Editor’s note: This is the second of two profiles of candidates seeking election June 5 as San Joaquin County Sheriff.
Pat Withrow thinks that it’s time for accountability to once again become a priority for the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Office.
And he hopes that voters throughout the county that he spent nearly three decades serving faithfully will see fit to put him in charge of making that goal a reality for the nearly 750,000 people that call the area home.
Withrow, who retired from the sheriff’s office several years ago at the rank of Sergeant, is hoping that a fresh approach to dealing with some of the problems of San Joaquin County will entice voters in his bid to unseat three-term Sheriff Steve Moore next month in the June primary.
And, if elected, Withrow said that his first task would be a top-to-bottom audit of the entire department to get a better understanding of how things have been operating under Moore and what he can do to improve them.
“Absolutely the first thing I would do is a full audit, because I think that it’s important to restore some of the trust that has been lost with this office,” Moore said. “I think we need to do a full audit of the evidence room and see what happened there with the evidence that is missing, and do a full audit of the budget because I have a few questions about the way that the current sheriff identifies his needs to the Board of Supervisors.
“Getting answers to those questions will help us prepare to move forward, and we need to start with the basics.”
This will be the second time that Withrow has challenged Moore, and his first since leaving his longtime job with the county following a 2014 showing where he pulled more than 41 percent of the total votes cast in San Joaquin County.
Even after that defeat, and after calling it quits to a career that began in 1987, Withrow said that he remained committed to those who supported his first run, and watched intently as questions arose about the leadership within the sheriff’s office.
For nearly a year Withrow has been building his campaign to tackle Moore, and in that process several high-profile stories have come to light that paint the current sheriff in an unflattering light – from the continuation of the missing evidence saga to the debacle that led to both of San Joaquin County’s forensic pathologists resigning citing influence from the sheriff.
The latter eventually led to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to vote to separate the Coroner’s division from that of the elected Sheriff – a process that could take months – and Withrow was firmly part of the camp that supported the split for the sake of transparency.
Priority is filling
open patrol positions
But even with all of the high-profile cases that have been floating around for the last six months, Withrow said that there are fundamental issues that need to be addressed in order to give residents the protection that they deserve in terms of the way crimes are policed, and the way that criminals are housed.
“One of the things that I want to focus on immediately is filling the patrol positions back up that are open right now,” Withrow said. “Only about half of those allocated route patrol positions are filled right now, and we need to get those officers back out on the street and in the communities that we serve.
“There are lots of things that we need to focus on, but getting those officers back out on the street is a top priority.”
That’s not to say that San Joaquin County hasn’t had its share of challenges. The implementation of AB109 – the mandatory prison realignment bill born out of a Supreme Court decision that prompted California to shuffle “low-risk” inmates back to county jails to relieve prison overcrowding – has created less space for those who commit “non-serious” offenses.
According to Withrow, there have been more than 337 escapes from the San Joaquin County Jail’s Honor Farm in the last 12 years – something he feels has been exacerbated by the AB109 inmates that he feels should be held in a more restrictive environment.
While the inclusion of Propositions 47 and 57 have drastically altered the consequences for those who commit quality of life crimes, Withrow said that he doesn’t see either as an excuse for the deterioration that many are attributing to them.
Wants to bring
job training back
for county inmates
A lot of it, Withrow says, comes down to what is offered to those while they are in custody.
“There used be to training programs for inmates at the jail where they learned actual trades so that they had something to look forward to when they were released – auto body, upholstery, small-engine repair,” Withrow said. “Those are gone, and now we’re seeing that people are released and go right back to what they were doing that got them arrested in the first place.
“We need to step up our enforcement and not let a lot of these things slide and let people know that San Joaquin County isn’t a place to commit these crimes, but we also need to give these people the tools to succeed – to wire a house or drive a forklift or become an otherwise productive member of society.”
And some of the issues that Withrow says that he wants to touch on involve rebuilding strained relationships between the communities that the sheriff’s office serves and the office itself under Moore’s leadership.
Earlier this year Withrow publicly called out Moore for his unwillingness to budge on softening the cost of the City of Lathrop’s contract with the sheriff’s office – something that struck a personal chord with Withrow, who was assigned to Lathrop just a few years after the city incorporated and signed its police protection contract.
While Lathrop has been in protracted talks with the City of Tracy to sign a new contract for police services at the recommendation of the Municipal Resource Group, Withrow still maintains that he would be able to at least match that contract price if not beat it once elected – continuing the same Community Oriented Policing model that he feels works best in Lathrop and relies extensively on a relationship between the community and those tasked with protecting it.
“It’s going to cost Lathrop a lot of money to transfer over, and I think that we could save them from having to spend that money while maintaining the relationship that we’ve had for decades – this model works when the people assigned to Lathrop know and love the community, and the community loves them back, and that takes time to build,” Withrow said. “We will sit down with Lathrop and come up with a way to make this work that covers our costs, because policing isn’t supposed to be for profit.
“Over the years we have had great chiefs in Lathrop and we need to get back to letting them run things, because the relationship between the public and their police is a special thing there. I’m going to fight really hard to make that happen.”
issuing more gun
permits to residents
And one of his campaign pledges from 2014 still remains – Withrow believes that any law-abiding resident that can pass the necessary background checks and doesn’t have any mental health history or issues should be able to carry a gun for their personal protection.
“We were able to move the Sheriff on that in the last election, but there’s a system now where you have to apply and then wait a year before they even consider approving your application – the backlog is that big,” Withrow said. “When I’m elected we’re going to clear that backlog because everybody has a right to protect themselves and their family.
“We can’t have a police officer on every corner, and I think there’s something to be said about the person who wants to protect themselves and their neighbor from harm – we shouldn’t make those people wait.”
During his 28-year career, Withrow has been a K9 officer, a SWAT officer, and a patrol and administrative sergeant. He spent three years on the custody side of the job after first being hired, and before retiring ran the alternative work program and community corps. During his tenure, he was nominated for San Joaquin County Deputy Sheriff of the Year five times.
Withrow and his wife of 20 years, Kathleen, make their home in San Joaquin County. They have three children – Kelsey, Jacqueline and Zachary – and just recently finished a project where they fixed up Kathleen’s childhood home and sold it to a family. Withrow says that he enjoys working around the house and “catching up on 28 years of neglected projects” and unwinds by camping with his family at some of his favorite places.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.24