Sheriff Chad Bianco and Retired Capt. Michael Lujan

California’s primary election will take place on Tuesday, June 7, and one of the most-watched races for Riverside County voters will be the showdown between incumbent Sheriff Chad Bianco, and challenger Michael Lujan.

In a two-candidate race such as this one, if either candidate garners more than 50 percent of the votes cast on June 7—which is a near-certainty, with only two names on the ballot—there will be no general election held for this office: The candidate who gets the most votes wins.

Bianco is running for a second term—after a first term that has proven to be much more controversial than many of his 2018 election supporters expected. Born and raised in Utah, Bianco is a husband and father who has worked in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for some 28 years.

His challenger is Michael Lujan, who retired as a captain in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in December 2020, after 31 years of service. He lives with his wife in Menifee, where they are raising two daughters.

The Independent asked each candidate the same slate of questions. Lujan spoke with the Independent over the phone, while Bianco responded via email. Below are their complete answers, which have been edited only for style and clarity.


Chad Bianco

What two issues do you believe will demand most of your attention should you win the election?

Sheriff Chad Bianco.

Currently, fentanyl is the area of major concern for law enforcement. We must get a hold on the major increase of the drug being smuggled into our country, and the persons responsible for its distribution. It is the most lethal, highly addictive drug we have ever seen. We will continue to lose lives of those poisoned by the drug, and it will add to the drug addiction and mental issues of our homeless population.

Upward trends in criminal activity will continue to be an issue. While we must continue our very successful proactive efforts at criminal activity, we must also demand our Legislature reverse its pro-criminal, anti-public-safety agenda they call criminal reform.

What can U.S. law enforcement agencies do, and what can be done on the county sheriff’s level, to curb mass shootings? Are you concerned we may see such incidents taking place in Riverside County?

Mass shootings are not as common as you think. Take Sacramento, for instance; those were career criminals who have taken advantage of a soft-on-crime environment in California, at a party that law enforcement should have shut down. Instead of calling it what it is, we call it a “mass shooting” to scare people from going out into public. Because of media, social media and instantaneous worldwide news, we hear about them like they happen in our own neighborhoods on a weekly basis, but that is just not the case.

The truth of the matter is that we have evil people in the world. Many, but not all, have extensive criminal and mental-health issues that we ignore, for the most part. We do a fantastic job of intel-gathering and social media-monitoring, searching for these types of incidents in our area. We have a great relationship with our neighboring counties who do the same. We take public threats very seriously and follow up on all of them. While I pray we never have one of these in Riverside County, we judiciously look to stop them before they occur.

Data appearing on California’s Open Justice website show an increase in overall violent crime, aggravated assault, assault with a firearm and motor vehicle theft from 2018 to 2020, as reported by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. What steps need to be taken to reverse this trend?

Crime Type201820192020
Overall violent crime829932964
Aggravated assault601692740
Assault with a firearm8478125
Motor vehicle theft144414461690
Arson172425

We have already experienced a slowing or reversing of this trend as shown by 2021 statistics because of our efforts at proactive policing. When you ignore criminal activity, you foster an environment that promotes it. By engaging with the community and targeting the individuals and groups who commit the majority of crime, we will continue this downward trend. … The current trend of decriminalization and lack of punishment needs to change directions, or California will certainly suffer the consequences.

A Jan. 31, 2021, Uken Report article stated: “When Chad Bianco took over as Riverside County Sheriff in January 2019, approximately 3,000 to 3,400 carry concealed weapon (CCW) permits had been issued, according to Bianco. Today, two years later, more than 9,000 permits have been issued.” Does such a large increase in the number of Riverside County residents allowed to carry concealed weapons make all of the county’s residents safer, or are they more at risk of being a victim of gun violence?

That is a silly question. Only law-abiding residents ask permission and apply for concealed-weapons permits. Only law-abiding residents are allowed the permit. There are actually over 18,000 permits in Riverside County as of today. Why would a person with a concealed-carry permit be more at risk of “gun violence?” Quit calling it “gun violence.” Words mean things, similar to “mass shooting,” and that is why anti-gun activists call it gun violence. Guns are objects that cannot commit any violent act. They are a tool used by bad people who commit violent acts. Start focusing on the criminals committing the violence. Since 2019, we have not had a negative incident involving anyone with a concealed carry permit. We have had several incidents where someone with a concealed carry permit has stopped criminal activity, and prevented serious injury or loss of life. If law-abiding residents are prevented from having guns, then only the criminals have guns.

Given the intense residential and commercial development under way around Interstate 10, from Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage in the west, to Palm Desert’s Cook Street in the east—including the new arena, multiple hotels, resorts, housing communities and surf parks—is the Sheriff’s Department adequately prepared to meet the population surge that will result?

As the population increases, law enforcement levels must also increase. Our cities, particularly cities who contract with the Sheriff’s Department, understand that and are taking necessary steps and planning for an increased level of service. We are a very large and capable department and will be able to accommodate this need.

