#1) There is concern among civil libertarians and left and right political elements that local law enforcement is being armed to the point they represent a standing army in our communities. Can you comment to the proliferation of combat gear into local law enforcement? Do you believe law enforcement constitutes the “community element” of federal Homeland Security?
JE – Yes, as time goes by, law enforcement officers have added to their implements of peace keeping. The biggest change was after the North Hollywood bank shootout with two heavily armed robbers dressed with bullet resistant clothes; etc. The L.A.P.D. officers basically had pistols and some shotguns to take on military equipped bank robbers. Ever since that day, the industry standard moved towards more capabilities for the frontline first responding officers. Additional mass shooting events in schools fed that trend for a more capable response from the first on scene officers. The addition to Tasers (electronic control devices) have also greatly improved the choice of less than lethal scale for patrol personal and has saved many officers and suspect from death or injuries; myself included. I do not see local law enforcement in any way to be used as a standing army nor are we the “community element” of Homeland Security. I strongly believe in local law enforcement. Elected by the local people, officers living in their work area and being part of their community. I am not “pro” towards federal law enforcement. In 7 years as sheriff, there was only one occasion, which the F.B.I. was used in an investigation. It was a case involving a local municipality and the case required a forensic accountant. We obviously do not have one in our small office and the cost to hire one would be very high. We received an offer of a forensic accountant investigator from the F.B.I. to help with that one case. I have not requested the ATF, IRS, FBI or DEA to get involved in any other investigations. I prefer local officers handling local investigations. Homeland Security in my mind is to protect our borders from other worldly threats.
#2) Sierra County has a lot of USFS land. In many California Counties the county sheriffs have declined to allow FS law enforcement to have police powers in some instances. In addition, it has been pointed out that local law enforcement often does marijuana eradication on federal land at the cost of county taxpayers. Can you comment on Sheriff Office relations with the Forest Service, and/or the cost to local taxpayers of law enforcement services provided to the FS?
JE – To my knowledge I am one of about six California sheriffs that do not grant state peace officer powers to the U.S.F.S. law enforcement personnel. As I have said in the past, they have all the federal peace officer powers they need to enforce their federal regulations on federal land. The sheriff’s office is a local law enforcement agency and as such enforces State law any where within the county lines, including in the national forest within Sierra County. Our citizens do not think that State laws end when entering the forest and nor should their protection from criminal elements in the forests. Especially from Drug Trafficking Organizations of large scale (tens of thousands plants) grows of marijuana by armed often-illegal aliens within our county borders. The sheriff’s office rarely, if ever, uses local general fund dollars to go after these illegal dangerous commercial grows. The sheriff’s office uses funds from cooperative agreements and drug grants specifically for these purposes. We are generally reimbursed for these costs by the U.S.F.S. and trickle down State drug grants.
#3) Sierra County is a small place; do you think law enforcement in SC is different from law enforcement elsewhere, and if so, how?
JE – Law enforcement in Sierra County is unique from most other areas in California. Because we are so small, eight sworn officers for 962 square miles, 24/7, we have to have very good people skills, good common sense and great judgment. How you handle people usually depends on how the contact is going to go, and often help is a long ways out. Your personal reputation and presence will usually set the tone as well. You have to know when to make a law enforcement contact and know when to pull-out and wait for help or not. The vast majority of people in Sierra County are very good and helpful and I am certain they would help us if we needed their assistance. In urban areas back-up with 3 cars is usually within 3 minutes. Here it can easily be over a half an hour or more, so you have to pick and choose your engagements and be ready to put-up if pressed. The good news is that here everyone is an investigator, not just a beat cop stringing out crime scene tape waiting for the detectives to come and take over. Here you get to see your cases all the way through. You get a great sense of reward helping people that you actually know and your children may play with theirs, maybe you go to church with them too. The bad part is that cuts both ways. In the city you usually have never met the people you are dealing with, so you have no personal emotional investment or history with them. One of the hardest things of working here is that you usually know everyone, for good and bad contacts. I have had to arrest friends and do coroner’s cases on friends as well. Sometimes we even have to deal with our family members who are people too. That can be very hard, so you just put on the professional face, do your job and move forward. In the cities the cops go home an hour away and no one knows who they are or what they do for a living. Some officers prefer that, I would rather stay here and help people I know and have a community relationship with. That is very rewarding helping people you actually know.
#4) What is your position on medical cannabis grows in the county? What is your position on med can dispensaries?
JE – Concerning medicinal marijuana cannabis grows in the county it is very easy, just follow the State laws. I am against those who use the Prop 215 process to grow and sell marijuana commercially for personal gain. I believe that goes beyond the intent of the people of the State who passed the proposition to allow the compassionate use of marijuana for medicinal use for those who have an actual valid medical doctors’ recommendation for themselves or if they are the primary designated sole caregiver to an applicable patient. There are many who have taken advantage of Prop 215 to make a lot of illicit money to support their personal lifestyle, often illegally. I believe these people are corrupting the intent of the law and the risk of hurting the validity if the intended use by the people of this state. I do not believe Sierra County requires any dispensaries here. There are plenty people growing it legally to provide it to those who are entitled to its use. There is plenty of space for individuals who follow the law to grow their own here and therefore is no need to allow stores to sell it to the general public here in little Sierra County. I believe a dispensary here in Sierra County would attract pot smokers from adjoining areas, such as the large city of Reno, Nevada, just next door. Sierra County is a residential and ranching community and I do not think our public would like to move away from that image to one of a pot-supplying county.
