Juan Guevara (left) and Eric Taylor (right). Infographic by Alex Esquivel.
Juan Guevara (left) and Eric Taylor (right). Infographic by Alex Esquivel.

Incumbent Eric Taylor and his opponent Juan Guevara are running for sheriff-coroner of San Benito County in the June 7 primary election. Taylor was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2021 following Darren Thompson’s retirement. 

The Sheriff’s Office was founded in 1874, with B. F. Ross serving as the first elected sheriff. Originally, the sheriff was also the county tax collector, until that task was given to the county treasurer in 1978. The office of coroner was consolidated with the sheriff’s department in 1967.

The sheriff’s department has jurisdiction over the unincorporated San Benito County and San Juan Bautista. It consists of the Enforcement Bureau, the Corrections Bureau, the Administration Bureau, and the Community and Support Services Bureau. 

The department responds to emergency phone calls within its jurisdiction, provides search and rescue assistance, and administers jail facilities. It also offers a Neighborhood Watch Program and a youth Explore Program. 


Juan Guevara, 33, grew up in Hollister and attended San Benito High School and Gavilan College. He has been a police officer for 10 years, working for both the Oakland and Hollister police departments before his current job serving with the Gilroy Police Department. 


BenitoLink: What do you think is the most effective way to deal with low-level drug offenders?

Guevara: By now, almost everyone knows that we cannot arrest our way out of this serious and dangerous dilemma that affects almost every community and family. Also, it’s important to make the distinction that low-level drug offenders are usually people who suffer from drug addiction and should not be mistaken with armed drug dealers who prey on these same drug-dependent individuals.

The challenge with low-level drug offenders becomes more complicated and controversial when these drugs destabilize a person’s life, causing a series of additional crimes such as shoplifting, burglary, assault and robbery. The disease of addiction is seen and felt in our community every time you see a broken car window that was burglarized, or when a young man or woman shoplifts at a local store in broad daylight. When we see these real-life problems, I know it can be difficult to remind ourselves just how evil these drugs are and how these individuals ended up where they are.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 70,630 people fatally overdosed in the U.S. in 2019 alone. Overdoses killed more people than influenza and pneumonia which totaled 53,544 deaths and nephritis which killed 52,547. To make matters worse, I have learned throughout my career in law enforcement that many of these individuals were first introduced to these addictive drugs when they were teenagers, under the powerful influence of social pressure.

Drug addiction has tragically affected everyone. It has impacted rich and poor alike. It does not differentiate between race or gender, nor does it care where you live or what job you have. Odds are, if you are reading this, you know someone who has struggled with addiction.

The good news is that most people agree and know that drug abuse should be addressed through treatment. At the same time, we need to apply strategic, proactive policing to curtail drug-related criminal activity. The objective to efficiently deal with low-level drug offenders should be to collectively impact the disease that is addiction by providing high-quality treatment, preventing overdoses, protecting the public from the spillover effects, and to investigate and disrupt drug-related criminal activity.


As San Benito County is primarily rural and has a limited staff, what is your strategy to provide service to all areas of the county in a timely manner?

The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office has failed for many years to stay competitive. An example of this is the disturbing lack of women in the agency. When you look at any public agency and see primarily male employees, it’s not difficult to conclude that there is a systemic issue. This problem did not occur overnight. It has been a collective result that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

My strategy to ensure San Benito County is serviced in a timely manner is straightforward: restructure the San Benito Sheriff’s Office to make it a competitive and attractive place to work, for all men and women. There are some people who will argue that the pay is simply not there to be competitive. Here’s the thing: the current workforce is interested in so much more than just pay. According to a Gallup Poll (2022) that surveyed over 13,000 employees, some of the participants’ most important factors when considering a new job were:

  • Greater work-life balance and better well-being
  • Allows me to do what I do best
  • Provides greater stability and job security

Women participants also selected that they wanted to work for an organization that is diverse and inclusive. By modernizing the Sheriff’s Office, and working diligently with county officials to make progress, we can finally have the resources we need to provide excellent public safety services to every county resident.


