Greg Ahern has lived in Alameda County his entire life and has served at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office since 1980. In 2006 he was elected Sheriff and is currently up for re-election. He was actively involved in the development and implementation of several programs to benefit the community and to provide tactical training to thousands of law enforcement personnel and first responders. His impressive career history and achievements as a Sheriff include efforts to increase public safety, reduce criminality and prevent recidivism among rehabilitated inmates. Greg has served in several boards and commissions and received numerous awards for his accomplishments on duty. Listen to the interview to learn more about his views on key public safety issues and interesting insights from his experience in law enforcement.
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
Born and raised in Oakland, California, Sheriff Ahern started as a Deputy in 1980. He rose through the ranks before his election as Sheriff of Alameda County in 2006. He's overseen numerous progressive changes in the department over the years.
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Attorney at Law
Greg Ahern - Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:05
Sheriff Greg Ahern is a lifelong resident of Alameda County. He served the Alameda County Sheriff's Department since 1980 when he was hired as a Deputy. He has had a steady rise through the ranks as a Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Commander and Assistant Sheriff before his election as the 22nd Sheriff of Alameda County in 2006 and taking office in 2007. As Sheriff, he has developed and supported the Youth and Family Services Bureau, drug education, and enforcement, cold case DNA investigations, and a DUI enforcement unit.
He initiated the Urban Shield tactical training exercise for several thousand first responders. And of course, I knew his dad, a successful well-liked and well-respected Southern Alameda County attorney who was long in practice when I was a young prosecutor. Greg Ahern, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Greg Ahern 01:16
Alright, thank you very much. And thanks for bringing up my dad who loved being a lawyer. And it's nice to know that he's not forgotten. Thank you.
Louis Goodman 01:26
What is your current position?
Greg Ahern 01:28
I am the Sheriff of Alameda County and Coroner and region 2 director, office of learned service director and sitting on the lottery commission as well. And also sit as chair of the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority.
Louis Goodman 01:47
I would encourage anybody listening to this to go to your campaign website, just to see the incredible list of awards and citations that you have received over the years. It is truly an amazing list of accomplishments.
Greg Ahern 02:11
Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Louis Goodman 02:13
Where are you from?
Greg Ahern 02:14
Born and raised in the city of Oakland. My father, as you know, is an Oakland resident as well. All of our family grew up in Oakland. Then we moved to San Leandro as a family. Went to Assumption grammar school, then Hayward high school. When I got enough money, I was able to buy a house right at the border of Oakland and San Leandro. Then I was able to move after I got a job with the Sheriff's Office up to the city of Hayward above Hayward Hills by East Hills Market, above Hayward High School. Then my wife and I got married and we moved to Castro Valley, then after our daughter was born, we moved out to Livermore.
Louis Goodman 02:52
So you went to high school in Hayward, is that correct?
Greg Ahern 02:56
That's correct. Moreau Catholic.
Louis Goodman 02:58
And what did you study at Moreau Catholic? And what did you do at Moreau Catholic besides just the regular schoolwork?
Greg Ahern 03:05
Well, my dad was a very good athlete. He was a Hall of Fame athlete at both St. Joe's high school in Alameda and a hall of fame athlete at Santa Clara University when the Santa Clara Broncos were rated number two in the nation, I believe. So he stressed the importance of fitness and athletics. So we went to Merle high school where I played four years of varsity soccer and we won three championships. There I was a fairly good student. Without question my parents told me I was going to college.
Louis Goodman 03:42
Where'd you go?
Greg Ahern 03:43
Went to St. Mary's college out in Moraga and studied Business Administration and Economics. One of my dad's best friends, a guy named John Arca was a captain with the Oakland Police Department. I wear his medal today. He told me a lot. I spoke to him, I told him I wanted to be in law enforcement. And he said, "Don't take criminal justice classes. You need to expand your avenues so you could be successful in law enforcement." So he's the one that recommended I take Business Administration and Economics.
Louis Goodman 04:13
What was it about law enforcement that attracted you?
