San Francisco's 37th sheriff, Paul Miyamoto, was sworn in Wednesday afternoon at City Hall, marking the first time any California county has had an Asian American in this law enforcement role.
California attorney general Xavier Becerra conducted the swearing-in at City Hall, all while Mayor London Breed was having her own second inauguration upstairs, and just hours before a similar swearing-in ceremony for District Attorney Chesa Boudin. The ceremony began with a performance by the SFPD Lion Dance Crew, an then some militaristic pomp and circumstance with sheriff's deputies in old-timey costume.
Undersheriff Matthew Freeman led the ceremony and made all the introductions, praising Miyamoto as a man of great integrity with over 23 years of service under his belt to the City and County of San Francisco. Miyamoto, a native of San Francisco and a graduate of Lowell High School, was deputy under Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who announced last year that she was retiring and not seeking reelection in November. He was Hennessy's chosen successor, and he ran unopposed.
During the swearing in, Miyamoto's wife and former boss in the sheriff's department, LeeAnn, held the Bible.
Hennessy was unable to attend the ceremony because she was undergoing knee surgery — one of several she's endured in the last year — but she submitted a message to the ceremony via a recorded video.
"There's nothing quite like your first day as sheriff... enjoy every moment," Hennessy said in the video. "Just remember, the sheriff's job is a marathon, not a sprint. This is a demanding job where you will feel the glare of the spotlight, whether you want to or not."
She added, "Paul, you are the right person for the right time to take up the sheriff's mantle... You've earned it. Now, get to work."
Miyamoto discussed how his grandfather immigrated to San Francisco around the time of the 1906 earthquake. He eventually built a successful dry cleaning business, and raised a family here. Later the family was relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II — even while Miyamoto's grandfather's brothers fought for the U.S. in the war. Miyamoto said that while he and his family may have faced discrimination and other challenges, he was still proud to serve this city.
"Every day I don this uniform alongside some of the finest people I'll ever know... I'm honored to have worked for and with Vicki Hennessy," he said, noting that she was the first woman to hold the job.
He also added that the increase in the number of incarcerated people with mental and behavioral health disorders has been a particular challenge for the Sheriff's Department in recent years, which has been dealt with in part with the establishment of new behavioral health units in the county jail.
Regarding his being the first Asian American to hold the sheriff's job, Miyamoto told KTVU on Tuesday, "It hasn't really struck me, the historical import. There's a humbling feeling, of being a groundbreaker and moving forward as someone of Asian American descent. Especially in this day and age, to be the first at something, is not just an accomplishment but a responsibility, to be someone who models the positive behaviors I want to see in the department." He further acknowledged that there are trust and accountability issues with law enforcement, as far as public perception goes, and he hopes to heal some of those in his tenure.
Because San Francisco is both a city and county, the Sheriff's Department's jurisdiction can be a source of confusion for some newcomers. Sheriff's deputies oversee both Zuckerberg SF General Hospital and Laguna Honda Hospital, as well as multiple city-run clinics, City Hall, the county courthouse, and the county jail. The job has tended to come with long tenures, though Hennessy's tenure and that of her predecessor were relatively brief.
Hennessy was appointed interim sheriff in 2012, during the suspension-amid-scandal of Ross Mirkarimi, and likely because of that domestic-abuse scandal, Mirkarimi only held the job for four years after his six-month suspension in 2012. Hennessy won election in 2015 and announced her retirement less than four years later.