Do you support civilian oversight of law enforcement? If yes, what would that look like? If no, what process do you support to ensure law enforcement transparency and accountability?

I do support some form of civilian oversight, and also know that public input is absolutely essential when it comes to finding the best way to serve our community.

A civilian review board has a lot of value. It provides citizens the opportunity to independently review complaints and incidents allowing for much-needed feedback. After reviewing the facts, the panel can recommend actions on how to move forward. It fosters transparency, a much-needed quality that helps build public trust. It also allows us the opportunity to further enhance our relationship with our community leaders by asking them to take an active role on the board.

Having said that, I want to make sure we avoid issues that other departments have experienced when implementing some form of civilian oversight. For example, those civilians who participate in the process need to be educated about the department’s policy and training, in order to make informed recommendations. A lot of everyday people may not be aware of the extent to which an officer was in violation of any given policy. This unaware civilian, at no fault of their own, may not know what action is best for the specific incident that they are reviewing. What can potentially happen is that a civilian review board may be more supportive of misconduct than the chief or sheriff, hindering efforts to rectify truly bad behavior. Having an informed board will help us come to the best decisions together.   


Hollister Police Department partnered with Behavioral Health to deal with mental health-related cases. What are the tools the Sheriff’s Office uses, or should be using, to ensure the safety of all involved in such cases? 

The Hollister Police Department and Behavioral Health are doing an excellent job addressing mental health incidents and they should be commended for that. The Sheriff’s Office should be looking for ways to expand this already promising program with hopes of implementing it on a county-wide scale.

One easy way to do this is to make sure every deputy on patrol has attended Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). This training is available to all officers, and it specializes in helping us better assess situations where mental illness plays a role. Additionally, it helps find people with mental illness the appropriate treatment and resources they need. After the training, officers will better understand disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries. By better understanding these issues, we can prevent frustration, raise awareness of the complexity of mental illness, and reduce unnecessary force.

Some other advantages of making sure the Sheriff’s Office undergoes CIT training is it can reduce the amount of people suffering from mental illness getting booked at the jail. We can also decrease injuries to officers and the public. Furthermore, we can increase our efficiency during these types of calls, prevent unfortunate outcomes, and improve our relationship with community members suffering from mental illness.


What would you do differently than Sheriff Taylor and his predecessors to improve the agency and how do you implement them?

Unfortunately, the San Benito Sheriff’s Office community engagement over the last several years has been inadequate. Being a lifelong resident of San Benito County, I have seen many missed opportunities where the Sheriff’s Office could have participated more with the community.    

Reaching out to communities and engaging with them in a constructive environment is one easy way to build positive relationships. In San Benito County, we have the luxury of being a tight-knit family. It is not too difficult to personally engage with every part of this county and we should be using this to our advantage, but we are not. There are still too many community members who do not fully trust us and would rather not report crimes that occur to them, simply because they do not have faith in the public safety system. It’s not their fault for believing they are outside the care of their public safety system, and we need to do a better job at reassuring everyone that they are an important part of our community.

How do we implement this? Simple: Rather than wait for the Sheriff’s Office to be invited to events in order to engage with the community, there is no reason why we cannot take the lead and host our own community events. It does not take a lot of resources to put together an event at Brigantino Park where we can throw a football around with children, and at the same time, take a moment to educate parents about some of the services offered that they may not necessarily be aware of. Services such as requesting extra patrol checks in certain areas due to chronic suspicious activity, or civil stand-bys, which is a service available to everyone and designed to preserve peace when people are not getting along. It’s during these events that we can also make clear that discrimination or biased-based policing is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The San Benito Sheriff’s Office has also done a disappointing job at forming a diverse workforce that reflects the community it serves.