What your stance is on the question of whether the person elected to the office of Riverside County Sheriff should enforce all the duly-passed laws of the state, as well as legal public mandates issued by duly elected officials of the state of California?

As the sheriff, and the head law-enforcement officer for the county, it is my job to manage the enforcement of criminal laws which will best provide for the safety of our neighborhoods, schools and business communities, and to keep our residents safe from criminal activity. There may be some never-before-seen reason to enforce a mandate, but what we went through with COVID was not one of them. It is not, and never has been, the responsibility of law enforcement to keep society healthy. Politicians using a pandemic as a tool for social agendas should never be joined by law enforcement. Eventually, our news sources are going to start telling the whole truth to the public, and the politicians will “mandate” they are silenced. I, as your sheriff, will not be a part of that, either.

There is a reason why there was never a law concerning the mandates. That reason is the public would never have stood for it, and our lawmakers would have been held accountable. By making it a mandate, it’s easy to blame everyone else for the negatives and the failures. … For example, some uninformed people, including some in media, have blamed law enforcement for COVID deaths rather than the virus or personal health choices.


Michael Lujan

What two issues do you believe will demand most of your attention should you win the election?

One is assuring the public and our elected officials that we’re going to be removing partisan politics from the office, and follow the rule of law. To meet our public safety goals, we need to set aside our personal views, or politics in this case, and follow the rule of law in an equally and fairly balanced manner. I’ll restore the integrity of the office. That’s No. 1. No. 2, I think we’re very challenged with staffing. Currently, we have our John Benoit Detention Center (in Indio) that sits 90% vacant. We need to continue robust hiring to meet staffing needs as our department expands, because the county is in a constant state of growth.

Retired Capt. Michael Lujan.

It’s difficult to number a priority No. 1, 2 or 3. During my 31 years in the sheriff’s department, we’ve had to balance all priorities and work on achieving and resolving those challenges simultaneously.

What can U.S. law enforcement agencies do, and what can be done on the county sheriff’s level, to curb mass shootings? Are you concerned we may see such incidents taking place in Riverside County?

That’s a definite concern for Riverside County and for public safety as a whole. What we need to do is have public awareness, and encourage individuals to report any suspicious activity of individuals who may be talking on social media about conducting a mass shooting incident, or who have personal knowledge of a threat. I can recall one incident where it came out on social media at the Norco College campus, and we were able to stop that from occurring. So we need crime prevention, education and cooperation with the community and our elected officials in building that bridge of trust, where they can come and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m hearing.’ Then we can initiate an investigation to determine the validity and the credibility of any threat.

Data appearing on California’s Open Justice website show an increase in overall violent crime, aggravated assault, assault with a firearm and motor vehicle theft from 2018 to 2020, as reported by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. What steps need to be taken to reverse this trend?

Crime Type201820192020
Overall violent crime829932964
Aggravated assault601692740
Assault with a firearm8478125
Motor vehicle theft144414461690
Arson172425

We need to do a combination of things in the patrol field. One, we need to ensure that there’s adequate staffing on patrol. Also, we need to bring back our community-orientated policing philosophies where our deputies are out in the community, attending neighborhood watch meetings and crime-free multi-housing program meetings. We need to have a more robust presence in these communities so that we can talk to individuals and build these bridges of trust. We’re always going to see a rise and fall in crime, and when we see a dip in crime, we’re in the community more, doing more community-orientated policing. When the same deputy, or group of deputies, sits down with community groups—say, at an HOA meeting—you build and foster positive professional relationships with those members of the community. They, in turn, will report chronic problem situations, or they’ll report potential crimes that are about to occur. So we need to re-establish that communication and trust with the community.

When Sheriff Bianco first ran for office, he said he was going to bring about community-orientated policing strategies and philosophies. I’ve yet to see it, but they are effective when you have that trust. When the public sees the deputy sheriff as someone more than just a peace officer—when they see a deputy sheriff as an individual who is there to help them and make a difference in their lives, and will keep the community safe—it helps. As a young deputy, I was a member of the community-orientated policing team, and we got to know people on a first-name basis. We’ve got to build trust and respect for what community members and activists do in their communities, and build mutual trust and respect for what the deputies do to make the communities safe. We need to bring that back. We’re seeing now that there’s a lot of increased staffing in specialized units. Our SWAT team has been increased. Our narcotics units have been increased. But we need to start transitioning toward a more community-orientated policing philosophy, and re-establish trust with the community.

It starts at the top. It starts with the leadership. In Riverside County, you’ve probably seen division within our community based on partisan politics. We need to end the politics there so that we can rebuild our communities and make them as safe as possible. We need mutual trust between the community and, not only law enforcement, but all our public agencies.

