There are six candidates for sheriff. What makes you stand out above the others?
“I feel I would be the best candidate based on experience,” Ruiz said, explaining that he’s an Iraq War veteran with the U.S. Air Force and a retired U.S. Border Patrol agent. “I’ve been deployed to different areas, both domestic and abroad. I’ve seen how those governments operate, and I’ve got a lot of great ideas to bring back and use for the Sheriff’s Department.”
“I am familiar with the problems the Sheriff’s Department is facing right now, and it’s an opportunity for me to get the core and rebuild the core of the Sheriff’s Department.”
The sheriff is responsible for the county jail. What will your approach be to running the jail, and what changes to current operations do you plan to make?
“I plan on negotiating contracts and securing contracts (for inmates),” he said, pointing out that only a small percentage of the jail facility is currently being used. “My job is to recruit, train and retain the corrections officers, boost up the morale.”
“I’m going to start small with the personnel I have, then as I recruit and hire more personnel, we’re going to be negotiating bigger contracts. My goal is to have at least 80 percent of the jail to capacity and that would generate revenue for the county, thus we can get that jail paid off soon.”
What’s you assessment of the security situation at the jail? Are there any changes that need to be made to better protect the safety of officers and/or inmates?
“I believe that there is always training, training, training. I personally have not been in the jail, so I’m not going to say, ‘This is what I need to do.’ Once I’m in the jail and I do a risk assessment, that is when I’m going to implement plans,” he said.
What ideas do you have for recruiting and retaining new deputies and corrections staff?
“I will secure the contract for the inmates. Once we’ve secured that, that’s going to bring in more revenue,” Ruiz said.
“I’m going to let them unionize, let them have an active steward. I did labor management relations for the Border Patrol for many years, and that is a good morale booster for the deputies,” he said, adding that it’s important to allow every officer to get experience in different areas to enhance their career.
Are you a fluent Spanish speaker?
“Yes, I am.”
You’re running as a Democrat. Do you feel that party affiliation is something that voters ought to take into account when choosing a sheriff’s candidate?
“The sheriff’s candidate should be based on experience and knowledge, and not a political party. You are the top law enforcement person for the county. The political affiliation should have nothing to do with the way you run,” Ruiz said. “You’re going to follow the rule of law… and if you have a question, you’re going to bring it up to the county attorney for consideration.”
Do you have any experience with leadership positions where you’ve been in charge of managing a budget and overall operations like a sheriff would do?
“During my tenure as a U.S. Border Patrol agent, we dealt with budgets based on overtime, based on equipment, we would do surveys to find out how much money we needed for equipment for deployments. We would do the logistics of the operations,” Ruiz said.
“Sometimes we’d have to move money from one pot to another to get it done. Money is always an issue, but we can make it work.”
You don’t seem to have a very high profile like some of the candidates that you’re competing with. Do you think that might be a disadvantage?
“No, my experience has been in the United States military where I’ve always worked as a team,” he said, pointing out that he was retired from the U.S. Air Force and Border Patrol by the age of 50. “To me, experience in life is going to allow you to solve issues and problems that might arise.”
“I am a true leader. I enjoy teaching people. I enjoy learning. That is my job, to notify the citizens of Santa Cruz County of what I’ve done and what I’m capable of doing.”
What’s your plan for elevating your presence in the community so voters know who you are?
“We’re going to do social media. I’ve been doing a lot of talking and recruiting,” Ruiz said, referring to reaching out to other law enforcement officers to encourage them to work for the Sheriff’s Office. “The Sheriff’s Department is a great department to work for. Right now, it’s been mismanaged.”
“It’s my job to rebuild the bridges with other agencies, and that’s what I’m going to explain just like I’m explaining to you. I’ll let the people make the choice when they go to vote.”
Sheriff Estrada has long been an outspoken counterbalance to others in law enforcement and political office that portray the border as a dangerous place, and he is often critical of the militarization of the border. Considering you’re a former Border Patrol agent, would you take a similar role?
“Our job is to protect the safety and security of every person within the county, regardless of immigration status – whether they’re a U.S. citizen or an illegal alien, it doesn’t matter,” he said, highlighting the importance of working with other law enforcement agencies in the area.
“There’s a lot of intelligence that’s not shared, thus these criminal organizations are taking advantage of that and exploiting the weak areas of law enforcement,” Ruiz said. “Unfortunately, now the criminal organizations are targeting our youth to do their smuggling for them… We need to target our children, educate our children and get them away from the transnational organizations.”
What’s your stance on the concertina wire on the border fence? Do you support it?
“It’s the federal government’s prerogative to do what they want with that land,” he said. “Does it help deter criminal enterprise? Yes, it does.”
“You don’t build walls just to build a wall. You build walls for security, and that’s what the United States government has done. They’re building a wall to help law enforcement – Border Patrol, the sheriff’s department, the police department when they’re funded through Stonegarden to work those areas.”
There’s a lot of mistrust of the police right now in the United States, especially when it comes to policing of minority-majority communities. The community oriented policing model is not a cornerstone of federal law enforcement, which is where your experience has been. What would you do to maintain community trust in the Sheriff’s Office?
“I’m going to be a proactive sheriff. By a proactive sheriff, I mean I’m going to have my deputies not stand on Pendleton Road, not stand on Exit 25 and monitor traffic. My approach is you will be patrolling the neighborhood. You will be deterring illicit activity through visibility. You will make contact with the people, casual conversation, introduce yourself,” he said.
“It’s my job to train our deputies to go out and communicate with these people to start gathering intelligence.”
Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like people to know about you and your candidacy?
“The Sheriff’s Office needs a leader who’s willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the deputies, to guide and support them.”
“I’m a strong advocate of training, and we need the correct equipment to do it. It’s my job as a sheriff to get them highly trained and give them the best equipment available so they can protect their citizens.”