EDITOR'S NOTE: Multimedia journalist Sarina Sandoval spoke with muralist Ronald del Cid about the Riverside County sheriff's race and what it means for his community. Click the arrow above to watch the video.
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CNS) — Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco is being challenged by a former colleague in Tuesday’s primary election as he attempts to keep the county’s top law enforcement spot and continue into a second term.
Michael Lujan, a retired sheriff’s captain, is endeavoring to unseat Bianco, promising an objective approach to policing without “partisan politics.”
Bianco, who resides in Riverside, was first elected in 2018, after a hard-fought contest against then-Sheriff Stan Sniff. Bianco has been tested on several fronts since then, drawing both criticism and praise.
He gained wide attention at the height of the statewide coronavirus public health lockdowns in the fall of 2020, declaring that he would not dedicate sheriff’s resources to enforcing any part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, including a curfew.
That same year, he also took a stand against the anti-law enforcement crusades on the heels of the George Floyd custody death furor in Minneapolis. During a Board of Supervisors meeting that summer, he told the supervisors and attendees that the reactionary uprisings posed a threat to public safety and the country.
The sheriff has largely maintained a balanced budget since he took office, despite rising personnel costs. However, the 16 municipalities within the county that contract for sheriff’s services have also been saddled with higher bills.
“For nearly 30 years I have worked for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department with one goal in mind: protect this community while keeping all of its residents safe,” Bianco said in a campaign statement.
“I have increased the morale of our department, stopped runaway attrition, saved millions of dollars by addressing fiscal mismanagement ... and fixed the broken concealed carry weapon (licensing) process,” he said.
Lujan, who resides in Menifee, served as a sheriff’s deputy for 31 years, working in multiple facets, including as a homicide detective and jail manager, before retiring as a captain.
According to the former lawman, under Bianco, the sheriff’s department has suffered a black eye due to the leader’s “partisanship (and) political ideology.”
“I am running to remove partisan politics in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. It is the responsibility of the department to keep the public safe and enforce the law, without prejudice,” Lujan said in a campaign statement. “We can have safe neighborhoods while treating everyone equally.”
He said taxpayer money would be better spent on his watch, which would feature a civilian oversight commission to better analyze allegations of misconduct on the part of deputies.
Lujan has suggested that a change in training methods might be needed for deputies, with a focus on peacefully resolving encounters with suspects instead of defaulting to a confrontational approach which escalates into deputy-involved shootings.