Yesenia Sanchez started out at an entry-level position at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office 25 years ago at only 19 years old and has risen through the ranks to become Division Commander and the highest-ranking woman in the agency. Throughout her career at the ACSO she’s had various duties such as patrol investigations, jail operations, and administration and has gotten an overall look at the law enforcement workings of the entire county. She is currently running for Sheriff and has plans to increase staffing to improve the conditions at the Santa Rita Jail and to create a safe and equitable quality of life for everyone. Listen to the interview to learn more about her plans for the Sheriff’s Office and the county as well as the resistance she’s been facing inside the department for running against the incumbent Sheriff.
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
Go to https://www.lovethylawyer.com/blog for transcripts.
I was born in Hayward and have spent my entire life in California. My family has played a big role in shaping my core values - integrity, respect, accountability, transparency, and openness.
I’ve always ingrained those values into my work in the Sheriff’s Office. I am a proud Latina with Mexican roots -- my father, Mario, immigrated to California from Mexico as a child and my mother, Sylvia, moved to California from Texas at an early age. Family has always been important to me and I have two older brothers with whom I have always been close. My husband Todd and I have been married for 14 years and we have made our home in Livermore. I am the proud stepmother of three daughters.
Our family ended up losing our home while I was in high school, and I chose to focus on working to help my family as I completed my high school education and had to forgo college -- it was not an option for me. By the time I was 18, I was working three jobs to help my family get by. A year later in 1997, I applied to and was hired on into the entry-level role of Sheriff’s Technician within the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, a good paying job with benefits that was secure. This is how I started my career in public service and law enforcement.
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Attorney at Law
Yesenia Sanchez - Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:05
I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. Today, we're talking with Yesenia Sanchez. She's not a lawyer, but she's very involved with law enforcement and is currently running for Sheriff of Alameda County. Born in Hayward, and now living in Livermore, she has deep roots in Alameda County.
She started as a Sheriff's Technician in 1997 and worked her way through the ranks as a Sheriff's Deputy, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, and now serves as a Division Commander overseeing the Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin. Yesenia Sanchez, welcome to Love thy Lawyer.
Yesenia Sanchez 00:49
Thank you for having me.
Louis Goodman 00:51
I am thrilled to have you. Where are you talking to us from right now?
Yesenia Sanchez 00:57
I'm talking to you from home.
Louis Goodman 00:59
And that's in Livermore?
Yesenia Sanchez 01:00
Louis Goodman 01:01
And where are you from originally, Hayward?
Yesenia Sanchez 01:04
Yes, I am from Hayward. My parents are from, well, my father is from Jalisco, Mexico. My mom is from San Antonio, Texas. My father immigrated to Oakland, California when he was roughly 12. That was back in 1965. And my mother came from San Antonio to Oakland when she was 6 in 1959. And so they got married and moved to Hayward and that's where I was mostly raised.
Louis Goodman 01:31
Did you go to high school in Hayward?
Yesenia Sanchez 01:33
I didn't actually, they moved us to a little town called Patterson. So I went to Patterson High, graduated, came back to Hayward.
Louis Goodman 01:43
So when you graduated from high school in Patterson and you moved back to Hayward, what did you do?
Yesenia Sanchez 01:50
I was at a point in life, myself and my siblings and my mother, we were all three of us or all four of us were actually looking for a place to stay. We lost our house, so it was basically living out of my car. So all my valuables were in my car. I lived out of a Rubbermaid tub that had all my stuff in there. I worked three jobs when I moved back to the Bay Area and I was working Monday through Friday 8 to 5 at a San Leandro used car lot. And during the evenings between 9:00 PM and 3:00 AM at the Oakland airport loading Federal Express cargo planes.
I would also work at McDonald's doing shifts there. So I really didn't have much time to spend, you know, with anything else that was recreational, but definitely was work and no play during that time.
Louis Goodman 02:42
What was your path to the Alameda County Sheriff's Department?
