By Tim Hunt
Plummer's legacy lives on in the sheriff's departmentUploaded: Mar 8, 2018
Law enforcement and Alameda County lost a living legend this week when retired Sheriff Charlie Plummer died at the age of 87.
Plummer’s legacy lives on with the enduring professionalism in the sheriff’s department that he established during his 20 years as sheriff. While newspapering, I saw the department before and after Plummer and, wow, did he make a difference.
When he retired, he told a newspaper, “When I got here, they said it was a 'good old boys network,' or a 'ring-knockers club,'" he said. "That changed. I always felt people should be judged by what they've done since they were born. I don't give a damn who your parents were or how much money you have."
He brought that attitude and his blunt speaking to the top of a department that badly needed reform. For the sheriff, they started with his code of conduct, the Cardinal Sins. They included: never accepting gratuities, never making disparaging racial or ethnic remarks; never lying; never using illegal drugs or sexually harassing anyone.”
To this day, new deputies must read and sign the Cardinal Sins document. Those core beliefs set the department on a new path that it follows today.
One other key Plummer decision was to appoint a public information officer—something new for the department whose prior leader, Sheriff Glen Dyer, rarely made himself available to the media. With a spokesman in place, Sgt. Jim Knudsen was the first, we could obtain accurate information in a timely manner. That immediately improved working relationships.
What’s remarkable about Plummer’s career is that he could easily have finished up as Hayward’s chief (he served for 10 years) before being convinced to run for the sheriff’s job. Taking office at the age of 56, he led the department for 20 years until he retired at the age of 76.
Given the trends today with many chiefs and rank-and-file taking the 3 percent at 50 retirement option to move on to a second career with a substantial retirement in place, the people of Alameda County benefitted mightily from his commitment to service. In comments from colleagues and elected officials, several used the word “mentor” to describe him.
Charlie also served by his active leadership with the non-profits in the county. I worked with him on a Boy Scout campaign, while it’s notable that the Hayward Salvation Army is one of the organizations his family prefers for contributions in his memory.
Currently department spokesman J.D. Nelson was quoted as saying the sheriff was one of the kindest people he knew. Plummer would walk around with a roll of $2 bills in his jacket and give them to homeless people and students he visited.