The three candidates in the running to become Alameda County's next sheriff are set to debate key issues in a virtual forum hosted by community group Livermore Indivisible.
Among the contenders is incumbent Gregory Ahern, who has held his seat at the helm of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) since 2007. His challengers are ACSO Division Commander Yesenia Sanchez and veteran San Francisco Police Department Officer JoAnn Walker.
The forum is set for Jan. 9 at 1:30 p.m. and is co-sponsored by Livermore Vine, Pleasanton Weekly, The Independent and Indivisible East Bay.
While Pleasanton and Livermore each have their own respective police departments, the ACSO provides patrol and investigative services to the city of Dublin and unincorporated areas of Alameda County.
Ahern, Sanchez and Walker each come with their own unique experiences and backgrounds in law enforcement.
An Alameda County native, Ahern was hired as a deputy sheriff for the ACSO in 1980. Over the years, he rose through the ranks to become assistant deputy sheriff in 2006 and the following year he was elected the 22nd sheriff of Alameda County, according to a statement from Livermore Indivisible announcing the upcoming forum, which describes each candidate's background.
Over the past 14 years as sheriff, Ahern has been involved in developing a number of programs, including the Youth and Family Services Bureau, Drug Education and Enforcement, Cold Case DNA Unit, D.U.I. Enforcement Unit and the Strategic Planning process for the future health of the sheriff's office.
He also initiated the Urban Shield tactical exercise, which provides a training venue to several thousand first responders.
According to the ACSO website, Ahern oversees a current adjusted net budget of approximately $185.7 million and over 1,500 employees, including in excess of 1,000 sworn personnel.
Other ACSO duties include operating the Coroner's Bureau, operating Santa Rita Jail and providing security to the Consolidated Superior Courts.
Sanchez -- who is the highest ranking woman in the ACSO -- oversees hundreds of staff members as well and an annual budget of $272 million, according to the Livermore Indivisible statement.
Also an Alameda County native, Sanchez was born in Hayward and currently
resides in Livermore.
Sanchez assumed command of the Santa Rita Jail in early 2020 and since then has strived to prioritize the health and safety of the incarcerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
She aims to "continue to work towards delivering law enforcement services with humanity and compassion, strengthening relationships with our communities and partnering with county and city leaders," according to the statement.
Walker first announced her campaign to run for sheriff to unseat Ahern back in January in a joint bid with civil rights attorney Pamela Price who is running for District Attorney to replace Nancy O'Malley whose set to retire when her current term expires in early 2023.
Walker is a 26-year law enforcement veteran, educator and long-standing resident of Alameda County.
She is an award-winning volunteer suicide prevention crisis counselor, a 2016 recipient of the U.S. Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Community Policing and an adjunct professor at California State University East Bay.
Walker's long history with SFPD includes holding various roles within the department such as terrorism liaison officer, community relations unit liaison, station keeper, field training officer and peer support counselor, among others.
She has developed and conducted training for law enforcement professionals in various subjects including hate crimes, tactical communications and crisis support/suicide prevention.