#5) The county sheriff issues concealed carry weapons; there is a mandated background check. California doesn’t allow open carry; a recent court decision makes it difficult for sheriffs to withhold a concealed weapon for a person who does not fit into the “prohibited” category (those with domestic violence, some drug felonies, some mental health prohibitions, and so on). What is your position on concealed carry permits for county residents?
JE – I have always been a “shall issue” sheriff. I believe that if a person is legally entitled to possess and firearm and they meet the State requirements for training and their dominant residence is here, than I believe it is more of a reason of why not to issue one on a case-by-case basis. Sierra County is not just rural, we are remote. Emergency services, including law enforcement are often sparse and few due to budget constraints and the sheer number of miles of patrol coverage in our county. I believe everyone should have the ability to defend themselves or others in case of an emergency, especially if law enforcement is delayed. AS an indication of my beliefs, recently there was a survey done by a statewide organization regarding the issuance of carry concealed weapons permits. Sierra County was ranked number one in highest per capita issuance for all 58 California counties.
#6) The jail has been an issue for some time; grand juries have occasionally complained; the Board of Supervisors haven’t had the resources, nor is there much space, to make modifications; the option of housing inmates elsewhere is sometimes necessary but is expensive and creates a hardship for the families of inmates. What do you see as the likely solution to problems with the jail?
JE – I support keeping the Sierra County Jail. There will always be an element in our society of evil and dangerous people or those who become dangerous due to drugs and/or alcohol. Therefore you will always need a place to house those people to protect the rest of our society, at least until the person calms down and sobers. Our jail was remolded around 1990 to a modern facility with 14 beds. We generally house about 6 inmates, sometimes up to 12, here and 1 to 3 at the Nevada County Jail in Nevada City. Those at Nevada City are held there for classification reasons such as: violent, injured, sick, suicidal, escape risk, female if no female officer is on-duty in Downieville. The problem with closing our jail will cause us to become completely dependant on other county jail to house our prisoners that is if they will take them and they do not become full. The patrol deputy sheriffs will become even fewer due to having to drive prisoners/inmates back and forth for hours every time there is an arrest, court date, inmate medical appointment, attorney visits, probation interview; etc. We have a very good jail here right now and over $300,000 to do improvements and hire more officers to staff it. Those monies are waiting approval by the Board of Supervisors through the AB 109 Realignment program. Everywhere else in the county budgets are decreasing. With realignment, the jail and probation are the only two areas funds are increasing in the county to deal with the jail inmates. We have the money to make all the necessary improvements for our current facility and we will for years to come. Closing the jail is a panacea view to save the county money. If this jail closes, it will never re-open do to the costs to bring it up to the latest coming specifications. We have the money to improve and keep what we have. You have to think 10, 20 even 50 years down the road. Are we really going to be driving hours away for each prisoner for the duration of our county? I recall in 1990/1991 driving back-and-forth to the Colusa County Jail while our jail was being remodeled. I was gone for the whole shift and not available for any other calls for service. A lot of wear and tear on the patrol cars too and gasoline costs. You can imagine the costs of just one car accident while transporting prisoners so far away. Additionally, there is no long-term guarantee that there will be another “reasonably close” county jai to house our prisoners. If their jails become full, which most are, they will not be able to accept our prisoners. You cannot put everyone on an electronic anklet and home detention. There are some very dangerous people out there that need to be confined for the safety of others. We have a good jail here. We have the money from AB 109 to pay for it for years. Also, if there is a lawsuit by one of our inmates in another facility, that does not absolve us from the suit, we will be named to since we housed them there. Another consequence of closing our jail will be the loss of at least 7 local officers in our county. The Western Sierra Medical Clinic will lose about $55,000 in their medical services agreement. We buy our jail food locally mainly from the Sierra Country Store in Sierra City for bulk frozen and fresh items as well as the Downieville Grocery Store and Downieville Motors for milk and bread; etc. It is also not uncommon for us to buy from Leonard’s Market in Loyalton too. We buy our inmate medications from the Loyalton Pharmacy. If we close the jail there will be a significant negative ripple effect throughout our entire county to local businesses too and more local jobs lost, especially during the winter months. Lastly, the sheriff is required to operate a jail as per our State’s Constitution. A jail is one of the first things built in a new area and the last things to go. They are necessary to keep the public safe and house our local prisoners locally.
#7) Realignment has increased jail costs in some counties, but other counties seem to be making money taking inmates. How do you think realignment has impacted the county?
JE – Realignment has provided Sierra County a funding source for the jail, the sheriff’s office, the probation department, the district attorney’s office, public defender’s office and human services for the counseling and rehabilitation of criminals. There has been almost no negative impact to our little county as yet, just a funding source boom. I believe that the idea of realignment originally was to solve the State’s over crowding issue. I now see that there is in fact better resources to those who break the law to improve themselves through the various programs. I also firmly believe those who fall under the supervision of our local probation and sheriff’s deputies are getting much better supervision and the repercussions for violations are much swifter with better results. For Sierra County, AB 109 Realignment has been a very good thing so far. Only the future will prove that out.