Greg Ahern 04:18
My dad was also a member of the Navy. He was a Navy pilot. Then he became a member of the Naval reserves and spent a lot of time at the Alameda Naval Air Station. And I liked the uniform, I liked the presence, I liked the being around the guys that were in the military. Then I met his friends, a guy by the name of Joe Rodriguez, known as "Lefty'' Joe, who's a Sergeant at the St. Helena Police Department and John Arca. I loved how they carried themselves, I liked how they talked about their work. I'm kind of an active person, so I couldn't see myself sitting by a desk every day. I just needed to serve the community and I decided that the best thing for me to do was to get into law enforcement and actually wrote a paper on it being a freshman in high school. Well, my dad found out that I was serious about joining law enforcement.
Louis Goodman 05:10
Was your dad happy about that?
Greg Ahern 05:13
Absolutely not. He wasn't in favor of me going into law enforcement. He did not want to assist me in law enforcement. He wanted that he was frightened that in all the late seventies, that was a very dangerous work at that time, very contentious times in law enforcement. And he was worried that I might be hurt and he didn't want to help me, so I did it on my own.
Louis Goodman 05:39
And what was your first police job?
Greg Ahern 05:41
I actually worked at a maximum security jail at Santa Rita jail called Greystone. And it was a real hard place, with only maximum security inmates. And it was a challenge. I loved it every day.
Louis Goodman 05:55
And that was as a Deputy Sheriff in the Alameda County Sheriff's Office?
Greg Ahern 05:59
That's correct, yeah. So any old timers know the word, terminology, Greystone and the type of inmates that were there. And it was a wonderful job.
Louis Goodman 06:10
You've had a very storied career in the Alameda County Sheriff's department. And I briefly outlined it, but I'm wondering if you could just kind of go through that progression through the office?
Greg Ahern 06:22
Yeah. I was a Deputy Sheriff for six years. I worked in the jail. Then I was able to get transferred to the courts, I worked at the Superior Court. And then in 1982 with the city Dublin incorporated, and I was allowed to join them. I was the first Deputy Sheriff part of that team to be on patrol on the city. First became a, I was a deputy for 14 years. Most of my time was in narcotics and doing street patrol. I got promoted in 1986, went to the back to the center of the jail for a very brief time. And I was asked to go back to the city of Dublin as a watch Sergeant and there they didn't have very many Lieutenants, so the Sergeant was actually like the watch commander of the shift. And was a Sergeant for about 14 years and one of the cases I had was the John Monego killing at the Outback Steakhouse on December 11th, 1998. And I was the lead investigator in that case where we were able to apprehend the three suspects responsible for that murder and send them to prison. And that's where I met Sheriff Plummer, saw my work. He was very interested in that case. We gave him frequent updates. He took a liking to me. I then became a Lieutenant and worked at the Eden Township substation where I worked my way up to being the Lieutenant of investigations. Because of the work I did as a Lieutenant, Sheriff Plummer allowed me to stay at Eden Township as a Captain.
I got promoted to Commander. Sheriff Plummer asked me if I'd run for Sheriff as a Commander. When I worked with Sheriff Plumber, he was like my training officer. Every day of work we went to sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for several hours. He showed me and recommended how I should go about being Sheriff. I valued that one-year time. Very important that I was able to learn from his experience. He had 54 years in law enforcement, so it was nice to learn from one of the best, one of the most highly respected officers in all of California. And I got to see how we dealt with major problems. And in 2007 I was elected.
Since that time I've worked again to expand the programs of the jail. We doubled the size of the programming there. I started the Urban Shield training, which became one of the region's best training venues for police, fire, and emergency medical teams. That Urban Shield training expanded to other states. People from around the world
Greg Ahern 09:00
came to see how we did our programming. We have probably half a dozen lifesaving stories behind the training of Urban Shield. We continue to address those five drivers of crime, unemployment, lack of education, poverty, health, and environment. We make sure we address those each and every day through what I've been preaching to our teams, which was prevention, enforcement, programs, and services.
