Mark Salazar says he found his calling early in life while growing up on the tough streets of east Bakersfield.
“Crime scene tape (was) everywhere. I was stopped probably 20 times when I was a kid in east Bakersfield. But I remember one sergeant that treated me with respect and was professional. And I told my peers at the time, I want to be a cop. And that wasn’t very popular for the neighborhood I grew up in. I believe you can make a difference,” Salazar said at a news conference Friday afternoon announcing his run for Fresno County Sheriff.
Salazar is the second announced candidate for the upcoming open sheriff’s position. Sheriff Margaret Mims is not seeking another term and exits in January. She has endorsed her assistant sheriff, John Zanoni.
Salazar — a 25-year Fresno Police Department veteran who is deputy chief — twice applied to become chief of police. Salazar said he planned to run for sheriff, but the opportunity comes earlier than expected with Mims’ pending retirement.
“I was prepared to run in 2026 and I was ready for that. And then last week, when the incumbent Sheriff Mims decided not to run, that’s when, again, I prayed. I probably talked to a half-dozen pastors this past weekend. Many times with my wife, a one-on-one with the family, as well. And so without that, the blessings to move forward, I wouldn’t be here,” Salazar said.
Focus on the Jail
Mims has been criticized by civil rights groups and pro-safety advocates. Some say the Fresno County Jail is unsafe for the inmates. Residents are unhappy that criminals are released early because of overcrowding.
“There needs to be a fresh set of eyes on the jail situation. And so in the Fresno Police Department, the last year we’ve booked over a thousand gang members. Over 900 have been released. The number one reason was overcrowding,” Salazar said. “I would bring a different perspective.”
The sheriff’s office has also been criticized for cooperating with federal immigration agents.
“I’m not here to grandstand on immigration issues. I’m going to follow the law, what the law says. I’m from the era of the Fresno Police Department, when we do operations, we don’t ask (about) immigration status,” Salazar said.
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) February 25, 2022
Both Salazar and Zanoni Support CCW Permits
Mims is known for low barriers when issuing concealed carry weapons permits. Both Salazar and Zanoni say they plan to keep that policy.
“I believe in the Second Amendment,” Salazar said. “I do believe in the CCW process.”
Salazar said he referred many friends who live outside the city of Fresno to the county for CCW permits.
Zanoni told GV Wire: “I am a strong advocate of Second Amendment rights and we will continue to issue CCW permits as we do now under Sheriff Mims.”
Salazar, Zanoni Live in Same Part of Town
Salazar says he’s known Zanoni professionally but did not realize they only live a few blocks away from each other in northwest Fresno. Both are similar in age — Salazar is 50, Zanoni is 48; both are married and have children.
However, Zanoni is a Republican and Salazar is a Democrat.
“I am a Democrat and that came from my upbringing being raised by my grandparents,” Salazar said. “My grandfather ran Local 220 in Bakersfield, and during that time there were strikes. There were other union meetings and as a young kid, I was with him at those breakfasts and at those meetings and he had a big influence on my life.
“Ever since then, I identified as Democrat. But when you look at my record, it’s a crime-fighting record. It’s a record that has kept people safe over the years in the Fresno Police Department. As sheriff, it will keep people safe in the county.”
Schmidt Rules Out a Run
Also on Friday, sheriff’s deputy Eric Schmidt, who is president of the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association, told GV Wire that he has decided not to run for sheriff.
“I feel I am best suited to continue serving our deputies in the role I have been elected to serve,” Schmidt said.
Will Dyer Endorse in Sheriff’s Race?
Zanoni has Mims backing. Salazar did not announce any endorsements at his news conference but says he will soon.
A highly-sought endorsement could be that of Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer. For 18 years as chief of police in Fresno, Dyer supervised Salazar.
“Hard to say,” Dyer texted GV Wire about his timeline to make an endorsement, if any.