Yesenia Sanchez 02:46
I put in interest cards at city government offices and the county. And I got a mailer at my grandmother's house for an entry-level position in the Sheriff's Office. So I put in for it and that's how I started my career in law enforcement.
Louis Goodman 03:03
So that was really your first thought about law enforcement? You hadn't given consideration to that before?
Yesenia Sanchez 03:09
You know, that wasn't even a thought in my mind that the Sheriff's Office would have an entry-level position for me. When I applied, I just thought I was going to get a county job behind a desk, something where I would be able to start getting some clerical experience.
Louis Goodman 03:23
What did your friends and family say when you said, "Hey, I'm working for the Alameda County Sheriff's department"?
Yesenia Sanchez 03:29
So they were, they were happy that I was going to get a county job. I can't say that the excitement was behind getting a job with the Sheriff's Office, to start. No one in my family is been a law enforcement officer. My family is not like big pro law enforcement folks, even still today. Come talk to my mom and she'll tell you everything that's wrong with law enforcement, but I'll agree with her sometimes, but not all the time.
Louis Goodman 03:53
Now, you were in the Sheriff's Department for about four years. And then you made a decision to become a sworn peace Officer. What was that thinking about?
Yesenia Sanchez 04:05
So once I was able to work around the Sheriff's Office and work a couple of assignments, I started off at the jail in Oakland as a Sheriff's Technician and then I got reassigned to the patrol substation, the Eden Township substation in San Leandro.
And I saw how much more I could do. I wanted to become the Deputy now that's working with the public and engaged and they seem to really love it. I loved working around them. So that really inspired me to take the next step and put in for the academy.
Louis Goodman 04:40
How'd that go?
Yesenia Sanchez 04:41
It was challenging.
Louis Goodman 04:43
I mean, the academy is hard.
Yesenia Sanchez 04:44
Yeah, it's definitely tough. And when you're a short female, it's a little tougher. You have to get over a six foot wall, which was challenging for me, but I was able to do it.
Louis Goodman 04:54
But what did you think of being a law enforcement officer?
Yesenia Sanchez 04:58
It was very rewarding for me to work in the jail and be able to engage in conversations with the females who were incarcerated, their life stories, what led them to becoming incarcerated, their family life, kids that they had at home.
And then when I started working on patrol and I would run into the same females who were incarcerated, but they were now out in the community and then being excited to see me to show me pictures of their family and how they've turned their lives around and their success stories.
Louis Goodman 05:32
As I mentioned in the introduction, you worked your way up through the ranks of the Sheriff's Department, being a Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain. Can you talk a little bit about that progression?
Yesenia Sanchez 05:45
When I first started, I worked female housing as a Deputy, then I worked in our booking area. Then I got transferred out to patrol, working for contract law enforcement services with AC Transit police services. I worked out there for almost three years, and that was a really fun assignment, to be honest with you.
I like working the night shifts. And so I was allowed to work midnights and swing shifts out there where it was highly active. And then I got transferred to the city of Dublin, another contract law enforcement service where I worked on patrol and was selected for an investigations assignment. And in Dublin, it's a pretty small unit. I mean, we only have one investigations unit there and they capture every type of investigation and we did everything.
So it was definitely something that was a benefit to all of us that were able to work in Dublin because we were able to investigate a variety of crimes. So I got promoted out of there to Sergeant, I went back to the jail, worked as a watch Sergeant and then an administrative Sergeant in admin. And then I was able to go back to AC Transit as a Patrol Sergeant and then to Dublin, as an Investigation Sergeant. From there, I got promoted to Lieutenant.
Louis Goodman 07:00
Well, let me just ask you a question about that. When you say you got promoted to Sergeant, you've got promoted to Lieutenant.
Yesenia Sanchez 07:05
How does that process work?
Louis Goodman 07:07
Well, I mean, it's not just a matter of somebody kind of picking you out and making you a Sergeant or making you a Lieutenant, you have to actively apply for these things, isn't that correct?