So stop the crimes from ever occurring. And want to provide services to the people in the community and make sure we remember that we have to serve the victims of crime and give them the service that they deserve and try to prevent others from being victims of crime or provide them with the best services that we can provide.
Louis Goodman 09:47
What do you really like about being involved in law enforcement?
Greg Ahern 09:47
I worked with some of the best people in the world. They are brave, they're courageous, they help the community. They have nothing but respect for each other. And I teach and lecture to a lot of classes. I tell them, "You don't get respect in aisle 5 the safe way. You can't go buy it at Costco, it doesn't show up at your front door. The only way you get respect is earned it." And our people earn their respect, my admiration for the challenges that they face and the manner in which they do their job. And I'm very proud of them. It's great rewarding work and great people, and we're doing great things to help our community.
Louis Goodman 10:38
If a young person were just coming out of college and thinking about law enforcement as a career choice, is that something that you would recommend?
Greg Ahern 10:47
I certainly would. We need a great number of people. A lot of the law enforcement agencies in this region throughout the state and even our nation are down in law enforcement are recruiting.
We are down about 230 positions right now. We continue to advertise and attempt to hire qualified people. We won't lower our standards, we maintain high standards because we want the people we serve to have the finest law enforcement agency responding to their needs. So I won't lower the standards for our testing although we're struggling to find those people to willingly come in and work with us. We hope that these college graduates are bold, brave, and brilliant. We want to preach to them that they can be a part of the solution and we can help each community build and get better and improve the quality of life.
Louis Goodman 11:45
How has actually being a peace officer met or differed from your expectations?
Greg Ahern 11:51
The community involvement was a lot more than what I had anticipated and our people today, I told them, "You have to go out and be professional at all times." I just gave a short speech to our graduating class, the 173rd basic academy just graduated this morning.
Louis Goodman 12:15
Greg Ahern 12:16
Yeah, it's nice to have them. We need them. I thank them for joining our troops. I think their families for being supportive of them. And I told them that when they go to work, they have to be professional at all times. It's a very demanding job, but I said, "Do something nice every day. Every day do at least one thing nice for members of our community so that we can build the trust and the confidence in the community that we serve."
Louis Goodman 12:47
You're currently running for reelection as Sheriff of Alameda County. When did you start thinking about being the Sheriff as a career move and have you always wanted to be the elected Sheriff? Have you thought of yourself as an elected official, as opposed to someone just working in the department?
Greg Ahern 13:09
I'm always pretty aggressive in my approach to how I go about things. And I knew I wanted to be Sheriff when I got into law enforcement. That's why I took the college classes that I did. That's why I went to the FBI National Academy. When I first got hired one my friend's mother gave me a dollar. She saw potential in me, she goes, "I'm going to be the first one to contribute you to your campaign when you run for Sheriff." And that was 42 years ago.
Louis Goodman 13:38
It strikes me that the Alameda County Sheriff's Department has very diverse and wide ranging responsibilities. Run the jail at Santa Rita. You patrol unincorporated Alameda County. You have the Dublin Police Department, you have certain duties that the airport, certain duties that the harbor. You're the Coroner of Alameda County. I think there's probably some other things that I haven't even touched on. I know that you're very involved in supporting out of county agencies when they need help for whatever reason. And I'm, I'm just wondering if you could comment about the breadth of that responsibility?
Greg Ahern 14:25
Yes. It's a great responsibility and there's a number of aspects of my job that I really don't think the other candidates have any experience in whatsoever. So as you mentioned, some of the responsibilities. We're also responsible for the courts, we provide court security, we have contracts at Highland Hospital and we have contracts at the Oakland International Airport as well. And so there's a lot to do every day. As Region 2 coordinator is also an elected office that I've obtained. As a regional coordinator, you're responsible for 16 counties for mutual aid from Monterrey to the Oregon border, the 16 counties on the Western part the state. And so we provide services for them when they get overrun by fire, by the dams breaking in Butte County by major events and other areas.
So what occurs is those agencies that need assistance make one phone call and they tell us what they need and then we fill the needs of logistically and for personnel and create operational hours for that response, along with a tactical response and then sending the people that have the experience in these types of events.
