Riverside County will have a new sheriff beginning Jan. 1, with semi-official figures Wednesday showing incumbent Stan Sniff being defeated in his bid for a third full term.
Sheriff’s Lt. Chad Bianco of Riverside waged an aggressive campaign, gaining momentum after the June 5 primary, when Sniff won only 33 percent of votes cast, to Bianco’s 35 percent. Neither of the other two challengers — former Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown and Deputy Miguel Garcia — received more than 20 percent of the total.
Bianco was endorsed by the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, representing all the line deputies under Sniff’s command. He echoed concerns he advanced during the 2014 race — that the sheriff’s department has been poorly managed, and the sheriff is out of touch with the community’s needs.
“I’ll start (my term in office) by repairing the relationship between the sheriff and our deputies and will work to bring the entire public safety community in Riverside County together to make our county a safe place to live and work once again,” Bianco said in campaign literature. “Under my leadership, the sheriff’s department will be focused on community-oriented policing and a proactive approach to crime reduction.”
Sniff formally conceded the race to Bianco on Wednesday morning, though he didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The most recent tally from the Registrar of Voters’ Office shows Bianco capturing just over 56 percent of votes cast, compared to 43 percent for Sniff. The registrar noted that more than 250,000 ballots have yet to be processed, but given the margin in the sheriff’s race and the trend toward the challenger, there appeared to be little chance of a dramatic swing in results.
Bianco, now in his 25th year with the sheriff’s department, highlighted his opposition to Senate Bill 54, the so-called “Sanctuary State” legislation that largely prohibits local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal authorities in enforcing immigration law. The candidate, a self-identified Second Amendment stalwart, also said he would put an emphasis on expediting the process of issuing concealed firearms licenses, an issue that has dogged Sniff, who has been accused of ignoring a growing backlog of applications from residents.
Bianco has spent most of his time in the corrections division and has never held elected office.
Sniff was appointed in October 2007 to finish out the term of then- Sheriff Bob Doyle, who left the county for a state position. The sheriff went on to be elected to two full terms.
While the sheriff earned endorsements from a long list of current and former elected officials, a few chose not to publicly support him, including county Supervisors V. Manuel Perez and Chuck Washington, as well as District Attorney Mike Hestrin.
Sniff shied away from confrontation in the campaign, choosing instead to run on his record.
A growing concern for the county is the lack of deputies in unincorporated communities, where only two patrol deputies might be available at a given time to respond to calls over a space covering several hundred square miles. Sniff repeatedly complained to the Board of Supervisors that he was hamstrung by escalating costs associated with union contracts, inter-agency services and the new John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio, leaving few resources to fund more deputies in the unincorporated areas.
The sheriff in the past has acknowledged a steady attrition rate impacting the department’s ranks, for which he has blamed a lack of county incentives to retain personnel, along with inducements from other law enforcement agencies that lure deputies away.
Sniff was quick to note that, despite his challenger’s grievances against him, the county’s overall crime rate has dropped on his watch, falling almost 9 percent last year. On his website, the sheriff touted his “four decades of law enforcement experience,” in addition to more than three decades as a U.S. Army reservist, contrasting his experience level with his challenger’s.