With less than a month before election day, the men vying to be Stanislaus County sheriff addressed budget cuts, a division within the department, a public safety tax and even Arizona's illegal immigration law.
Sheriff Adam Christianson and Turlock Police Capt. Rob Jackson faced off Wednesday evening in the second of three debates this week, discussing almost every hot-button issue affecting the department and the residents it works to protect.
Christianson said he can provide the experienced leadership needed to guide the department through budget cuts and layoffs.
"There's still a lot more work to do, and there's still a lot more to learn," Christian said.
Jackson said he can create a plan to provide public services with a reduced staff and bring back stability to a fractured department.
"I'm not interested in the politics, I'm interested in leadership," Jackson said.
About 40 people attended Wednesday's debate in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place in downtown Modesto. The debate, part of a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was televised; people attending and watching at home could submit questions.
The dire budget situation loomed large during the debate.
Two weeks ago, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors agreed to lay off 52 employees in the Sheriff's Department.
Christianson has said the layoffs will translate to 28 deputies on patrol on a given day, down from 35 in the current fiscal year. The department will have 24 detectives instead of 30.
At the debate, Christianson promised the Sheriff's Department will focus on responding to calls and keeping the worst offenders in jail despite the cuts.
Jackson said the department's budget is the most important issue to tackle: deciding what services the department will be able to provide with fewer resources.
"You can't do more with less," Jackson said. "You have to do less with less."
Jackson claimed Christianson has not provided the department with a clear plan to adjust to budget cuts. But Christianson said that his management of the department has already been proven successful with lower crime rates.
"Stanislaus County is a safer place to live," Christianson said.
When the subject of a special tax to fund public safety came up, Jackson said the idea is premature, and the Sheriff's Department needs to first plan how to best use the resources it has.
Christianson said a public safety tax should benefit all the agencies in the county; however, he acknowledged that most of the public would be against it right now.
As far as the new Arizona immigration law, which allows police to ask for identification documents at any time, both candidates agreed that local law enforcement has no business enforcing federal immigration laws.
Jackson said Christianson's leadership style has created a division within the department, which pushed employees to ask the police captain to run for sheriff.
"We have employees reaching out for help," said Jackson, who formerly worked in the Sheriff's Department. "These employees are hungry for leadership."
Christianson said the division in the department was created when the patrol union split from the custodial union. While the patrol deputies voted to endorse his opponent, Christianson said he still has the support of the custodial union and a variety of community leaders and organizations.
"I look forward to another term in office," Christianson said. "Because, ladies and gentlemen, there's more good in our community than bad."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.