Sheriff candidate Justin Fleeman

Kern County Voter’s Guide

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Sheriff candidate Justin Fleeman“Ever since I was a kid, this is something I wanted to do. My uncle was in law enforcement. My grandma, who has since passed on, gave me a little badge,” Chief Deputy Justin Fleeman, who is running for the office of Kern County Sheriff, reflected on his childhood spent in Bakersfield.

“I would go sit at the corner of Benton and Ming, near where we lived, and watch the Bakersfield motor police officers write people tickets.”

He would later marry and raise two children with his wife of 20 years and spend that same length of time working his way up through the ranks in the sheriff’s office.

“I started as a detention officer with the ultimate goal of becoming patrolman. I worked my way up to chief deputy — which, for people who don’t know our rank structure, is the highest position you can be promoted to without being elected or appointed.”

Fleeman said that he has worked, supervised or managed every bureau of the department, and now oversees the investigations bureau.

“I chose to run for sheriff because, obviously, I took the oath of office to protect and serve the members of Kern County.” As he was promoted through the ranks, he said he grew increasingly concerned about the leadership of current Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who he said focuses on politics rather than community.

“Throughout my campaign I have heard from multiple people that the only time they see the sheriff is if there is a parade or an awards ceremony.”

Especially in a time when law enforcement is not being portrayed in a positive light, Fleeman said, building bridges and relationships with the public is important.

He admitted that some of the woes facing the sheriff’s office can be attributed to the county’s financial crisis. “But when you look at the deputies we’re losing, that’s a morale issue. Which means it’s a leadership issue.

“Most of us in the sheriff’s office were born and raised in Kern County — we don’t want to go somewhere else. The goal is typically to move up within the agency you start with. But you have to have a leader willing to hold himself responsible and answer to his community.”

Fleeman said that Ridgecrest residents feel our town is the last place to get service and the first place to absorb cuts. He added that during the fiscal crisis, Youngblood should have sold some of the helicopters and aircraft operated by the department.

Acording to Fleeman, that would yield an immediate savings of $900,000. “If you take that money, your jail is open.”

Fleeman was also critical of Youngblood’s general inaccessibility to his subordinates.

“Our offices share a common wall, and I cannot tell you what our sheriff does all day simply because he isn’t there. We have deputies — numerous deputies — who have been in this organization 10 years or longer who have never seen their sheriff except for when he pinned a badge on them,” said Fleeman.

“He says he lobbies in Sacramento, but look at the laws that have come into play since he’s been sheriff. He must not be doing that good a job.”

Fleeman said that while Ridgecrest remains underserved, “he just keeps pushing the money to Bakersfield.

“When you have a sheriff this out of touch with his organization, who does not communicate with his staff, who does know what’s going on, that is why we’re in the crisis we’re in.

“Now it’s an election year, and he’s hoping the people of the Indian Wells Valley will give him a do-over. I’m telling you, with the budget we have right now, I don’t need to ask for any money. I would open the jail right now and put deputies on the street.”

The closure of the Ridgecrest jail puts a strain on Ridgecrest Police Department, as well as the Kern River Valley and Ridgecrest substations, Fleeman added.

“I have a staffing plan that will address the outlying areas of Ridgecrest within the first year,” he said.

“Sometimes, we in law enforcement get so caught up in the side of public safety that deals with crime that we miss quality of life.” “I also want to build relationships with our schools. The young kids today are our future deputies.”

Fleeman said he has been endorsed by numerous police and fire associations.

“Im running because I love what I do. For me, it’s not an ego or a legacy thing.”

He encouraged voters to get more information on his platform at fleemanforsheriff.com.

Story First Published: 2018-05-25