Note: This is the second part of our coverage of a Feb. 14 meeting of the Republican Party in Angels Camp, at which two of three candidates for Calaveras County Sheriff appeared. Our elections coverage favors using the candidates’ own words, so our coverage was split into two parts.
Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio and candidate Gary Stevens, who is an investigator with the Amador County District Attorney’s Office, met with Calaveras County Republicans in Angels Camp, where they fielded questions from the crowd.
Morale in the Sheriff’s Office
“I hear the reason deputies are leaving is because of personnel conflicts, not because of payroll,” a woman asked. “Can you address to me your opinion of why they’re leaving? And can you give me a reason why they would stay?”
“Not too long ago, I read a letter at the board from one deputy who actually left because of the lack of pay,” DiBasilio replied. “It’s been an issue in this county forever. The board has worked to improve that. I don’t believe they’re leaving because of a morale issue. You can’t please everybody. There was a time when there were a lot of people that were very disgruntled, and I understand that. I know since I have been the sheriff that it has gotten a lot better. Morale in the department, I think, is at its highest that it’s been in many, many years.”
“Morale and pay and benefits have always been an issue in this Sheriff’s Office in this county,” Stevens said. “I can go back and talk about what it was like back in the early ’90s, but that’s not today. People are leaving. There are always greener pastures somewhere else. They’re always going to leave and I agree that not everyone is always going to be happy. I do know that the county and the DSA (Deputy Sheriff’s Association) are negotiating or have finalized a significant pay raise for the deputies this year. And just to be clear, the sheriff does not set the pay rate for salary and benefits for his employees. Those are between the union of the employees and the county. They negotiate that, but the fact is, they’re getting a significant raise and they’re still leaving, which leads me to believe, and I’ve been told, that there is a morale issue within the office.”
“I’d like to know from candidate Stevens how much day-to-day management experience he’s got?” asked a man who identified himself as Ed Ballard from Valley Springs. “What does that mean to him, and how will (he) work on improving morale? What management skills do you have? What leadership skills do you have in order to accomplish that?”
“As far as leadership skills,” Stevens answered, “I do that every day in the work that I do with the attorneys, with the defense attorneys and with the people in my office. As far as administration skills, I would say I probably have just the same or more than when DiBasilio was appointed sheriff. One of things that we are severely lacking is an undersheriff. The undersheriff is the one who runs the day-to-day and manages the budget. The office of the sheriff, the position itself, he is the figurehead. He makes sure that everybody is doing their job, but it’s the undersheriff, which we don’t have, and we haven’t had for quite a few years, that runs the day-to-day.”
“Well, as far as the undersheriff goes,” DiBasilio said, “we haven’t had one since Gary Kuntz took the position for the simple fact that we were going to lose three deputies if we had an undersheriff. As for morale, I lead by example. You folks have seen me in the newspaper, you’ve seen me out doing the marijuana grows with these guys and that’s to show our guys that I’m there to stand by their side and work with them. So, I think leading by example is a huge morale boost. There’s an election coming up, and if I brought in an undersheriff, or moved someone into that position, if for some reason I don’t get re-elected, that person would not have a job. It’s a catch-22. When I took the position as sheriff, I had the opportunity to put an undersheriff in there. I chose not to because I don’t want to put somebody in that position. Once I win this election, which I will do, then we’ll move on with an undersheriff.”
One woman highlighted the increase in crime and drug activity in her neighborhood and asked what could be done.
“I subscribe and wholeheartedly believe in my heart in what’s called community-oriented policing and a problem-solving philosophy,” Stevens said. “It’s a philosophy, not a program. The goal is to solve the problem. One thing I’d like to see eventually is a special investigation team, or a POP (problem-orienting policing) team. The goal is to solve the problem and target these people, because whatever your bad behaviors are, I’m going react to them.”
“This is a continual, ongoing issue that we are continually working on,” DiBasilio said. “A lot of it you don’t see because it’s behind the scenes. When we have that type of a problem, once I can get the personnel, and we’re even doing it shorthanded, we will have two or three guys go down and work an area real hard to try and catch these guys. So we are doing the cops and POPS programs right now; it’s just not always out in the public.”
Personal views on marijuana
“Why are you opposed to marijuana?” a man asked.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Stevens said. “I’m opposed to commercial marijuana operations and activities in this county, including dispensaries. The law does allow for six plants. I’ve done a lot of marijuana cases in more than one county where people are using it medically and not abusing it. People using it medically have gotten relief from it, under certain circumstances, when they administer it properly or in a certain manner. The majority of people though, it is an abuse. It is a cash crop. It’s all about money and that’s why a lot of people are doing it. Most of the product that is being grown in this county and many other counties is going out of state, because the value of it in this state is dropping. So when I hear someone asking that question, ‘Why are you against it?’ it’s because not very much good comes from it. It’s degrading the quality of life in this county, so it becomes a public safety issue and that’s first and foremost for the people in this county.”