It has lacked the competitive edge it needs to draw the modern workforce. By not having diversity, the Sheriff’s Office limits its cultural awareness, hinders recruiting and retention efforts, and restricts its pool of talent. Also, having a Sheriff’s Office that reflects San Benito County will enhance trust and confidence in our community.

In order to be more competitive in recruitment efforts, we can do several things. We can remove outdated impediments in the hiring process. Traditionally, it can take several months for an applicant to go through the application process before hitting the streets. This process may have worked in the past, but in the 21st century, applicants want and need a faster and more practical application process. We can absolutely do this while also maintaining a high standard.

Another strategy to be more competitive in recruitment is to ensure a healthy work-life balance. Regardless of the scheduling challenges that come with guaranteeing employees enhanced quality of life, it is entirely worth it. Not only will it attract new applicants, it will also help with retention by preventing burnout.


Eric Taylor, 47, was born and raised in Watsonville and has lived in Hollister for 20 years. Taylor graduated from Watsonville High in 1992 and attended San Diego State University from 1992 to 1996. He worked as Stadium Operations Manager for the Oakland Athletics from 1997 to 1999. He became a Watsonville police officer in 2000 and joined the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office in 2014, working up the ranks to become the county’s 16th sheriff-coroner. 


BENITOLINK: What do you think is the most effective way to deal with low-level drug offenders?

TAYLOR: Low-level drug offenders need the motivation to overcome their illness. The watering down of laws has made it nearly impossible to motivate people to seek treatment. I do not believe that low-level offenders need to be in prison, but there must be some consequences. One solution could be implementing court-ordered treatment programs with the risk of local incarceration if the individual refuses to seek treatment. We can then provide treatment in a custodial setting.

The focus needs to be on treatment, not punishment. I do believe addiction has root causes and is an illness. We should not punish people for being ill. It is also inhumane for society to turn its back on this issue and pretend the problem does not exist. We have a real problem with overdose cases in our community. People are dying. We need the ability to be able to hold drug dealers accountable and get drug users into treatment.

Our local jail is probably the best conduit for that. Right now, I am working with other sheriffs and legislators to revamp Prop 47 which addresses felony sentencing laws. We are looking to restore some of the penalties for felony crimes to assist in an effort to motivate people to get over their addictions. 


As San Benito County is primarily rural and has a limited staff, what is your strategy to provide service to all areas of the county in a timely manner?  

Providing consistent and quality service to all areas of our county has been a priority since I took office. I have reimagined and revised our beat structure, advocated for more staffing and created a responsibility area program.

Getting back to beat-style policing keeps our resources spread throughout the county to respond in a timely manner. One area I am working on right now is coverage for our vast south county. I have made the appeal to our Board of Supervisors to hire two more deputy sheriffs to police south county seven days a week. 

We have established a substation in San Juan Bautista and for the first time in a decade, I have reassigned a deputy to the city of San Juan Bautista. Also, I have required our deputy sheriffs to handle calls in person, face-to-face, instead of using the old model of handling calls for service by phone. This keeps our staff out in the community and provides better customer service.

Lastly, I have been able to bolster our relationships with our partners in public safety. We rely on State Parks, the California Highway Patrol, the Bureau of Land Management, our partner sheriff’s offices, and the National Park Service to help us in remote areas. We also have a tremendous relationship with the Hollister police and fire departments. We are truly one big family that works together to keep our community safe. 


Do you support civilian oversight of law enforcement? If yes, what would that look like? If no, what process do you support to ensure law enforcement transparency and accountability? 

 I think our current process provides thorough oversight. We answer to our community in elections and we are held accountable by the Attorney General’s Office. I am open to working with civilian advisors but would want them to go through some training to truly understand the nuances of public safety and the split-second decisions our law enforcement officers encounter.

The community should also know that we have an administration that will not tolerate bad behavior. We have an internal affairs process for complaints that we contract out to external professional investigators to ensure the process is fair. It really comes down to the faith the community has in the person they put in office.

