We need a sheriff who is both tough and smart when fighting crime

Jeff vonKaenel

As I was writing this column, I was told that Milo Fitch would soon announce his candidacy for Sacramento County Sheriff, opposing incumbent Sheriff Scott Jones. Milo Fitch served in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department for 33 years, retiring as Chief Deputy, and currently is chief of the Workforce Development Branch at the California Prison Industry Authority.

We need to replace Sheriff Jones. We need an experienced official to oversee the Sheriff’s Department, and we need a forward-thinking law-enforcement professional with real problem-solving skills. The election of Milo Fitch would accomplish both of these goals.

How Jones can look in the mirror, let alone continue in office, is beyond me. In 2016, a court ruling required Sacramento County to pay out over $10 million in judgments against deputies in the Sheriff’s Department for sexual harassment claims. Last year, there was a $6.5 million judgment awarded to the family of a man killed by a sheriff’s deputy. During his tenure as sheriff, Jones passed out concealed weapons permits like Halloween candy, not following his own department’s policies, according to the California State Auditor’s office. After being elected to his second four-year term as sheriff, he decided to run for Congress. In 2017, he said he would not seek re-election, but later he changed his mind. He should stick with his original plan.

But elections are often less about the qualifications of the candidates and more about the money in the campaign war chest. In this arena, Jones is very competent. He will have a ton of money for his campaign. If only he was equally capable of running the Sheriff’s Department.

I do not know about Fitch’s ability to raise campaign money. But he has the experience, the temperament and the wisdom to run the department. In last week’s SN&R article, “Run Milo Run,” Raheem F. Hosseini compared Fitch to Obi-Wan Kenobi—referencing the wisdom learned from experience—and noted that after spending years witnessing the failures of the drug wars firsthand, Fitch is now working to reform the system. He has also joined “the rational forces that support sentencing and bail reform.”

I met Fitch in 2013 when he was serving as commander of the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, overseeing 289 full-time staff with an annual budget of $50 million, as well as 2,000 inmates. During my visit, he told me that money spent for training and education of prisoners would do much more to reduce crime than money spent re-arresting and re-incarcerating prisoners.

Others in law enforcement and social services have told me that Fitch created innovative programs to provide education and training opportunities for prisoners, which would help inmates leave prison with better math, reading and job skills. This would increase the chances of their getting a job and turning around their lives.

My impression of Fitch was that he was a rare individual who could win the support and respect of both the officers and the inmates. After he retired from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department in 2014, some of his innovative programs were eliminated. In contrast to Fitch, Sheriff Jones has argued for longer sentences and less reform.

In June, the names Fitch and Jones will be on the ballot, but it might as well be Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.