John Robinson is sitting at his desk, talking on the phone. He is a serious, no frills guy.
As CEO of Inter-State Security in Bay View Hunters Point, he oversees a company with over 100 employees that provide security for businesses, people and events throughout the Bay Area.
Robinson started Inter-State Security in 1996, after leaving the S.F. Sheriff’s department as a lieutenant in 1994. He worked for the department for 20 years, where he was supervisor of the year and one the highest-ranking Black officers in the department.
Because of his history, the Sheriff’s department is one agency he cares deeply about. So when news of problems in the department arose within the last few years in media reports, he started to take note and wondered what he could do to make a difference.
“After reading the various accounts about problems in the Sheriff’s department and after talking to several people in the department who I know very well, I decided I could make a change by running for the Sheriffs office,” said Robinson.
Robinson announced his decision to join the November 2016 election with a kick-off event at Southeast Community College.
Now, he can be seen early mornings handing out campaign information at BART stations.
While he doesn’t have the name recognition of incumbent Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi or challenger Vicki Hennessy, a former chief deputy in the department, he says his campaign has ‘energy.’
“We are getting out early and helping to get my name out,” said Robinson. “The response has been positive, and we are attending all of the various speaking engagements and debates.”
He lists several problems he sees with the department under the leadership of Sheriff Mirkarimi. Robinson says there has been gladiator-style fighting between inmates hosted by deputy sheriffs in the back of the county jail.
Certain newspapers like the San Francisco Bay View are not allowed in the jail. And two questionable fatalities in situations supervised by San Francisco Sheriffs directly reflect on the role of the sheriff.
One was the death of Lynne Spalding, a 57-year old woman at San Francisco General Hospital who was missing for 18 days in the hospital, before being found dead in the stairwell at the hospital.
The other was the death of Alvin Haynes, a 57-year old man, who died in sheriff custody, one hour after an altercation with deputies in San Francisco County Jail.
“There needs to be accountability in that office and right now, I do not see it,” said Robinson.
He also talked about failure of the Sheriff’s office to communicate with federal immigration officials and the high levels of incarceration of African Americans, who make up 7 percent of the city’s population but are 50 percent of the people in the county jail system.
With all the problems, Robinson believes this is the time for him to run for office.
“I’m not trying to be the sheriff because I need a job,” he said. “I want to be sheriff to do the job.”