Ahern, who served in the top job for 16 years before being defeated in his re-election bid by Commander Yesenia Sanchez last June. He expressed confidence that Sanchez and her team will serve the county and the department well. The department provides law enforcement for about 150,000 people in unincorporated Alameda County as well as running Santa Rita County Jail, staffing the county courts and providing law enforcement at the Oakland Airport through a contract.
His confidence in the department is opposite his view of new progressive District Attorney Pamela Price who has come in for significant criticism in her first three months in office as she seeks to turn the system upside down. Ahern pointed out that the jail once held 4,000 inmates, now it’s down to 2,500—did crime drop that much or did elected officials simply turn inmates loose on the street (the Covid pandemic helped spur that.)?
He pointed out that people convicted of drug offenses before would be sentenced to 90 days and serve half of that time. While incarcerated, they would go through withdrawal, have the services of a drug counselor available and could take other steps toward changing their life around. Now people arrested on drug charges are booked at the backdoor and exit out the front door of the jail within three hours, free to use again and steal to support their habit.
The easy availability of drugs, brought illegally across the southern border by the cartels and often distributed here by one of the four gangs operating in Oakland. The department took down a Honduran distribution center in Oakland a couple of years ago, confiscating $545,000 in cash. One of those arrested showed off a photo of his beach home on his phone that Ahern said was probably worth $600,000. Gang members, he said, work together so they bail out their arrested partner who leaves for Honduras and life of leisure living off the cash.
Ahern’s department was among the first to embrace drones, a technology that he said makes it safer for deputies and law enforcement in general. The drone cameras are so sharp that they can photograph a license plate. He said when officers are pursing a suspect, he prefers they set up a secure perimeter with drone surveillance and then send a canine (K-9) unit to find the suspect. He said dogs rarely encounter resistance, not so for officers who can end up in fist fights with a suspect. Of course, anti-police protesters also are pushing back against dogs. He pointed out that they also have great noses for drugs and can be trained to sniff down illicit technology so they are a “great tool”.
His attitude has evolved as he has aged. He said he didn’t use to think about having a gun in his Livermore home—now, at 65, he has firearms on hand because he’s not eager to engage in a fight with an intruder, a scrap he may have welcomed 25 years ago.
Ahern is a huge fan of surveillance cameras, whether operated in door bells or mounted on homes or utility poles.
The department, like most agencies, is struggling to fill vacancies. It has a broad-based recruitment effort, but the key challenge is that elected officials and progressive attorneys such as Price don’t back the officers. They’re more likely to criticize or prosecute them than have their back. He pointed out that the department, through its internal affairs group, has in-house investigations for its personnel—a job that state law now puts with the state attorney general, progressive Rob Bonta (another Alameda County product). He offered that just like a family doesn’t share a one-sided story of its dirty linen, he thinks it should be the same for agencies.
He also drew a laugh when he pointed out that Gov. Gavin Newsom made a big deal about transforming San Quentin to a rehabilitation facility and then keeping track of inmates after their discharge. He said the monitoring program is 100 years old—it’s called probation.