Editor’s note: This is the last of a four-part series profiling the candidates for Merced County sheriff.
Merced County sheriff’s deputies asked Vern Warnke to run for sheriff.
“That’s how this campaign got started. They asked me to run, I think because they believe in my leadership,” Warnke said. “That’s also why the (Deputy Sheriff’s Association) has endorsed me for sheriff.”
Warnke said the endorsement and encouragement from his co-workers to run show confidence in a natural leadership ability that, when combined with his experiences in every division of the department, set him apart from the other candidates.
“I’ve done every job and been a part of every unit, from investigations to patrol to court security and coroner’s division,” Warnke said.
If elected, Warnke said he would combat the county’s increasing violence and gang-related homicides first by restructuring the patrol schedules. He said he would move from the current 12-hour shifts to 10-hour shifts.
“And right now we have deputies constantly bouncing between different beats instead of working one area of the county and really getting to know their beats,” Warnke said.
Warnke said he would develop a county gang task force and work with neighboring agencies to help combat gang violence. The other candidates have made similar statements.
Warnke said he agreed with criticisms regarding how the previous sheriff emphasized drug enforcement over anti-gang enforcement.
“We have to work with other agencies to fight gangs,” Warnke said. “The citizens don’t care who makes the arrest or who gets the credit for the arrest, they just want to see results.”
Addressing the county’s deteriorating jails, Warnke agreed with the need to improve officer and inmate safety by adding technology and increasing the number of security cameras.
He said he would install portable towers in the courtyard to help eliminate attempted escapes through the roof, a problem that has plagued the county for many years.
Additionally, Warnke said he would try to find creative ways to house inmates.
“The conditions at the jails are deplorable, just deplorable right now,” Warnke said. “I don’t want to dump a bunch of money into (the jails) since we know we need to build a new one, but we absolutely have an officer safety issue right now, and we must fix it.”
Warnke said he would “aggressively seek” funding outside of Merced County to build a new jail.
One idea Warnke said he would “surely explore” would be the so-called tent city model of housing made famous by Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whom Warnke called a “personal hero.”
“It’s something I would be willing to look at to see if it could work for Merced,” Warnke said. “I agree with the philosophy or the idea that if conditions are good enough for our soldiers, they could work for inmates in custody.”
Warnke acknowledged a lack of top administrative experience, but said he would be a “boots on the ground” sheriff “who answers directly to the people.”
“The sheriff hires an administrator, that’s the undersheriff,” Warnke said. “My strengths are knowing and being able to work with the deputies and the citizens directly. I’m an old-school lawman, and that’s why they’ve asked me to run.”