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Poll results show a tight race between Martinez and Hemmerling to be San Diego County’s next sheriff

With about two weeks to go until Election Day, a new poll released Tuesday showed a close race between Kelly Martinez and John Hemmerling to become San Diego County’s next sheriff. But a third of respondents say they are undecided.

Of likely voters polled, 37% said they would vote for Martinez, who is the undersheriff, and 31% said they would support Hemmerling, a retired chief prosecutor with the city attorney’s office. San Diego. The two candidates are close enough – within the “credibility interval” of 6.6 percentage points – to be considered in a statistical tie.

About 33% of respondents said they had not yet made a decision between the two.

SurveyUSA conducted the online poll for KGTV 10News and The San Diego Union Tribune. He surveyed 668 registered voters between Thursday and Monday.

The election is Nov. 8, but early voting is underway. Of the registered voters surveyed, pollsters determined that 529 respondents were likely to vote or had already returned their ballot. Just over half of those who had already voted checked the box for Martinez.

Hemmerling leads by 6 points in men; Martinez leads by 17 points among women. If elected, Martinez would be the county’s first female sheriff, but not the first woman to lead a law enforcement agency in the county. Police in San Diego and Chula Vista have already placed a woman on the stand.

The race is nonpartisan, but support for the two sheriff candidates skews along party lines. Slightly more than half – 51% – of respondents who are Republican backed Hemmerling, who was endorsed by the party. Nearly half – 46% – of Democrats polled support Martinez, who also has that party’s endorsement.

Martinez is up 7 points at the independents. She also leads among Latino voters by 22 points, with 40% still undecided. White voters are split, with just over a third supporting each candidate and nearly a third undecided, according to the poll.

Martinez has worked in the department for 37 years — working in jails, on patrol and in charge of investigations — and was hired as an undersheriff by then-Sheriff Bill Gore, who encouraged her to run for his seat.

Hemmerling spent 20 years in the city attorney’s office, leading the criminal investigations division for the past six years. He also spent nine years as a San Diego police officer and 30 years as a Marine (both active duty and reserve), retiring as a colonel.

Both candidates beat a field of seven in the June primary.

Respondents to the 10News/Union-Tribune poll were also asked for their thoughts on the most pressing issue facing the next sheriff.

Twenty-one percent said the most important issue was how to handle calls involving mental health crises.

This was followed by 16% who said transparency is the top issue and 16% who said police reform is the next sheriff’s top concern.

Martinez has the edge among people who chose one of those three issues as their top concern. She leads Hemmerling by 9 points among respondents who selected mental health calls as their top concern. She leads by 13 points among those worried about transparency, and 16 points among those who cite police reform.

She’s also up 23 points among people who said the next sheriff’s biggest problem is incarcerated people dying in jail.

The Sheriff’s Department operates the county’s seven jails, which have been plagued by a record number of people dying in custody – 18 people have died in custody this year and one died hours after being released on compassionate grounds following a a long illness.

A state audit released in February found that between 2006 and 2020, San Diego County prisons were the deadliest among California’s largest counties and called for legislation to secure changes in prisons. Gov. Gavin Newsom last month rejected a bill inspired by that audit, citing as problematic its requirement to add two more seats to a 13-person board that sets standards for detention facilities.

Martinez said she is adopting the recommendations from the auditors and working to implement them. Hemmerling said he wanted to go further, citing improved technology to track medically vulnerable inmates, and said effective change would only come with new leadership.

Hemmerling had an 8-point advantage over Martinez among those worried about keeping deputies from leaving the department, an issue cited by 14% of respondents as the top problem for the next sheriff.

Earlier this year, the Union-Tribune reported that San Diego’s largest law enforcement agencies — the Sheriff’s Department and the San Diego Police Department — were losing officers and deputies faster than they couldn’t hire them. Data from the Sheriff’s Department showed that 70 more deputies left the department than were hired in fiscal year 2020. And last fiscal year, 28 more deputies left than were hired.

The Sheriff’s Department has more than 4,600 employees and an annual budget of $1.1 billion. It manages law enforcement in nine cities, from Imperial Beach to Vista, as well as unincorporated areas of the county. In addition to running county jails, it provides security for state courts.

California Daily Newspapers

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