Louis Goodman 15:47
Right now, someone from within the department is running against you. I'm wondering if you have any thought or comment about that?
Greg Ahern 15:58
I worked really hard to speak in positive terms. So all just saying that I am by far the most qualified and experienced candidate to be Sheriff. All the awards, the accolades, the training, the experience, I have a proven record, and I think it goes beyond comparison and I'm very proud of my record, and I'm proud of those accomplishments and I'm proud of the number of years. And I have the, the heart and the desire to be the best. And we're going to make this Alameda County Sheriff's Office, the best Sheriff's Office in the nation.
Louis Goodman 16:35
How's the campaign going? And what do you think of campaigning?
Greg Ahern 16:38
I love being Sheriff. I do not like campaigning. It's a rough road and the one thing I do like about campaigning is I get to tell people the great work the Sheriff's office is doing on it. Honestly, a lot of people in the community don't know about the Sheriff's Office. They don't know the extent of the responsibilities, a lot of the public aren't aware of the number of technologies that we brought on to this agency in recent times to apprehend criminals.
Louis Goodman 17:10
Let me stick with the campaign here for a minute. I ran for judge 10 years ago or so, and I found campaigning to be just really different and really difficult and expensive. And I'm wondering how raising money has gone for you, what you think about raising money and what you think it's going to cost to run a campaign county-wide for Sheriff, both for the primary, which is coming up fairly soon and going ahead, if we have to have a runoff in November?
Greg Ahern 17:50
Yeah, well, I hope to be successful in June and not have a runoff. And so, like I said, I come from a athletic background. I've played a lot of sports myself. And so knowing the advantage of a team. So I built a team. I've been building this team for a number of years in the event I were to get on a campaign component. And so my team has been in place for a number of years. I've done fundraisers every year to gradually gain money to support my campaign expenses. It's humbling to me, people do donate money to a campaign for me to retain my job. I appreciate that. It's really humbling when they do that.
Louis Goodman 18:40
Do you have a 30 second elevator speech?
Greg Ahern 18:42
I don't know if I got a 30 second elevator speech, but I can go off the cuff and talk about prevention and or programs and service to be the best agency in the United States so that we are successful in everything that we do by allowing my people to be successful, giving them the training, the equipment that they need to go out and do their job. And they go out and do great things because we give them the acknowledgement that they've earned. We don't give anybody anything unless you've earned it.
Louis Goodman 19:11
How have the issues facing law enforcement changed in the time that you've been working?
Greg Ahern 19:19
Well, most recently we've seen a push for defunding the police, which has been unsuccessful in every arena, every big city that you've seen. So knowing that, I think law enforcement has to improvise, adapt and overcome to those challenges. And so I wanted the Alameda County Sheriff's Office to be the example of reform and not a reduction in services. I believe that law enforcement has to work on building trust and confidence in the community.
Louis Goodman 19:51
I want to shift gears here for a moment, Sheriff, and ask what your family life has been like as a law enforcement person and how law enforcement and how running for high law enforcement office has affected or fit in with your family life?
Greg Ahern 20:10
Yeah, it doesn't fit in at all. It's a very, multiple hours a day. I put in about 10 hours a day of work, then after work I have to do the campaign stuff where I'm on call with my campaign manager and dealing with all the issues that we've said we have to work on. You know, the photographs, the mailers, the terminology, the focused fundraising, the event. My daughter is now 34 years old and she just recently told me that she got nervous every time she heard my car start up and drive away from the driveway. Her bedroom was right above my car.
As a family, I'm lucky to have them behind me. And I see my people do it a thousand times a day, and that's why we love and respect each other.
Louis Goodman 21:04
What sort of recreational pursuits have you been involved with maybe to get your mind off of law enforcement and unwind a little bit every once in a while?
Greg Ahern 21:14
Well, I used to do a lot of running. I still go to the gym on a regular basis. Recreationally I water-ski. My friend and I are braggadocious no matter where I water-skiing afterwards and we snow ski. I'm a avid golfer. I love to love to be outdoors. I've been on four cattle drives. So I love horses and ranches and things of that nature. And so there's enough time to recreate and take time off.
