By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
In a historic swearing-in, Jim Cooper took the oath as Sacramento County’s first Black sheriff Dec. 16.
Cooper is only California’s second Black sheriff, having been elected 36 years after Charles Byrd in Siskiyou County in 1986.
More than 800 attended a ceremony at Sacramento State as Cooper discussed his long history as a public servant, the homelessness crisis and his commitment to law enforcement.
“Law enforcement is my calling,” Cooper said during his sheriff’s address. “You can have an instant impact and change someone’s life, immediately. It’s just so rich and this is the essence of it.”
Among the crowd were local dignitaries including outgoing District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, District Attorney-elect Thien Ho, Sacramento Police Chief Katherine Lester, and President and CEO of the California Black Chamber of Commerce Jay King.
Cooper’s badge was pinned by his daughters, Jessica Ampah and Alexis Cooper. He was then sworn in by two Black federal judges, Morrison England and Troy Nunley.
Cooper comes in with decades of experience in law enforcement and local government. He served as captain in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office from 1984-2014; helped usher Elk Grove into cityhood as its founding mayor from 2000-2014; and was elected to the Assembly in 2014, where he represented California’s 9th District until his election as sheriff.
Cooper said his recent eight-year tenure as an assemblymember will inform his approach as sheriff.
“I’ve learned so much, I’ve grown as a person, and my depth of knowledge is greater,” Cooper said. He added that in the assembly it was “hard to compromise because you deal with two houses, multiple committees, hoping your bill gets through and praying the governor signs it. … It taught me a lot.”
Cooper went on to name homelessness as a top concern and something he hopes to address as sheriff.
“We’ve been heavy on building housing, which is important, but a lot of folks are mentally ill out there. They don’t belong in jail,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to have facilities for folks to deal with mental illness or crisis.”
Cooper also gave a shout-out to Lester. The two are graduates of Cordova High School in Rancho Cordova.
When asked how she will work with Cooper to address public safety, Lester said the police and sheriff departments have different jurisdictions, but do communicate about different crime trends.
“Whenever a new police chief or new sheriff is sworn in, I certainly commend them for taking on the challenge of a difficult, but yet very rewarding, profession,” Chief Lester said. “Having smart professional people in the profession is critical as we move forward and adopt new strategies.”
Cooper acknowledged that law enforcement is challenging and emphasized that it’s become even more difficult in recent years. But he’s up for the challenge.
“I’m excited to be sheriff and to work with everyone, be involved, and be engaged,” Cooper said. “Even if we disagree, we can have a conversation and really make a better Sacramento.”