By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

After a national search, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to appoint former Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones as its first Deputy County Executive of Public Safety and Justice.

Stockton holds the dubious distinction of being one of the most violent cities in the country and Jones is both praised and criticized for incidents and actions that have occurred under his watch as top cop, including a number of police-involved shootings.

“Mr. Jones is a nationally recognized advocate for principled policing, evidence-based practices, strengthening relationships between law enforcement and community, building community trust and trauma informed practices,” County Executive Ann Edwards said.

“His proven commitment to community engagement and justice reform, as well as to diversity, equity and inclusion will prove advantageous to the Public Safety and Justice agency, as well as to the Sacramento community at large.”

Les Simmons, a local Black pastor who served on the interview panel that narrowed down candidates, said Sacramento has already recreated programs that Jones implemented in Stockton, such as Night Watch and the gun-reduction program, Advance Peace.

“I’ve really worked hard on changing what public safety means,” Jones said before the Board’s vote. “This is about consensus building across all parts of our communities, as well as throughout all of the various organizations within the criminal justice system.”

Jones said he realizes that Sacramento County “is a bit different than San Joaquin County, but I do believe there are a lot of basic principles that work across municipal county jurisdictions as well as across the state and country… “I think if we can all agree that we want to reduce negative outcomes, we definitely can have a seat at the table to really change what public safety and justice means for Sacramento County.”

Several people from Stockton, dubbed “Team Eric,” spoke out on Jones’ behalf, including former African American mayor Michael Tubbs and Tashante McCoy, whose cousin was killed by Stockton police officers.

“I’m a huge Jones fan, because I’m a fan of justice. I’m a fan of safety and I’m a fan of community,” said Tubbs, who worked closely with Chief Jones for eight years as mayor and a city councilmember. “He’s someone who is tough and someone who is really driven to make sure that government works for everyone.”

McCoy served on Jones’ community advisory board, which provided the opportunity to work alongside Jones “and expose the fact that law enforcement sometimes drops the ball,” she said, also pointing to an instance when she called him out about being insensitive to the loved ones of people killed by the police. 

“The apologetic spirit and the instant change in some of the policies on the way that they handled families and just so many different things instantly began to change and transform,” McCoy shared.

Several Sacramento residents and activists called into the virtual County meeting to speak out against Jones’ selection. A moot point, many said, because the Board of Supervisors had “already made up its mind” and members were already prepared to vote in favor of hiring him.

Sacramento’s own recently retired police chief, Daniel Hahn, told The OBSERVER he applied for the job, but was given the “run-around” by Edwards during the process.

Hahn says he applied after seeing an OBSERVER article in which Edwards said she was committed to diversifying the County employee ranks. Hahn was the City’s first African American police chief and served in that capacity for four years. He previously served as chief of the Roseville Police Department for six years.

Local residents expressed disappointment that the County chose any law enforcement leader to fill the position.  An unidentified person called Jones’ selection “ridiculous.”

“You’re gonna let a cop lead the Public Safety Department because a couple of people from Stockton said, ‘Yeah, he’s a good guy?’ You guys asked, ‘What would you guys recommend for this position’, and nobody who was asked said a cop, but instead you guys gave us a cop,” the caller said.

Decarcerate Sacramento activist Mackenzie Wilson shared similar sentiments.

“Hiring an ex-cop whose highlights are reform, intelligence and incarceration, policing, and how law enforcement interacts with this community isn’t something to celebrate,” Wilson said.

“This agency is not about any of those things. This agency is about reducing the jail population and keeping folks out of contact with law enforcement. Thousands in Sacramento County have already defined public safety and justice as racial and health equity, housing, food access, and mental health services, not principled policing. I had high hopes for this department. But with this announcement and the process of this announcement, it has left me quite disillusioned,” Wilson said.

Local resident Judy Hyman also shared her disappointment.

“I am disheartened about the direction that this selection signals for the new Public Safety and Justice agency,” Hyman said. “Regardless of the chief’s individual qualities, however outstanding, the selection of a career law enforcement professional signals a continued direction tilted toward the traditional law enforcement and the approach to public safety that has been so harmful to our Black and brown community.” 

“That direction,” Hyman said, “is tilted away from the justice side of the equation, in fact, demoting our public defenders, the one county agency that concerns itself with the accused, and that has earned trust from the community from an independent agency to one that must answer to a law enforcement professional. This is very troubling. Given this selection, it’s especially incumbent on our County leaders to put the County’s racial justice commitment, front and center.”

The Board of Supervisors declared racism a public health crisis in Sacramento County in November 2020, pledging to “promote racial equity while shaping policies, appropriating resources, implementing programs, and issuing directives, among other actions.”

District 1 Supervisor Phil Serna, who served as Board Chair in 2020, said he was happy to hear Jones define community safety as broader than law enforcement and encompassing public health.  

“That’s reassuring to me, but of course, the proof is in the pudding,” Serna said. Jones’ stated focus on disparities “lends itself very well to some of the existing infrastructure and County initiatives that are succeeding, quite frankly, in addressing some of the historical disparities, especially in the African American community when it comes to public health considerations, but also including the persistence and presence of violence,” said Serna, suggesting Jones become involved with the community-driven Black Child Legacy Campaign and the Steering Committee on Reduction of African American Child Deaths as a way to follow through.