“The problem with marijuana in the state of California right now,” DiBasilio said, “is that Gov. (Jerry) Brown enacted something before they did any surveys on it. We as law enforcement have no way of knowing whether you’re impaired while you’re driving your vehicle. That’s a problem. It causes all of us problems in the community because now you have people who are driving around that are potentially under the influence of marijuana. The state has enacted something that has not been thoroughly researched. When it comes to the medical side of it, I’m not a doctor. If somebody says they can get relief from it, that’s fine. Mr. Stevens doesn’t like dispensaries, but we’ve never had a problem with the three dispensaries we have in this county. It gives people that opportunity to get that medicine. As for commercial, I told people a long time ago, don’t put commercial marijuana in the residential areas. There are places to put it if the county decides to. You voters make the laws. The board makes the laws. The board has enacted a ban; now there’s a ban in place, so I will enforce that law. My personal opinion of marijuana? I don’t like it, I don’t. It causes problems. I was a school resource officer, and I saw what it did to the kids and I know that it cause probs. On the medical side, it’s whole other issue that I can’t attest to.”
“I understand what he’s saying about residential areas or neighborhoods,” Stevens said. “The problem is, even out where people have 10-, 20- or 50-acre parcels, they still don’t want it next to their property. People don’t want to have to drive by it, have to smell it, listen to it or have people driving by their property. People do not move to this county to be next to this. They don’t want it here. There’s nothing good coming from this. I’ve been a cop too long, and we are not going to profit or benefit from this. It’s going to cost us more time, more money, more resources and more problems. It’s not just the Sheriff’s Office; after that it goes to the DA’s office. After that it goes to the courts, then after that it’s probation. It’s just a long chain of events that is going to continue to negatively affect the people of this county.”
“The problem that we have in this county right now is that you guys are split,” DiBasilio said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people. Half the county wants it, half the county doesn’t. If we could go back two years ago, there was probably 65 percent of people in this county that didn’t want it. It isn’t that way right now, I don’t believe, but that’s all irrelevant. The issue right now is that we have a ban in place, and what I’m going to do is enforce the ban. You can’t expect me to split hairs and say I’m going to support your rights but not his. You cannot do that to the sheriff. My job as your sheriff is to do what they put in place for laws, period. If this goes to a ballot in November, and I hear proponents of marijuana are going to put it on the ballot, you guys are going to have to make that choice. It’s not up to him or me or anybody who sits in this chair in this position to say one way or another. It’s going to fall on you people. Do I want marijuana in this county? No. They did it anyhow. I don’t like the marijuana. I don’t think it should be here, but we have to deal with what you people want.”
“Our county has had the perception of being a cannabis county for California,” a woman said. “So what does the sheriff’s department have in mind to let us know that progress is being made in that our image is going to be improved so business will return?”
“We’re making progress every day,” DiBasilio said. “If you go to our Facebook page, you’ll see that we’re making progress. I think that’s going to come out because as this ban continues in place and we continue with our eradications, it’s going to get out there. We will continue to put pressure on these guys to get them out of here. That’s my goal, to get them out. And now that they’re all illegal, if the registered growers want to continue to grow under their state license, they have to come into compliance with our regulations, which is to stop growing so that they can leave to go somewhere else. If they choose not to, then they’re illegal and then we will deal with them as such.”
“The surrounding counties have all banned it,” Stevens said. “The previous board kicked the can down the road for two years and it’s been a debacle ever since, and look at all the problems we have. Everybody says regulate it, tax it. The regulation is not working; the taxing is not working and look all the problems that we’re having. I know the tax bills have gone out, and they expect this amount of money and they haven’t gotten that amount of money. It’s a cash-only business. It’s a criminal enterprise. Not all of them, but most of them, because they’re selling it out of state. So get rid of the criminal enterprise. The goal is to solve the problem. The housing boom has been over for a long time. Marijuana is not proving to be a legitimate industry that is helping the county. It’s costing the taxpayers. It’s costing money and we’re not getting any return on it.”
Stevens re-emphasized his law enforcement experience in his closing statement.
“My goal is to increase and better the enforcement practices in this county,” he said. “The Sheriff’s Office is frontline law enforcement, but it only brings cases up to a certain level. My expertise is to bring it up to an even higher level to get it ready for court. Right now, the DA’s office doesn’t have investigators to supplement those investigations. I do this every day, how to beef up and supplement cases to make them better for prosecution. I can make the difference. I’ve been doing it all my life. I’ve lived in this county continuously for almost the last 30 years. This is my chosen career. I’m in the position right now where I can make a difference; that’s why I’m running for sheriff. And I ask for your help, your vote and your support.”
DiBasilio countered with an appeal based upon his track record in office.
“I have a proven track record from the past 15 years in this department,” he said. “The past two years as your sheriff, I have been doing what has been expected of me and that is to get rid of the growers that are here in this county, and I’m going to continue to do that. I have some great investigators now. We need more. I’m working on getting our personnel built up so they we can have even more, like we used to have. We used to have six, now we’re down to four. It’s all a process.
“When 2008 came,” he continued, “we had this big influx of people leaving our county and money leaving our county. With the help of the supervisors and the community, I believe that we can make this county strong. We are still at the bottom of the totem pole as far as crime stats. Our crime rate in this county is still lower than most in this state. We don’t have the crime in this county. I believe that’s because of the Sheriff’s Office and the way that we’re doing business and the way we’re going to continue to do business.”