San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy speaks with folks at the traditional Election Day lunch at John's Grill on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy on the fence about running for re-election

San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy isn’t sure whether she wants to serve another term in office as the November election inches closer.

The sheriff plans to decide whether to enter the race by the end of February after undergoing a painful knee replacement surgery last month and experiencing the death of her husband last April.

“I’m really not trying to be coy,” Hennessy said Tuesday. “I just have to see how this heals, how I feel about it and some personal issues.”

Without her, the sheriff’s race would be the first without an incumbent in the running since 2011 — the year that Michael Hennessey retired after serving as sheriff for more than three decades and Ross Mirkarimi won.

Hennessy, a longtime member of the department, served as interim sheriff in 2012 when the late Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi during a domestic violence scandal. She went on to defeat Mirkarimi at the polls in 2015 with the endorsement of the mayor.

In the years since, Hennessy has largely stayed out of the spotlight in comparison to her predecessor. When news broke in 2016 that a group of inmates allegedly forced inmates to fight at County Jail, Hennessy avoided scrutiny because the alleged crimes took place before her tenure.

The year after the scandal, Hennessy equipped deputies at the Hall of Justice jail with body-worn cameras for the first time.

But the sheriff is still facing challenges.

She has not yet agreed with city officials on a plan for closing down the jail at the seismically unsafe Hall of Justice, and her deputies have on multiple occasions had unsecured firearms stolen from their vehicles.

Then late last year, the jail fights case resurfaced when defense attorneys alleged that the department used a hammer to smash evidence that would have benefited the implicated deputies. The department disputed the claim.

“I love the job,” Hennessy said. “It’s a very hard job and very challenging, but I enjoy the challenge.”

The sheriff took two weeks off after her operation in late December and has been working from home since then.

She planned to have her operation at the beginning of last month, but a last-minute emergency at the hospital delayed the surgery and her decision on the race.

If Hennessy decides not to seek re-election, Chief Deputy Sheriff Paul Miyamoto plans to enter the sheriff’s race in her place.

“I plan on running only in the event that she does not run,” Miyamoto said Tuesday. “We have a relationship where I would not run against her. A lot of our philosophies match. It’s not like there’s a rift or anything.”

Miyamoto declared his intent to run with the Department of Elections last month. He is the only potential candidate in the race so far.

“I have not heard of anybody else because of the belief that she’ll probably be running again,” Miyamoto said. “I believe we’ve been on a very good path as a department with her leadership. If there’s a sense of unfinished business I could see her running again.”

Like Hennessy, Miyamoto disagrees with Mayor London Breed and others who are interested in shipping inmates to Alameda County as a means to close County Jail No. 4 at the Hall of Justice.

Miyamoto and Hennessy, who both believe that The City cannot reduce the jail population any further, want funding to rehabilitate County Jail No. 6 in San Bruno as the next best option to building a new jail.

Miyamoto is currently in charge of the Field Operations Division. As deputy sheriff in charge of the Custody Division, he oversaw the body camera pilot program for Hennessy.

The department plans to expand the program to deputies on patrol, at City Hall and at County Jail No. 2 behind the Hall of Justice in the next six months, according to Miyamoto.

Miyamoto obtained the endorsement of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association when he ran for sheriff in 2011, but the DSA doesn’t plan to back a candidate this year until summer.

“It’s a little premature for us to make an endorsement at this time,” DSA President Ken Lomba said in an email.

The union wants a candidate who will address the lack of staffing in the department, according to Lomba.

In 2017, the union filed a lawsuit that is still ongoing against Hennessy over a policy she implemented in an attempt to more evenly distribute overtime among deputies.

“They will need to resolve the unsustainable levels of forced overtime on deputies and fill the funded job vacancies,” Lomba said. “Funded positions need to be filled to safely protect the public, inmates and for officer safety.”

Candidates have until August to jump into the race.

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