Former San Jose assistant police chief jumps into sheriff’s race
Dave Knopf, former assistant chief of the San Jose Police Department, recently filed papers to run for Santa Clara County sheriff. Photo courtesy of Knopf.

A former police officer is stepping into the increasingly crowded election for Santa Clara County sheriff.

Dave Knopf, former assistant chief of the San Jose Police Department, filed papers last week to run for sheriff.

Knopf began his career in law enforcement working for the Morgan Hill Police Department in 1988. He transferred to SJPD in 1992 where he rose through the ranks to become assistant chief of police in 2016. He briefly served as acting chief after former Police Chief Eddie Garcia retired, before hanging up his hat in 2021.

Knopf told San José Spotlight he believes some of the issues afflicting the Sheriff’s Office are similar to what he encountered at the San Jose Police Department six years ago, including lack of morale and leadership, retention issues and trouble hiring.

“I’ve done this before, I can fix this,” Knopf said. As assistant chief, he helped the department implement a use of force policy, establish de-escalation training and create community advisory boards. When San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo proposed banning rubber bullets for crowd control at protests, Knopf publicly argued for their use against violent protesters.

Garcia told San José Spotlight he believes Knopf would be fantastic for Santa Clara County as sheriff, citing his talents as a morale builder.

“Dave knows how to strike change, particularly in law enforcement, and particularly in the era we’re in right now,” Garcia said.

Knopf, who is still assembling his campaign team, said if elected he will focus on restoring the morale of the office, which has been plagued by scandals for months. Knopf said the office must work on its transparency and improve treatment of people held in custody.

Knopf said he doesn’t have endorsements yet. He acknowledged he’s the only person running who doesn’t have experience working at the Sheriff’s Office, but he doesn’t see this as a disadvantage.

“I think a fresh set of eyes and a fresh perspective from the outside is going to be paramount to fixing the issues currently going on,” Knopf said.

Two other candidates are officially running for sheriff: retired Captain Kevin Jensen and Sergeant Christine Nagaye. Sergeant Sean Allen also announced his intention to run in the race and plans to file soon.

A standing mystery is whether Sheriff Laurie Smith plans to run for a seventh term.

Smith, who became sheriff in 1998, has weathered a year of escalating crises. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors called for state and federal investigations of Smith’s management of the jail system following injuries to mentally ill inmates. The board followed that with a vote of no confidence in Smith’s leadership last August. More recently, a civil grand jury announced an accusation against Smith for alleged corrupt misconduct that included granting concealed weapon licenses to donors and political supporters. A hearing for the accusation is scheduled in San Mateo County court this Friday.

Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter. 

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