Yesenia Sanchez 07:18
Louis Goodman 07:20
And there's tests that you have to take and you have to show certain proficiencies?
Yesenia Sanchez 07:25
Louis Goodman 07:27
Just tell us a little bit about that process because most of the people who listen to this podcast have a lot of contact with law enforcement in a very positive way, I would say, but most of us don't have much understanding of what really happens behind the scenes in law enforcement as a career. And I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that?
Yesenia Sanchez 07:50
Yeah. So if you are looking to promote up the ranks, you definitely have to show interest by application and these positions don't pop up all the time. There isn't this regular ongoing tests for Sergeant. The tests come up as positions are needed.
So when they do open up, if you are seeking advancement, you put in your application. And the interview process is developed in a way where you're supposed to draw from what you've done in your career. When you're talking about a test for a Lieutenant or a Captain position, because those are management positions, you're looking at a pretty stressful day.
They have four hours, five hours sometimes where you're there and you're moving from one assessment to the next. So you get assessed with a reality-based scenario where you might be the Watch Commander or the commanding officer that's in charge of a active shooter scenario or whatnot, a critical incident. But there's definitely a process, it's not easy.
The selection process for how people are selected, the Sheriff has the option to pick from a roll of five. So if there's 10 people on a list, and if they're trying to fill a position, he can get to number seven. If he's able to select like the one or the first two or whatnot.
Louis Goodman 09:16
So, I mean, the process is designed to get a slate of candidates and then the Sheriff can pick from that slate of candidates amongst several potentially qualified people.
Yesenia Sanchez 09:31
Louis Goodman 09:32
And that was the process that you went through in order to get to these higher ranks of the Alameda County Sheriff's department?
Yesenia Sanchez 09:39
Louis Goodman 09:41
What do you really like about law enforcement as a career?
Yesenia Sanchez 09:45
Wow. I mean, it definitely is not a Monday through Friday, every day is the same, right? There is something new each and every day. It doesn't matter if I have the same meetings scheduled, there's something new that always pops up. There's always some unforeseen circumstance that we're trying to manage with the consent decree that we have going on right now, those are present day challenges that I'm working through in my current assignment. We are working through some construction that will renovate some of our cells. We call it softening of cells. It definitely has an element of making sure that we have enough staffing in the jail and that's why, that's the main reason why we've seen ourselves fall into this consent decree.
The jail has long been ignored, it is not been prioritized with staffing. Staffing has been an issue there for a number of years and for the Sheriff's Office, we have to onboard 250 sworn Deputies and then 72 non-sworn civilians, such as Sheriff's Technicians to make sure that we have enough folks in the jail to allow for additional programming and then facilitating some of the mental health treatments that will go along with it.
Louis Goodman 10:59
I imagine that it's hard to recruit really qualified people to be sworn peace officers and to be Sheriff's Technicians, especially right now.
Yesenia Sanchez 11:12
Yeah. It's definitely very difficult. We talk about it all the time at our meetings where we used to have hundreds of people show up for an opening for a Sheriff's recruit just to get into the academy. And now we're lucky if we get a hundred, and that's just a hundred people who are applying. That doesn't mean that they're all going to move on to the next process, you know, such as an interview or whatnot, or even getting into the academy.
There's definitely multiple layers before you can become Deputy or law enforcement officers. There's the written, there's the interview, there's the physical, the medical, the psych, you name it. And it's just, it's a lengthy process. So that alone is something that is one of our obstacles, trying to expedite the process for hiring, but one of the things that we always lose sight of, and I shouldn't say always, but I feel we have lost sight of as an agency is the retention of our folks to make sure that we are not, we're not building any reason for them to leave.
And so we've been under a mandatory overtime program with the Sheriff's Office for roughly three years already. And mandatory overtime programs are temporary solutions, but it has become a permanent. So that creates burnout and so what we need to focus on is taking steps so that we can reduce the number of hours that they're forced to work. And that's something that I'll be focused on.
