
Earland agrees. “The deputies want someone they can trust,” he says. “People are leaving faster than we can hire them. There’s no retention because the deputies are working in deplorable conditions.”
In fact, Kanalakis only won the endorsement of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association by a single vote. Kanalakis dismisses his opponents’ charges.
“I have an open door policy,” he says. “I meet every month with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the union.”
In addition, Kanalakis says he performs monthly jail inspections.
“I’m out there, I’m talking to folks. At the same time, I have a department to run. There’s more to running a department than internal affairs. I have to deal with the Board of Supervisors, state legislators, other agencies, plus the community in general. I do what’s right for the community first and the sheriff’s department second.”
Oen scoffs at Kanalakis’ infrequent tours through the jail. “Dog and pony shows,” he calls them. “He has no idea how [the jail] runs.”
Kanalakis says his 10-year plan for the jail is on track. He began by bringing the National Institute of Corrections to critique the jail.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be flattering,” Kanalakis says. “My opponents will tell you that the problems are a result of mismanagement. Nowhere in the report does it say that. The jail is overcrowded because of systemic problems.”
Kanalakis says he’s currently working on a bond measure for the jail.
“Residents will have input,” he says. “We’ll have to decide what we want out of our criminal justice system. Do we want to be tough on crime? Then we have to build a jail that’s tough on crime,” he says. “It’s not as easy as just bulldozing the jail. What are you going to do with 1,200 inmates?”
This highlights an even bigger problem. The county jail is severely undermanned. There are currently 43 full-time job vacancies, 28 of them of officers at sheriff’s office.
“He doesn’t know a thing about working in the jail,” Oen says. “Has he ever broken up a fight in the jail? I don’t think so.”
Maybe not, but Kanalakis has experience of a different kind. Back in Pacific Grove, Kanalakis outlines his plan for the jail. Jay Dancing Bear, nodding adamantly, has an idea.
“We should hook kids up to a treadmill to solve the energy crisis,” he says earnestly. “We’d pay them, say, five bucks an hour.”
“I haven’t heard that one before,” Kanalakis says diplomatically. “Very creative.”
Then, Kanalakis exits gracefully.
“Well, you’ve got my vote,” Dancing Bear says. “See if you can hook up some of those treadmills, OK? Just test them out.”