Sandy Zamor-Calixte, one of two candidates who will be vying for the Suffolk County Sherriff’s seat in the Sept. 7 State Primary, was on hand Tuesday, June 28, for a virtual discussion sponsored by the Boston Ward 4 and Ward 5 Democratic committees.
A 16-year veteran of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department who last served as Chief of External Affairs and Communication, Zamor-Calixte was joined for the discussion by the event moderator, Danielle Allen, who is the James Bryant Conant University professor at Harvard University, as well as a director of the Edmund J. Safra Center for Ethics. (The online event was originally planned as an online debate between Zamor-Calixte and Steve Tompkins, who currently serves as Suffolk County Sherriff, but Tompkins was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, according to Allen.)
Asked how she would explain the most important roles of the sheriff’s office to her 11-year-old child, Zamor-Calixte replied “care, custody, and control.”
As sheriff, Zamor-Calixte said she would look closely at “evidence-based programs” as opposed to assessing. She said she also evaluate the sheer volume of programming currently operating under the auspices of the sheriff’s office and suggested that rather than 80 different programs, they could perhaps offer half as many programs while allocating surplus funds elsewhere.
Additionally, Zamor-Calixte said she would work to help the previously incarcerated overcome “systematic barriers” upon reentry, such as obtaining a Massachusetts ID, which is needed to secure employment and housing. The goal, she said, would be upon reentry, for individuals to reintegrate into their families and communities to become successful.
Zamor-Calixte said the majority of those incarcerated have a fifth- to seventh-grade education level, suggesting that not having the resources they needed is what landed many of them behind bars in the first place.
During her lengthy tenure with the Suffolk County Sherriff’s Department, Zamor-Calixte said she came to realize their offices need to be more “transparent,” and that “more voices need to be heard.”
In an effort to overcome what she described as “implicit and explicit biases,” Zamor-Calixte said she believes training in the department is imperative.
Zamor-Calixte said she didn’t support Sheriff Tompkins’ plan to build a courtroom and addiction treatment facility at the South Bay House of Correction to help address the ongoing opioid crisis at nearby Mass and Cass. Instead, she has recommended renting or leasing the ICE building to the state’s Department of Public Health, where they could deliver day-to-day wraparound services to patients.
But her suggestion was firmly rejected, said Zamor-Calixte, and this is why she is now coming out from “behind the scenes” to seek the sheriff’s seat.
“I didn’t have the power to implement a lot of things I thought we needed for the community,” she said.
If elected, Zamor-Calixte said she would look at human resources, as well as the staffing shortages now facing the department. She added that the department is also now lacking a recruitment department.
Moreover, Zamor-Calixte said she intends to establish an Advisory Board for the department comprising representatives from both the Department of Public Health and the state’s Education Board; someone from the business world, as well as from religious world, respectively; someone who has been previously incarcerated ; and a family member of a previously incarcerated individual.
As for the most-important leadership lessons she has learned thus far on the job, Zamor-Calixte responded, “You have to be empathetic. You have to be able to see things through different lenses. You have to listen…and understand everyone’s journey is different and respect that.”
Zamor-Calixte also underscores the importance of sharing “knowledge.”
“Knowledge is key,” she said. “You need to present them with knowledge rather than implement change to make them understand why the change is being made.”
On the lessons she has learned from the pandemic, Zamor-Calixte said more than ever before, leasers need to be “present, proactive, and active.”
This discussion was preceded by a virtual candidates forum for the Suffolk County district attorney’s race and debate between interim Suffolk County DA Kevin Hayden and Boston District 7 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, his challenger in the Sept. 7 State Primary , which was also sponsored by the Boston Ward 4 and Ward 5 Democratic committees.