SAN DIEGO — San Diego County voters will decide who will become the next person to lead the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
The race is between Undersheriff and 30-year veteran of the department, Kelly Martinez, former Assistant City Attorney, and one-time police officer John Hemmerling.
The race comes after former Sheriff William Gore abruptly announced his retirement in January of this year after 12 years as Sheriff.
Whether it be Martinez or Hemmerling, the next Sheriff will take over a troubled force grappling with a high number of deaths inside San Diego County jails, staffing shortages, and a high attrition rate.
San Diego County Sheriff Live Election Results
Undersheriff Kelly Martinez held a comfortable lead Wednesday over former city prosecutor John Hemmerling in the race to replace retired Sheriff Bill Gore.
Martinez and Hemmerling were continuing to watch results from Tuesday's election come in, with ballot-counting expected to last for days. The pair are vying to head the department, and due to recent legislation, the new sheriff will serve for six years, rather than the typical four-year term.
Martinez is looking to become the department's first female sheriff following her appointment last year as the department's first female second-in- command.
Martinez, who has served within the sheriff's department since 1985, has Gore's endorsement, as well as the backing of County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, among others.
Hemmerling was most recently a prosecutor at the San Diego City Attorney's Office, and also previously served as a San Diego police officer and U.S. Marine. The California Republican Party, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and County Supervisor Joel Anderson are among his endorsements.
The election comes at a time when the sheriff's department faces continued scrutiny over inmate deaths at its jail facilities. A state Auditor's Office report indicated the death rate at San Diego County jails was far higher than other large California counties and that the situation "raises concerns about underlying systemic issues with the Sheriff's Department's policies and practices."
Martinez says she will invest in hiring additional medical staff and mental health professionals for the county's jails, as well as the implementation of a body-worn camera footage program. In a statement on her campaign site, she said, "For too long the jails have not been prioritized with appropriate health care and much needed renovations that will make them safer for incarcerated individuals and staff."
Hemmerling says that if elected, he will focus on behavioral health services for those incarcerated in county jails and diversion opportunities to keep others out of custody and the criminal justice system altogether.
Both vowed to focus on transparency, with Martinez saying that during her time as undersheriff, the department has endeavored to report in-custody deaths and release body-worn camera footage in a timely manner.
Hemmerling said he is "committed to staying engaged with the community" and that public trust will follow when the department shows that it can maintain transparency and responsiveness to the community during investigations and critical incidents.
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