Louis Goodman 12:44
Now, despite some of the issues, would you recommend law enforcement to a young person who is thinking about a career choice?
Yesenia Sanchez 12:51
Louis Goodman 12:52
Yesenia Sanchez 12:53
Absolutely. It's been very rewarding for me. I know that there's so many new things and legislation that is calling for more transparency with regard to police records and whatnot.
If you are coming into this line of work, you should expect that you're going to be held to a higher standard than most. And you shouldn't be afraid to enter into a field, in fear that someone's going to catch you doing something wrong because your role is to do right, regardless of whether anybody's looking or not. And so, you know, we've entered into an era where you're always watched as a cop.
You've got body-worn cameras, you've got cameras in the jail, you've got cameras everywhere. So it shouldn't be something that should turn people away. You know, the high level of oversight that we are working under now. Because if you're doing the job for the purpose that you set out for, and that's to help people, very likely, I'm hoping that that's one of the reasons why then it shouldn't be concerning.
Louis Goodman 13:59
Two part question. What's the best advice that you ever received and what advice would you give to a young person starting a law enforcement career?
Yesenia Sanchez 14:10
Don't give up, don't give up. The hard work and the effort that you put in will pay off. It may not pay off as fast as you want it to, but it will pay off because people will see your effort, people will see your drive, your determination. And it will be rewarding in the end when you achieve success in whatever your endeavor is. It will be worth it.
Louis Goodman 14:37
You're currently running for Sheriff of Alameda County. When did you start thinking about that as a career move? Have you always wanted to be the elected Sheriff? Have you thought of yourself as an elected official, as opposed to someone working in government and working specifically in law enforcement?
Yesenia Sanchez 14:55
So, no, never did I ever think that I would run for Sheriff. It wasn't something that I really thought that I would be considered for.
Louis Goodman 15:08
What prompted you to run for Sheriff?
Yesenia Sanchez 15:10
Oh, okay. So what prompted me to run was now that I'm a Division Commander and listening to how decisions are made and the mentality behind the "us versus them" is very frustrating. Being a Division Commander, you would think that I would have more authority to make decisions over the division that I manage, and I don't. The agency is very heavily micromanaged.
It must be a lack of trust because if we are put into positions of management and leadership, you should trust the person that you put in there. And it seems like there's decisions that have to go all the way up to the Sheriff before we can actually do anything.
And so it's frustrating to know that you can't make decisions without them trickling all the way up to the Sheriff for approval.
Louis Goodman 16:06
How many Division Commanders are there in the Sheriff's Department?
Yesenia Sanchez 16:10
Louis Goodman 16:11
The Alameda County Sheriff's Department has a very diverse series of responsibilities.
What I mean by that is, as you mentioned, there's the jail, there's AC Transit, there's Dublin, there's patrol of unincorporated areas. I don't know, there's other things too, there's the Coroner's Office and that's different than most police agencies. I mean, most police agencies, for example, if you're the Chief of Police in Pleasanton, that is a job that has very specific responsibilities. And even though police work covers a number of different areas, it isn't the same kind of global presence that the Alameda County Sheriff's Department has within Alameda County. So I'm just wondering if you'd comment on that?
Yesenia Sanchez 17:07
Yeah. So, you know, just like you mentioned for city law enforcement agencies, their focus is law enforcement services in their jurisdiction. And that includes patrol, that includes community policing, that includes investigations. With the Sheriff's Office, we encompass a very large county and we also provide mutual aid through our office of emergency services to not only Alameda County, but for a number of counties across the state.
Louis Goodman 17:38
Well, how's the campaign going? And what do you think of campaigning? And what do you think about raising money and how's raising money gone? And as I've mentioned before, I ran for office county-wide and I know something about what it takes, and I am empathetic with you, if nothing else.
