Leaving her post won’t be easy, but Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau – the County’s first-ever female sheriff – is already preparing to transition Sheriff-elect Javier Salazar into his new position as smoothly as possible come Jan. 1.

Folders and packets of information are already laid out on a small table in Pamerleau’s office – material meant to prep Salazar, a political newcomer, on all of the existing projects, plans, and procedures in the administrative offices of the Bexar County Adult Detention Center. Pamerleau didn’t expect to lose the election – which she did only by a 0.72% margin – and this year’s “strange” election cycle certainly didn’t help, she said.

Unlike three years ago, she said, there were two third-party candidates running in this year’s sheriff’s race, which ended up accounting for about 27,000 votes altogether. Straight-ticket voting this year – which nearly 58,000 more Democrats did than Republicans – also contributed to the outcome.

“I didn’t think the top of the ticket would have as much impact, but it did,” Pamerleau, a Republican, told the Rivard Report Friday.

Straight-ticket voting – which is only allowed in 10 U.S. states and is becoming less popular each year, according to the Washington Post – had a similar impact in other local races, where seasoned and effective public officials were swept out of office after a successful tenure.

Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau. Photo by Scott Ball.
Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Pamerleau, who retired as a two-star Maj. Gen. after 32 years in the U.S. Air Force and is a former USAA executive, is known by many for pouring her heart into her work to enhance the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

She anticipated getting re-elected for another term, but “it is what it is,” she said.

“What I’m proud of is that we’re going to hand over the sheriff’s office in the best condition it’s ever been in.”

There are many who would agree. When Pamerleau assumed her role as sheriff in 2013, she inherited an office that was in need of updates, she said, “from facilities to technology to … programs.

“The biggest challenge of all is really changing the culture,” she said, and that takes time.

Pamerleau immediately began taking major steps to update the facilities and modernize the office, including implementing radios to improve communications within the jail, equipping each jail officer with a stab vest, and increasing education, leadership, and training opportunities for the deputies. She also placed a special emphasis on treating mental health issues among inmates, action ultimately meant to improve the lives of the incarcerated and reduce the number of inmates in the jail.

Her extensive prior experience in personnel and budgetary management positions in the military prepared her to take on the sheriff’s numerous administrative tasks that come with overseeing all judicial support, including court security and operations of the Bexar County Adult Detention Center, the 16th largest jail in the nation.

Javier Salazar and his wife, Sarah, smile as supporters rally behind them.
Javier Salazar and his wife Sarah smile as supporters rally behind them on 2016 Election Night. Credit: Rocío Guenther / San Antonio Report

With all of the moving parts to oversee as sheriff, Salazar will inherit no easy task.

Pamerleau hopes that Salazar can continue to carry out the work she’s done and the vision she has implemented in the department. Salazar, who has been working with the San Antonio Police Department since 1993, anticipates doing so – and more.

A San Antonio native, Salazar began his career as an SAPD patrolman before moving into a variety of roles. Most recently, he acted as the leader of the public integrity unit. In the years between, he worked as one of the first members of the SAFFE Unit and was promoted to the rank of detective and eventually to sergeant in the Narcotics Unit. Salazar moved on to become an internal affairs investigator and then the SAPD Public Information Officer.

He’s confident that the good rapport he’s built with much of the community is what helped him come out on top on Election Night. Along with block walking, the SAPD veteran also attended PTA, church, and home owners association meetings to introduce himself and interact with the public.

“It really made a difference being on the doorstep talking to voters one at a time,” he said.

A key area Salazar hopes to address during his tenure is crime reduction, which he aims to achieve by “getting the public empowered and more involved in preventing crime.”

He also hopes to strengthen officer-community relations by encouraging citizens to participate in volunteer positions at the sheriff’s office as well as getting his deputies involved in various organizations around the city. Salazar, for example, sits on the board of the Rape Crisis Center.

“Then the community will see us as not just cops,” he said, “they’ll start to see us as humans.”

One of the more contentious talking points Salazar brought up during the campaign was the mandatory overtime the sheriff’s deputies had to work at the jail due to an increase of inmates.

Salazar and others say the mandatory overtime hours have led to an environment of poor morale. He has a plan to address the issue that he will implement as soon as he takes office.

“Myself and every one of my command staff are going to work one shift of mandatory overtime a week until we come up with a workable solution to start reducing those mandatory overtime hours in the jail,” he said. “I’m fairly confident that we’ll come up with some pretty creative solutions.”

As for the future, Pamerleau is maintaining optimism. She has already been offered several opportunities both in San Antonio and in Austin, she said, but did not want to disclose specifics.

“I’ve got every option open,” she said. “I’m getting pretty excited about what my future is going to hold.”

Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com