SAN JOSE -- Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith earned a fifth term as the county's top cop Tuesday night, with a healthy lead over retired sheriff's captain Kevin Jensen.

Smith has garnered about 60 percent of the vote counted, with all mail-in ballots and precinct tallies counted as of early Wednesday.

The sheriff's race is nonpartisan, and with only two candidates, no runoff will be held. Smith, 62, the first elected female sheriff in California history, has spent her entire career at the department and could now end up leading it for 20 years.

"It's a mandate to continue the work that we do," Smith said. "We'll focus on ways to look for positives and how we can do better all around. I'm looking forward to it."

First among issues to tackle, she said, is working to decrease recidivism rates among convicts moved to county supervision under prison realignment, which she calls a game-changing policy in law enforcement.

She also expressed the need to heal rifts from the toughest of Smith's four re-election bids. Jensen, with an accomplished 28-year career at the agency, entered the race armed with unprecedented political bona fides, including the support of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, which traditionally backed incumbents. Jensen's campaign became a vehicle for dissatisfaction with what critics pegged as Smith's brash leadership style.

"You've got someone with no name recognition whatsoever getting 40 percent," Jensen said. "No matter how long it takes, we need to get this department back on track. I'm not going anywhere."


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A controversial mailer contended Smith mishandled high-profile cases including the Sierra LaMar kidnap-murder and Audrie Pott's cyberbullying-influenced suicide and its treatment of 49ers star linebacker Aldon Smith after he was charged with weapons offenses.

Smith denounced the mailer, as did the Pott family.

Smith's record includes overseeing the agency as it resumed control of the county jails, and she was among the first sheriffs in the state to deny noncriminal detainer requests from federal immigration authorities for undocumented immigrants, a practice increasingly followed statewide.

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.