Yesenia Sanchez 18:02
Yes. So campaigning is definitely different. It is a different world altogether. It's tough asking people for money. And you know a county-wide race is pretty damn expensive. Hopefully I can say that.
Louis Goodman 18:18
Yeah, sure you can say it's expensive. I mean, what do you think that it takes to run a county-wide campaign? I mean, how much money are we talking about?
Yesenia Sanchez 18:27
We're talking to at least $250,000. At least, you know?
Louis Goodman 18:31
Yeah, no, I agree. I think at least $250,000.
Yesenia Sanchez 18:34
When you're talking about getting mailers out to our voters, it's a lot of money and especially what the postage being the way that it is right now and the cost of it. It's $85,000 roughly. And that's an estimate, but it's pretty close to that.
Louis Goodman 18:49
And that's for one mailer to households with two voters who voted in the last three elections or something, right? I mean, it's not like you're getting something out to absolutely everybody. I mean, it's a pretty targeted audience and it's still $85,000. You could get one piece of mail out. Yeah, no, I know it's expensive.
Yesenia Sanchez 19:13
That's not all that's involved. I mean, you talk about digital campaigning, phone banking, volunteers, you know, people knocking on doors and the printing behind the materials that go out when people are knocking on doors and whatnot. So it's an effort for sure.
Louis Goodman 19:29
Do you have a 30 second elevator speech?
Yesenia Sanchez 19:32
I kind of do. I mean, I think it's more than 30 seconds, but you know.
Louis Goodman 19:38
Let's hear it.
Yesenia Sanchez 19:39
Okay. Well, you know, I started working for the Sheriff's Office at 19 and we talked about this. I worked patrol investigations, jail operations, and administration. I've supervised in all of these areas. But now that I'm a 25-year veteran, highest ranking female in the agency, my role has changed, but the way that I treat people has not.
And you can't shift the culture of an agency as large as the Sheriff's being a leader by fear. You definitely have to be one who understands the concerns of the agency, but not only the agency, the community. And you have to establish relationships. And a shift of culture must be done in partnership and that partnership and those relationships are built from trust and credibility that doesn't develop overnight.
But as a woman of color, I have the lived experiences to understand and recognize bias and how it can lead to inequitable outcomes in our criminal justice system. And my vision is to create a safe and equitable quality of life for everyone.
Louis Goodman 20:37
Well, that came in and just under a minute, so. That works. It just as the elevators are running a little slowly. What sort of pushback have you gotten because you're running against the incumbent Sheriff who is presumably your boss?
Yesenia Sanchez 20:55
So, you know, there's always talk within the agency as far as like, people don't run because they don't, as far as internal candidates because they don't want to divide the agency. And when I first announced, and I had the discussion with the Sheriff that I would be running against him. I did not think that I made it, and I still make it a point that I'm not asking anyone to support me. I'm not asking within the agency, right? Because I don't want to put anybody in a position where they may suffer any type of retribution against for them supporting me.
So I definitely knew that I would be standing alone for the utmost part. And it definitely is clear that there is a separation, regardless of whether I like it or not. There have definitely been situations where I am left out of information sharing because I'm running against the Sheriff. So it's definitely been clear to me that the engagement and the communication has been severed between me and other leadership in the agency.
Louis Goodman 21:59
What specifically would you like to change about the way the Alameda County Sheriff's Department works?
Yesenia Sanchez 22:05
Oh, gosh! So...
Louis Goodman 22:07
Well, there's probably 20 ways you would like to change, but give me two that you think really you would like to work on immediately.
Yesenia Sanchez 22:19
For sure. So number one is being present and accessible. And I will be available to have those discussions and uncomfortable discussions and conversations. That's my role. That is what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm supposed to be out there walking in the communities and engaging with our communities, not just our community policing units, not just our staff. It's gotta be me and establishing relationships with our city leadership as well as our law enforcement's leadership in the neighboring cities.