Louis Goodman 21:41
What keeps you up at night?
Greg Ahern 21:41
Worrying about my people when they respond to events like I used to.
Louis Goodman 21:45
Let's say you came into some real money, a few billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Greg Ahern 21:53
Well, that's a great question. I'd probably acquire a ranch, live in peace and quiet, have more dogs, and see if I have enough money to own a boat. I always liked the water. I've learned a little bit about sailing and I would see to it that wherever I lived, that police agency had as much donations that I could possibly give them so they had the tools and equipment to do their job so that they could be safe.
Louis Goodman 22:19
Let's say you had a magic wand, what was one thing in the world, the police world, the legal world, or otherwise, what one thing would you want to change?
Greg Ahern 22:28
The abuse of illegal drugs. I started the D.A.R.E program in 1984. So this isn't a new thing for me. I saw the damage that drugs do to people's lives. We've had people close to myself and my family that had issues with drugs and it caused them debt. And if we could address the amount of illegal drugs and do away with them, it would be a great thing for millions of individuals throughout this world.
Louis Goodman 23:04
If someone wants to look up some more information about you, donate to your campaign, find out a little bit more about the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, what's the best way that they can get in touch with you and your staff?
Greg Ahern 23:24
So I have a personal email, email@example.com, cause I'm an old school guy, AOL still. So we have MIC, which means "make it count". So every day I work, everyday I live, I work to make it count. Every day I go to work, I try to make a difference. So that's how the email started. And remember, this isn't because I was elected. I started that when it was AOL. So Greg Ahern MIC was in the eighties when AOL first came out.
And AhernForSheriff.com has a lot of information about our campaign. And once again, I'm not asking anybody to donate money, that's not what... If you learned about me, you would vote for me and you'd have confidence that I'd be your best Sheriff.
Louis Goodman 24:18
Sheriff Ahern, is there anything you want to talk about that we haven't discussed?
Greg Ahern 24:23
We have a Santa Rita jail and we've all really improved the conditions there. We've improved the number of hours for out of cell time, we've improved the vocational programs. So again, you know, my approach has been enforcement along with prevention, programs, and services. And so with programs, we've created a vocational program out of the jail.
We have a carpentry program, so there is a community-based organization that goes out and recovers furniture that would be added toward landfill. That furniture then goes to low-income housing, long-term care facilities, places that can't afford to get refurbished furniture. So it saves the landfill, it helps the inmates, it gives them a skill and it's less expensive for the places where we are delivering it.
With that, they went out and created a commercial painting instruction where the inmates learn how to be commercial painters. We also have a farming program where they learn about farming and grow products at the jail. So then when they leave, they can then join our Dig Deep Farms Program. We're starting our Paws For Life Program.
And that's where we go and recover animals, dogs that are going to be in and the animal control center and scheduled to be put down. We then are going to recover the dog, bring the dog to the jail. The dog will then be assigned to three inmates under the supervision of a Deputy while they train the dog and get it to be a service dog so they can have the dog go to the community and help somebody in need.
Again, restorative justice that people can look on giving something back and paying back for some of the crimes that they committed and they feel good about themselves. Hopefully they don't continue with that cycle of recidivism. And I'll tell you what, the Deputies are happy because they're working with dogs. The inmates are happy because they have out of cell time and they're working with dogs and they're giving back to the community. The people that get the service dog are happy that they get a service dog to improve their life.
Louis Goodman 26:36
Sheriff Greg Ahern, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Greg Ahern 26:45
That's been a pleasure to talk to you once again. Thank you for remembering my dad.
Louis Goodman 26:50
That's it for today's episode of love by lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email.
Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests and to Joel Katz from music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Greg Ahern 27:29
We had the 1991 firestorms in Oakland and Berkeley. We wanted to make sure that since we to respond to major events on a regular basis that we worked together and trained together, specifically dealing with terrorism, things like the 9/11 attack.