We have a strong reputation here for doing the right things for the right reasons. However, if the community felt strongly about more oversight, I would serve as a partner in making that happen in a constructive way. 


Hollister Police Department partnered with Behavioral Health to deal with mental health-related cases. What are the tools the Sheriff’s Office uses, or should be using, to ensure the safety of all involved in such cases? 

For many, many years in law enforcement, we have been left scratching our heads asking why we are the primary responders to mental illness and juvenile control issues. Finally, society is sharing in our feelings there must be a better way. When our Behavioral Health Department was able to pilot a program for a mental health response team, they looked at the numbers. The majority of cases for mental health commitments were generated in the city of Hollister. Therefore, the idea was that we should begin there. Being good partners, our office agreed that the best place to work out the logistics was within the Hollister police jurisdiction.  

Hollister Police Officer Esqueda has done a tremendous job addressing behavioral health. We are optimistic that this program will be a success, and we too will be joining the effort with our own, dedicated mental health deputy.  

I have been a Use of Force instructor for 20 years. I have also worked for Taser International/Axon for 15 years. When I arrived here at the Sheriff’s Office, I immediately changed the way we responded to mental illness calls. We changed our tactics to require us to slow down and ask for additional resources including our contracted negotiators from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. Sometimes we simply walked away. I believe this mindset has prevented us from having deadly force encounters even in the tensest of situations. Having a dedicated mental health team is only going to make us more successful. 


As sheriff, what have you done differently than your predecessors to improve the agency?  

I came into office with a clear roadmap of what it takes to provide quality public safety to our county. 

One area that I have focused on is building community relationships. I have taken steps to engage with our community-based organizations. They are important partners in public safety.  

Community involvement is near and dear to my heart. I am a member of Hollister Rotary and LULAC. I’m also a founding member of our Opioid Task Force and of the LULAC Farmworker Task Force.

I’ve partnered with First 5 San Benito to bring new and innovative parenting programs to our community. After hours and on weekends, you can find me announcing games for San Benito High School and the Hollister Rebels. During the pandemic, I coached boys’ water polo and swimming at San Benito High School to make sure the kids had a season and I continue to coach swimming. 

I restructured our office for better oversight of each of our bureaus. For the first time ever, our office has a Community and Support Services bureau. Prior to my tenure, we had no dedicated community outreach in our office. This bureau’s mission is to make sure that we are connected with our community and to bring in programs such as Agua Con La Chota (migrant farmworker outreach), Adelante (youth mentoring with LULAC) and Caminos (low-level juvenile offender diversion). 

My administration has ushered in a new era of accountability for our staff. We brought back structure, discipline and chain of command. We are focusing on community interaction and are expecting our staff to get involved in things outside of “law enforcement.” I have also raised the standard in our hiring process and in our field training program. Though it is difficult, I have released employees who could not perform to our high standard. 

One of the biggest impacts I think most of the community will see is in our new responsibility area program. I have required every deputy sheriff to take responsibility for an area of the county and act as a “go-to” deputy for anyone living in that area. The deputies are required to solve problems like illegal dumping, graffiti, homeless encampments, and other ongoing quality of life issues. As we emerge from our initial phase of this program, I am asking our community to take advantage of it. Your responsibility area deputy can be found on our website under the tab called Jurisdiction Map. 

I bring experience and a commitment to our community to my office. I must oversee a correctional facility, a courthouse, all civil processes, all coroner functions, all patrol duties and investigations, and the entire administrative body of our office. I must manage a multimillion-dollar budget, stay on top of risk management, navigate all the nuances of human resources, and have the respect of my fellow sheriffs as we act together to make an impact in Sacramento. But I want this community to know that for me being the sheriff is not about being the boss. It is not about the salary. I love this county and our community and want to make San Benito County a better place to live and work. My family lives here, my children are being raised here, and my friends are here. I promise to keep this office going in the direction of being a premier agency that is committed to the community and dedicated to excellence. 





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