Mono County Sheriff Ralph Obenberger presented himself as community and people friendly. His opponent, Ingrid Braun, said the Sheriff has failed at his community relations. The two candidates for Sheriff answered an hour’s worth of questions at the recent Mammoth Lakes Noon Rotary Club Candidates Forum in Mammoth Lakes.
Coming into the forum, Sheriff Obenberger had made news headlines. When the Board of Supervisors asked him about the many arrests of Burning Man participants, Obenberger went to the Board to tell them his Department is only under his control. Obenberger also made news in the Jon Madrid case. As Undersheriff he was part of what a judge called an effort of harassment. Then Judge Mark Magit found that two of Obenberger’s officers had arrested a man and searched his car without probable cause.
Ingrid Braun made reference to some of those news items. But, first, the two candidates told of their backgrounds. Obenberger described his 28 years in law enforcement in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and then Mono County, his 32 years of marriage and three children. He described himself and his current department as “proactive and interactive.” He said, “It’s the peoples’ department.”
Ingrid Braun described her degree in political science and 21 years with the LAPD where she rose through the ranks to detective, supervisor, officer-in-charge of the Internal Affairs Group and later the Gang Impact Team, then Watch Commander of a large area and 60 officers. She worked briefly for the Mono Sheriff and now fills the role of Mammoth Lakes Reserve Officer.
Braun said she differs from Obenberger because of her plan to “reconnect the Sheriff’s Office with the communities.” She wants a Community Advisory Board and Town Hall meetings, she said, to “partner with the community and stakeholders.” Obenberger said he is set apart from Braun because of his knowledge and expertise knowing the Sheriff’s Office itself. He said in 14 years he has managed almost every department, and he has handled the biggest budget in the County. Obenberger said he has fiscal knowledge and knows how to manage people. He said he leads by example and is part of the team. “The guys and girls are the boots on the street,” he said. “I manage them. This puts me ahead of my opponent.”
The Justice Department has endorsed the concept of community policing. The candidates were asked to define community policing and whether it is used in Mono County. Obenberger responded by saying his department is proactive and not reactive. He said to maintain the quality of life means to keep the criminal element out. He said his door is open and his staff listens to community concerns. He said, “We self-assess if that needs to be done.” He said he and his staff attend community meetings and talk to people.
Braun said community policing to her means collaboration – a partnership with the people, businesses and other agencies and stakeholders. She said she does not believe strong community policing is happening in Mono County. She said she hears people say they don’t know who the Sheriff’s Department is and they are “afraid to make complaints.” Braun said she would institute community policing and empower the deputies to solve problems on the spot. “I would empower the community,” said Braun, “to work collaboratively on a Community Advisory Board.” She said, “I want community policing for Mono County. I hear complaints about that. If I am Sheriff, we will listen.”
The candidates were asked if deputies spend too much time on Highway 395 and if the Sheriff’s Department should patrol the highways. Obenberger said, “I’m proactive. Not just on the highways but with MONET in the communities.” He said narcotics is an issue and his men get tips from the communities and watch traffic on the highway. He said that the CHP and the Sheriff’s Department do traffic enforcement. Obenberger said, “Individuals don’t know why we are on the highway. Law Enforcement does. We don’t target people. If there is a legal reason, we stop them. If not, we don’t.”
Braun said resources should be allocated into the communities where the people live and come to visit. She said Highway 395 is Main Street for some communities. Said Braun, “If we see problems, we will respond.” She said Highway 395, however, is not generally where deputies need to be. Braun pointed to criticism of her opponent when she said, “We don’t need to be profiling people on 395 whether it’s for Burning Man or other issues. Law Enforcement should be mindful of constitutional rights and know that there is probable cause before they make a traffic stop so we don’t have a situation like that of Mr. Boulaalam which the Sheriff’s Department lost in court. The Judge found there was no reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop, the evidence was tossed and the case was lost. This could potentially cost us a lot of money.”
Braun said focus should go on communities and tourists. She said, “If you break the law, you should go to jail. Deputies should not be focused on tourists. They should focus on criminal and non-criminal activity that impacts our quality of life.”
The two candidates closely agreed on the finances and needs of 24-hour service. They also closely commented on needs for overtime and expenses on staffing.