If both candidates for Ventura County sheriff were prize fighters, Election Day would be a match between top heavyweights — two men with equally impressive track records, strong work ethics and a vast arsenal of endorsements at their disposal.

But while only Geoff Dean or Dennis Carpenter will emerge as the winner, both veteran officers will go down in local history as engaging in the first contested race in more than 30 years for the county’s top cop.

It’s a distinction, however, that may be the only thing setting apart a pair of candidates who agree on most issues near and dear to the future of policing for the VCSD.

On the same page
Carpenter and Dean have stated that taking a fiscally conservative approach to preserving the department’s budget in tough economic times is important to their respective campaigns.

Dean, whose career with the VCSD began in 1977, said that putting off any new capital projects, including the construction of a new county jail to help with overcrowding, could lessen impacts to a $109 million budget faced with cuts.

“When you’ve been in an organization for 32 years, you know it inside and out. You pretty much know … what we might be able to do more of,” Dean, a sheriff’s commander, said. “I don’t think the taxpayers can afford it.”

Carpenter, the sheriff’s chief deputy, finds himself in accord and says that a major part of finding ways to save money means saving jobs. While some departmental positions have been civilianized or cut altogether, Carpenter said negotiations with the county board of supervisors over budget and wage reform is essential in employing deputies.

“We could lose people,” he said. “I would urge the board to keep it competitive.”

Both candidates agree that the new sheriff must take a proactive role in preventing jail overcrowding by working with parolees to prevent from reoffending.

“We can’t just stick our heads in the sand and tell them, ‘Just don’t do it,’ ” says Dean. “You have to look at that pay-it-forward concept. We have to look farther than one, two, three years down the road.”

“We’re going to have to become the de facto probation officers for these parolees so they won’t have to be incarcerated again,” Carpenter says.

In light of these issues, Carpenter and Dean agree that lessening gang violence in unincorporated areas of the county is central to the sheriff’s race.

The officers’ pedigrees are revealed in their past accomplishments. Out of the gate, Carpenter was awarded Rookie of the Year accolades as he began his career with the Port Hueneme Police Department. With the sheriff’s department, Carpenter went on to longtime management roles for the department’s SWAT team and for handling courtroom security. But he’s perhaps best-known in the East County as the former chief of police for the Thousand Oaks Police Department for four years.

Dean is familiar to those in the sheriff’s department as the former chief deputy who oversaw operations of the entire county jail system and of patrol services. Dean, as well, navigated himself through the ranks at a meteoric pace through the 1980s and 1990s, from cadet to sergeant to lieutenant and then chief of the Moorpark police, all within the span of just over a decade. He also oversaw the department’s budget for a three-year period.

“Being a leader is the ‘it’ factor. Geoff has the ‘it’ factor,” says Larry Carpenter, a former sheriff with no relation to Dennis Carpenter. “He leads people and doesn’t have to look back to see if they’re following.”

Supported but divided
Larry Carpenter’s endorsement of Dean is but one factor that some speculated was a reason why the newest, contested race for sheriff could be driving a wedge into the ranks of the department.

Dean has the support of two former sheriffs — Carpenter and John Gillespie — while Dennis Carpenter is backed by current sheriff Bob Brooks.

Brooks admitted this week that choosing between Dean and Carpenter was a tough decision to make because of his 30-year history with both officers. But following a controversial move by Brooks two years ago, when he fired Dean over an administrative matter, he said it came down to a matter of trust. He went with Carpenter, who carries an unblemished record.

“The trust factor was really what moved me in the direction of the endorsement,” Brooks said. “It’s hard from a personal point of view, but from a logical point of view our department is built around core values. One of them is trustworthiness.”

The county’s civil service commission later ruled that Dean’s dismissal should be reversed, and was reinstated at a lower rank.

Dean recently said he was not fazed by allegations of a former secretary for the undersheriff that he tried to steal from her a database of privileged information.

“There’s a discomfort level with people who’ve been pressured to take a position one way or another,” Dean said. “I don’t really look at it as a big deal.”

He also remained confident that the incident hasn’t swayed public support for him, which includes most of the rank-and-file in the sheriff’s department, and local police chiefs like Ken Corney of Ventura and John Crombach of Oxnard.

County Third District Supervisor Kathy Long also backs Dean.

“He is a trustworthy, moral, stand-up man,” she said. “I just believe the politics on that (issue) are ugly and unfortunate.”

Carpenter hopes that support from the currently sitting sheriff indicates he is the best man to lead the department in the here and now.

“(Brooks is) responsible for the success of the organization the past few years and I’m hoping the public will listen to his endorsement,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter has also been the more vocal of the two candidates on bringing to light that the contested race between two men on the same team, a first since the mid-1970s, has led to a presumed lowering of morale in the sheriff’s department.

“There are folks that are drawing lines in the organization,” he said. “My fear is, there’ll be some animosity carried over. I think both sides need to reach out and mend.”

The winning candidate will replace 12-year Sheriff Brooks, who was first elected in 1998.

Dean and Carpenter have both stated on the record that neither man will be let go from his current position in the department should the other be elected sheriff.

As of the most recent filings with the county elections division, on March 17, Dean has reported $135,238 in campaign finances, and Carpenter, $4,296.   

Information on candidates for Ventura County Sheriff, along with contact information, are online at geoffdeanforsheriff.com and carpenterforsheriff.com.

paul@vcreporter.com