My number two main point is to rethink how we provide, or we think of crime prevention and crime prevention can start at the jail by allowing for additional services to be provided by our community-based organizations, bringing them into the facility, creating opportunities for people that may have never had opportunities in the environments that they grew up in.
And so bringing career-based opportunities like working with our trades and our partners and with the construction trades and whatnot, we can bring curriculum into the jail.
Louis Goodman 23:32
I started out my law career as an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney, and then I've been doing really nothing but criminal defense in Alameda County ever since. And I've had a lot of experience. You and I have both spent our lives and our careers working around the same populations and dealing with the same issues, if from somewhat different angles. And it's been my experience, and I'm just wondering what your comment on this is, that the reason most people end up getting arrested is because they're drinking and drugging and when they are under the influence of substances, they act in a way that attracts the attention of the police.
Yesenia Sanchez 24:19
Yeah, that definitely is one of the main causes that draws people into incarceration and committing crimes, obviously. That brings them into jail. And it's definitely those who are under the influence of something, but also those who are suffering from some sort of mental health condition. And that's definitely something that we've seen, and we've heard calls for diverting people who have mental illness away from incarceration. And I believe that we should, because I know that jail is not a place that will do them any good.
We definitely need to develop or create more centers that would be able to not only house, but provide treatment in-house for those who have mental health conditions
Louis Goodman 25:08
And can some of that be done actually in Santa Rita Jail?
Yesenia Sanchez 25:13
It can if we build a different environment, because a jail cell is not the best for treatment.
Louis Goodman 25:22
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Yesenia Sanchez 25:24
I don't. I do not. I believe that the legal system is a one size fits all type of system in many ways, in some ways, not.
Louis Goodman 25:38
There's a lot of talk these days about woke law enforcement, progressive law enforcement. And what's your take on progressive as opposed to more traditional philosophies of criminal enforcement and prosecution?
Yesenia Sanchez 25:53
Yeah. So woke, I mean it's kind of a new term for me to be honest with you, but I think that it really goes to law enforcement and even justice partners, such as the DA's Office and our Judicial Council, being acknowledging that we have racial disparity in policing, and in the justice system, and in education and you name it.
So there's definitely being woke to that, I guess you could say. There has to be an acknowledgement and then by acknowledging it, what do we do to change the way we apply the sentencing or the law?
Louis Goodman 26:42
I'd like to shift gears here a little bit and ask you what your family life is like and how being a law enforcement officer has affected that and now how running for office has affected that?
Yesenia Sanchez 26:56
Yeah, family life is great. I'm very family oriented and I love spending as much time as I can with my family. But like any other law enforcement household, we've had our struggles, throughout the years. My husband is a retired Sergeant with the Sheriff's Office as well.
So he's also worked very intense assignments such as internal affairs, patrol and investigations. He was a homicide investigator for a few years. So that means many missed events, we missed birthdays, baptisms, holidays. So now we've shifted into this whole campaign and it's more missed birthdays, more missed events. So we've definitely been impacted, you know, with this whole campaign it's now really engaged.
Louis Goodman 27:39
Let's say you and your husband came into some real money. 3 or 4 billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Yesenia Sanchez 27:49
Gosh, 3 or 4 billion dollars. Billions, right? I don't think I would do anything differently, to be honest with you. I would definitely put a ton of money into cancer research, and funding after school programs for school-aged kids. And you would think that after a number of years, cancer is still affecting and impacting so many of us. And so that's definitely what that would be a focus for sure.
Would just still be a cop?
Yesenia Sanchez 28:15
I would still be a cop. Yes, absolutely.
Louis Goodman 28:20
Yesenia Sanchez. Thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
Yesenia Sanchez 28:28
Well, thank you, Louis. I appreciate this. This is my first podcast and you made it very entertaining and fun. I appreciate that.
Louis Goodman 28:36
That's it for today's episode of Love Thy 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.
Yesenia Sanchez 29:15
I'll have to look it up and get you the right information.