The Republican candidate for sheriff with the fewest years living in Kerr County realizes that’s an issue for some voters. You might say it’s a giraffe in a room full of elephants at every Republican candidate forum.
But Mitch Lambdin, a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant who moved to the area with his wife and four children in 2015, addresses the matter head-on. The topic has its own page on his website. Even though he was born and raised in southern California, he has “Texas values,” the pages state.
“That’s why I’m here,” Lambdin said during an interview this week. “The last thing I want is Californians who want to turn this place into California.”
Lambdin said he spotted a Hoover Crip gangster from L.A. checking out at Walmart in Kerrville. Lambdin recognized the man's gang tattoo from his time being in charge of a gang unit in the Watts District of South Los Angeles.
"I have encountered four or five San Antonio gang members who are patients while visiting the sick for my ministry with Notre Dame Church," Lambdin said. "It is not unusual to see obvious criminal element traveling through Kerrville from time to time that appear to be from elsewhere."
Lambdin, who has 33 years of police experience, argues that his background providing law and order in some of the highest crime areas of the country is a big advantage — even in a small county like Kerr.
“It’s kind of a transition time for Kerr County,” Lambdin said. “And with the growth, it’s not even the same place I moved to five years ago.”
Lambdin said he sees himself being a one- or two-term sheriff, and wants to prepare Kerr County for the growth that’s coming. He doesn’t need the money.
“The sheriff is not a job, it’s a calling; it’s something different,” Lambdin said. “When I leave, there will be people who are trained and capable as the next sheriff.”
Even though it took him a while to get to Texas, Lambdin indicated he wouldn’t have wanted to earn his chops anywhere other than the LAPD, which he called “the finest law enforcement agency probably in the world.”
Professionalism was a high priority at a law enforcement agency in a blue state with local political leaders and a public sometimes perceived as hostile toward, he indicated.
“You know that you will be constantly scrutinized,” Lambdin said. “By being in that environment, it makes you a little better, because you have to be.”
Lambdin his law enforcement career an 18-year-old in a cadet program in Anaheim, California. He worked as a police officer at the Vernon police department, then went to the agency in Compton before settling at LAPD, where he helped plan and implement security for multiple Academy Awards ceremonies, basketball games, and U.S. presidential visits.
“Their pay is not as good, but for me it was about service, excellence and training,” Lambdin said. “It’s never been about a paycheck to me.”
Since retiring to Kerr County, Lambdin has kept busy by developing safety plans for security plans for two local schools and an emergency operations plan for his church, Notre Dame. He’s on the council of Notre Dame Catholic School, which his children attend; services as a minister to the sick at Peterson Regional Medical Center; volunteers as a pick-up driver for St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop.
Lambdin also is the only one of the candidates who has experience supervising a jail.
“I did that as a watch commander for 11 years,” Lambdin said. “Which is why I think I’m uniquely qualified. I’d manage two homicide investigations, and my jail, and maybe a disturbance in a housing project and keep it all going.”
As to the changes he’d make as sheriff, Lambdin said there are ways to modernize the department that would allow employees there to “work smarter, not harder” — ways that involve technologies and processes he encountered in his career in larger agencies. He also has talked about establishing a nonprofit to help fund some of these innovations, as sheriffs are at the mercy of their commissioners courts when it comes to funding, and Kerr County sheriff’s office has a much smaller budget than what he’s used to. It’s about putting training and systems in place, not about hiring more people, he said.
“I’ve taken over commands before, I know how to do that,” Lambdin said.