From former stormtrooper to protecting South Bay, meet Santa Clara Co. Sheriff-elect Bob Jonsen

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Thursday, December 8, 2022
1-on-1 with Santa Clara Co. Sheriff-elect Bob Jonsen
ABC7 News talks one-on-one with Bob Jonsen, Santa Clara County's new sheriff-elect who will assume his duties on an interim basis beginning Thursday.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County sheriff-elect and former Palo Alto Police Chief Bob Jonsen will assume his duties on an interim basis beginning Thursday. He'll be officially sworn into office next month.

For the county, the move marks a new chapter - or should we say, "episode." Among his accomplishments, Sheriff-elect Jonsen is a former "Star Wars" extra.

"I was a stormtrooper in 'Return of the Jedi,'" he told ABC7 News. "It's the scene in the forest where Luke is chasing the stormtrooper."

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"I'm the one on that motorbike," Jonsen explained.

In the lifetime that followed, the Novato native pursued a career in law enforcement. He was influenced by his father who worked for SFPD and later retired from the city's fire department.

Now, Jonsen's journey is coming full circle in Santa Clara County.

"He's my great-great uncle, Jonathan Sweigert, was the 11th sheriff of Santa Clara County," he said. "It's a great lineage to have and I'm very excited to be part of it."

Jonsen is getting the opportunity a month earlier than expected, after county supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint the "presumptive sheriff-elect" to fill the vacancy.

Since Tuesday, Jonsen said the onboarding process started, he's already filled out administrative paperwork and is setting up meetings.

On Wednesday, the county's Registrar of Voters Office published final official results.

"There's a lot of healing to repair the distractions that need to happen in the sheriff's office," Supervisor Otto Lee said during Tuesday's meeting. "And the sheriff-elect should be given the opportunity to start that healing now."

"We're moving forward. That's gonna be my number one objective," Jonsen told ABC7 News. "Progressing forward everyday and really building that trust back, and really becoming more transparent and accountable to the community we serve."

Trust was tested after former Sheriff Laurie Smith left her post amid scandal. Last month, she was found guilty on six corruption and misconduct counts in a civil trial. Smith served as sheriff for more than two decades.

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The I-Team's Dan Noyes was the only reporter to question the former Santa Clara County sheriff following her resignation amid a corruption trial.

"This is the first time many of them have had a new sheriff for a vast majority of the organization," Sheriff-elect Jonsen said. "I really want to engage with the workforce, understand what we need to do. And that's something I've always done as well - is really meeting the personnel, talking with them, hearing what they're expecting, and also sharing my expectations."

He said the community will certainly recognize his accessibility.

"I'm a very engaging type of leader," he said. "That's how I like to operate, is connecting with the communities, connecting with the residents who we serve. I'll be doing a lot of that, especially in the first few months."

On the eve of his sheriffship, Jonsen said he's set for the early start.

"Got the boots today, shined them up, and the uniform," he told ABC7 News. "So, I'll be ready to go!"

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