Keith Barth

There are six candidates running for sheriff. What makes you stand out above the others?

“Real day-to-day law enforcement experience matters,” Barth said. “In my 23 years as a deputy and as a sergeant and as a marshal, I’ve responded to well over 20,000 calls. Adding my 12 years as justice of the peace, I’ve overseen at least 5,000 calls… No other candidate has the experience or qualifications that come close to what I have to offer.”

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?

“The jail, it’s the elephant in the room and it needs to be addressed,” Barth said. “There are grants we can look at to try to help fund it and there are other opportunities like getting a private prison to rent out a portion of it, or working with other agencies to help fill it with federal (inmates).”

“The morale is a huge issue there and I want to address it the best way I can,” he added.

What ideas do you have for recruiting and retaining new deputies and new detention staff?

“Morale again would be where I’d start,” he said. “I want to slow down the turnover rate.”

“I realize other agencies pay more and that’s an issue that we’re probably never going to be able to fix,” he said. “People that work for Santa Cruz County at the end of the day want to work for the county. It’s called pride and workmanship and dedication.”

Do you speak Spanish? Do you see that as a barrier to being the sheriff in this community?

“I do, but it’s very limited” Barth said. “I’m always constantly working on it.”

But he said he didn’t view that as a major barrier: “I was a deputy sheriff here with a limited amount of Spanish. I got the job done whether I could communicate in a limited version, or I got assistance from either another deputy or got it on the phone.”

You are running as a Democrat. Do you feel that party affiliation is something that voters ought to take into account when choosing a sheriff candidate?

Barth said he was “born and raised a Democrat,” but party affiliation is not something voters should consider in their vote.

“The bottom line is the sheriff shouldn’t be accountable to one party or another. You’re a sheriff for all the people,” he said.

Sheriff Estrada has long been an outspoken counterbalance to others in law enforcement and political office who portray the border as a dangerous place, and he is often critical of the militarization of the border. Would you take a similar role?

“I would take a somewhat different approach,” he said. “I believe in enforcing legal immigration… but I also understand the difficulties with that and where Congress has failed in doing their job to bring up to date immigration laws, so it can be more practical for people that want to come across here. I know that there is a drug problem, I also know that there is a humane problem, and I plan on balancing that as best as I can as the sheriff.”

There’s a lot of mistrust of the police right now in the United States, especially when it comes to the policing of minority-majority communities. What would you do to maintain community trust in the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office?

“I’d start out with being totally transparent to the public and have 100 percent access to my office,” he said.

“The vast majority of law enforcement officers in the country perform their very difficult jobs with respect to their communities with integrity,” Barth said. “I plan on improving the training with the officers… I’m going to make sure that they get this quality, diverse training, whether it’s bias training, or sensitivity training.”

What qualities do you bring as a leader?

“I have real law enforcement experience… I was a deputy for 23 years, I was a sergeant, I was a marshal, I also was a training officer at the academy. I’ve been there and done it. I would bring strong leadership and I would lead by example,” he said.

You resigned from the Patagonia Marshal’s Office in 2005 after accusations of inappropriate procurement and overtime practices. What can you say about the circumstances of your departure from the Marshal’s Office?

“I’ll address that: There is no circumstances,” he said, adding that he was “adamant that there was not any overtime hours abused.”

“When I left (the Marshal’s Office) I was starting to look at running for justice of the peace,” he said, “but my track record there I think speaks for itself.”

Barth added that two mayors he worked for in Patagonia had endorsed him in the sheriff’s race.

When the Sonoita Justice of the Peace Court closed in 2018, some eastern county residents were frustrated and started talking about leaving Santa Cruz County. What’s your message to residents who say they want to leave Santa Cruz to join Cochise County?

“I will try to unify all of them and bring them together the best way I can,” he said.

“I understand their frustration, I definitely was frustrated, I definitely did not agree with the decision… (but) I believe in repairing the damage that’s been done and again looking forward to the future, and not looking back at what has been done to our county.”

Is there anything that we haven’t touched on about you, your candidacy or any particular policy ideas that you have that you would like the readers to know about?

Barth said he would create a “hot spot referral sheet,” which would be an anonymous system for residents to report problems related to law enforcement or other county departments.

“I want to also incorporate access to law enforcement using emails, using text messages,” he said, “because I know we’re going to come across budgetary issues here in the near future and we need to use other ways to report and handle calls, especially the ones that don’t need to be handled in person.”

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