A Jan. 31, 2021, Uken Report article stated: “When Chad Bianco took over as Riverside County Sheriff in January 2019, approximately 3,000 to 3,400 carry concealed weapon (CCW) permits had been issued, according to Bianco. Today, two years later, more than 9,000 permits have been issued.” Does such a large increase in the number of Riverside County residents allowed to carry concealed weapons make all of the county’s residents safer, or are they more at risk of being a victim of gun violence?

I don’t necessarily believe it’s going to make anyone in the county more safe or more at risk for gun violence. The law allows for a CCW process, and we are a “may” issue state, as opposed to a “shall” issue state. Also, we have to recognize that when someone is applying for a CCW, there has to be a good cause and justification for the CCW. I believe we need to follow the rule of the law and the processes that are established in the CCW program, but I also believe we should recognize that there has to be a just cause, or a good cause, for it as described.

I don’t believe that the individuals who are receiving CCWs pose an inherent threat to public safety. My concern is that, if at some point in time, they felt the need to defend themselves, are they very proficient in the use of their firearm, other than having gone through a firearms-safety course. That’s very difficult, and it’s a perishable skill. I’ve yet to experience someone with a CCW engaging another individual out in the public, or in the privacy of their home with a firearm. I really haven’t been informed through studies or statistics on whether or not it’s a little more dangerous. It is concerning. It’s always concerning when there are more people out there with guns who might, say, go to dinner and have some drinks and not be of sound mind.

Given the intense residential and commercial development under way around Interstate 10, from Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage in the west, to Palm Desert’s Cook Street in the east—including the new arena, multiple hotels, resorts, housing communities and surf parks—is the Sheriff’s Department adequately prepared to meet the population surge that will result?

Yes. The department has recognized that development is going on, not only in the Coachella Valley, but throughout the entire county. We recognize that our population growth is rapid. The department, at least when I was in it, was planning to increase staffing. Currently, our staffing runs at about 4,000 for the department, with a total authorization for 4,900 in the department. Of that 4,900, I think about 4,200 are actually funded now. That is in anticipation of the growth of the county, which will coincide with the growth of the department.

I would encourage anyone out in the Coachella Valley or any of our desert communities to consider a career in corrections as part of the Sheriff’s Department. It an outstanding career that provides a good income with benefits and retirement. When we do robust recruiting out there, we want to get qualified applicants who live in the area to help us with our public safety mission.

What your stance is on the question of whether the person elected to the office of Riverside County Sheriff should enforce all the duly-passed laws of the state, as well as legal public mandates issued by duly elected officials of the state of California?

I think we should enforce the law, and we should enforce the law in two manners: one, to the letter of the law, and; two, in the spirit of the law. We should work diligently to gain lawful compliance with the law. I think it’s important that, if the law allows for enforcement, educating an individual who’s in violation of the law and asking for compliance should be our first step. The second step then would be to take corrective action, take the person into custody and issue a citation. So, yes, I do believe we should enforce the laws as they were either passed by the Legislature, or if they were passed by the voters via a proposition.

I do believe we should support enforcement of a mandate. During the pandemic, I do believe we should support the mandate, because the government code allows for that. I believe it’s Government Code 8665 that outlines the penalty for violating a mandate, such as the mandate to wear a mask. There is actually a government code that says that the governor has that authority to prevent the spread of the disease or of a pandemic, during a natural disaster or a state of emergency.

If you’re focusing in on the mask as being part of general public policy, then you can respond in a couple of ways. Most people will comply with the mandate, because it has to do with public safety and the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic. If there are those who are not complying with it, it’s easy to gain compliance by just explaining the government code to the individual, asking for compliance, and informing them that the consequences of violating the government code could result in an arrest, a citation—and, of course, you’d have to go to court. The majority of our residents are very reasonable and understanding once you explain the law to them. Voluntary compliance is the goal, and it’s usually achieved once you explain it.

Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, more than a year after he and his wife moved from Los Angeles...

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2 Comments

  1. I have been a resident of Riverside County since 1990.Ever since Chad Bianco tool the office of Riverside County Sheriff/Coroner there has been a huge improvement of a open door policy between the residents and the Sheriffs.Chad has proven his efforts by creating podcasts available to the public on youtube.
    By providing the podcasts I have learn things about the Riverside Sheriffs Department I never known they did.If you watch the podcasts Chad Bianco has different guests from a variety of positions in the Sheriff Department to explain the issues actively happening and it is explained what is being done to combat the issues.
    I am also a former Army Veteran and in the Military you need leaders who have a open door policy,they listen to you,they provide a goal and most importantly give you a game plan in how to successfully accomplish your mission.
    Sheriff Chad Bianco fills those shoes.
    For me as a long time Riverside County resident and Army Veteran he has my vote in this upcoming election.
    Sergeant C

  2. Happy to support Chad Bianco. Appreciate someone willing to review and respond in an appropriate manner for law enforcement. He is “boots on the ground” and will not mince words.

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