Though he’s relatively young, Merced City Council candidate Kevin Blake said his role in law enforcement has given him firsthand experience with many of Merced’s problems, such as homelessness, crime, gangs and drugs.
“For me, it brings to the table a real-life experience,” the 33-year-old said. “It’s not a theoretical approach, these are things I’ve experienced – I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
Many of Merced’s problems can be helped with a focus on public safety, he said. That focus begins with getting police officers into the community, where they can interact with residents.
He said the city has to work with what it has, starting with the Multi-Agency Gang Task Force, and perhaps forming a “quick-response nuisance team” with officers already on the payroll. In high-crime areas, the nuisance team would perform targeted enforcement on offenses such as drug crime, metal theft and burglary.
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“We could utilize this team for quality of life-type issues,” Blake said, adding it could help out with gang enforcement as well. “I think it’s an important team, and it’s something I advocate and am a big supporter of.”
Blake said constituents must be able to trust their representatives in public office, and that he’s demonstrated he can be trusted because of his time with the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, where he’s a sergeant.
“I’ve served with integrity the last 13 1/2 years,” he said. “It’s a job that requires a great deal of trust and a great deal of integrity.”
The Merced native said he lived and worked on his grandfather’s ranch and dairy for many years, where he learned about “a hard day’s work.” His parents were public servants – his father, Bill, is a member of the City Council and was the Merced County undersheriff, while his mother, Linda, taught elementary school. He says he saw them as role models.
Blake said he enrolled in the Modesto Police Academy at 19, and was hired at that age by the Merced County Sheriff’s Department. In his time with the department he’s served as a deputy and sergeant on regular patrols and with the Merced County Sheriff’s Tactical and Reconnaissance team.
Sheriff’s deputies often interact with members of the communities they patrol, he said. As part of the STAR team, Blake said, he’s focused on a variety of crimes, including those involving gangs and drugs. The team also organizes events to educate young people about the repercussions those crimes.
Blake said reducing Merced’s crime will lead to better economic development. He said “passionate enforcement” for those who are panhandling – and providing the homeless with a day shelter – will improve Merced’s economic options.
“It’s important to create a welcoming track record,” Blake said. “We want good quality business in town.”
As the businesses and jobs come in, Blake said, the added tax revenue could create more space for officers, firefighters and programs for young people.
Blake received some attention this month after the Merced Sun-Star obtained a police report from 2008. In the report, Blake was questioned by Merced police about whether he physically assaulted his then-girlfriend. Both Blake and the woman, Leslie Sziraki, steadfastly deny any abuse took place.
Blake was never arrested or charged in the case, according to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.
A Sun-Star public records request for Blake’s internal affairs file was declined by the Merced County Office of the Counsel. The personnel records of peace officers are confidential, County Counsel James Fincher said. Blake has not been disciplined for any actions during the last five years, the furthest back such files go, Fincher said.
Blake provided the Sun-Star with an internal affairs investigation letter that said he was not culpable in any alleged crimes regarding the 2008 domestic incident. Blake said he does not expect the 2008 incident to trip up his run for office.
“My focus is on the issues, and my focus is on serving the community,” Blake said.
Blake said he’s looking for a way to create greater change in Merced, and that being on City Council could be that chance.
“I do have kids that are going to grow up here,” the father of three said. “I have a lot at stake and a lot of hopes for the community of Merced.”