Citing a leadership void, plummeting morale, and inadequate staffing and resources, two key Santa Clara County public safety unions signaled their unhappiness with four-term incumbent Sheriff Laurie Smith and on Monday endorsed one of her captains in the 2014 sheriff's race.

Presidents of the county Deputy Sheriffs' Association and the county Correctional Peace Officers' Association announced at a late morning news conference their groups' support of Sheriff's Capt. Kevin Jensen, a 28-year department veteran.

Of the DSA's 412 members, 235 voted for Jensen, and 12 voted for Smith, said DSA president Dennis Moser. At the CPOA, Smith's name was not even on the ballot because the union's board already had given its sole endorsement to Jensen, said president Lance Scimeca. Of the CPOA's 640 members who staff the county jails, 111 voted for Jensen, Scimeca said.

"We are here for the citizens of Santa Clara County and the members of our organizations -- the two unions are standing in solidarity,'' said Moser, who noted that it's been years since the DSA endorsed anyone other than the incumbent.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Smith, 62, said that she cares "very much for the deputies' welfare, but no small group of special interests hires or fires the sheriff. I'm directly accountable to the people of Santa Clara County.''

Jensen, 49, was not at the event, but said later by phone that he was honored to receive the support of both groups.

"Change can be a good thing,'' said Jensen. "I've got a lot of love for the department and the community and I'm optimistic about what lies ahead.''


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While the election isn't until June 2014, both candidates have campaign committees and union leaders say they're trying to get the word out to the public about their preference.

"We want a leader,'' said sheriff's Deputy Devin Tallerico. "What we have is management.''

Moser said the unions are concerned about Smith's "lack of vision'' and the department's low morale that he blames on the "inability of people to speak up without fear of retaliation.''

Whenever union leaders have met with Smith to discuss their concerns, they found themselves "stymied" and maintain that the department is "stagnating'' because only her allies are promoted to top jobs, he said.

Smith countered that she promotes "the best people'' and does not hesitate to discipline people for gross misconduct.

At the jails, Scimeca said, the staffing levels have yet to be addressed properly, especially after the state in 2011 rolled out a realignment plan that allows an influx of nonviolent offenders to serve their time in local jails instead of the state penitentiary system.

Both union leaders say they are budgeted for more positions but have not seen Smith address the issue in a timely fashion.

Moser said that San Jose police officers, many of whom have fled the city's force over their frustration with the city's pension reform efforts, aren't being hired by the county.

Smith insisted that "we hire San Jose cops,'' and that "there are multiple academies going,'' but pointed out hiring takes time because of testing and background checks.

Scimeca also said Smith promised that when the sheriff's office took over the jails in 2010, its correctional officers would be eligible to become correctional deputies, but for many, that has not happened. "She said it would be an easy transition,'' Scimeca said.

Smith countered that those who wanted to make the shift were allowed to do so until the process was closed "so we could focus on hiring new people.''

Moser also said the sheriff's office is no longer a member of important joint task forces, including the local joint anti-terrorism task force. "Crime doesn't stop at the borders'' between the cities in the county, Moser said.

In addition to patrolling the unincorporated areas of the county, the sheriff's office also contracts its services with three cities in the county that don't have their own police agencies.

Smith said that budget cuts forced the department to eliminate its membership in some task forces, "but that's the first time I've heard of their complaint.''

Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.