As reported in both the Bohemian (March 18 and May 2) and SFGate (March 20), the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, in cooperation with the Santa Rosa Police Department, has contracted with the nationally televised show Cops and invited a production crew to "ride along" with both agencies. This project has moved forward despite feedback to the sheriff's office from community leaders who felt this would further damage the shattered trust between the sheriff's office and the community.
As a former post commander for the Los Angeles Police Department, I understand the imperative for our officers to feel appreciated and supported. Recognizing those who risk their lives to keep us safe is not just important, it's essential. But it seems to me that inviting the nation to experience our community through such a negative lens, particularly at this time, profoundly misses every mark.
It's also unfathomable that the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office would choose Erick Gelhaus to be the liaison for this particular project. Gelhaus is the same deputy who, in 2013, shot young Andy Lopez seven times—killing him less than 17 seconds after the officers had arrived on the scene. How could anyone have thought that Gelhaus was an appropriate emissary? How could this decision be seen as anything other than blatant disregard for our community and a slap in the face to the Lopez family? The whole process demonstrates a shocking level of insensitivity, and highlights the profound separation between the sheriff's office leadership and our community.
I can't imagine any community that would want to be nationally portrayed in a damaging way, but especially ours, which is still very much in a place of recovery and healing following multiple tragedies. Seeking recognition for our law enforcement, at the expense of our communities, seems extremely tone-deaf, insensitive and out-of-touch.
Not one part of this project serves the interests of our communities. I emphatically urge both departments to revisit their decisions.
John Mutz is a candidate for Sonoma County sheriff.
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