During the last Republican debate, Ohio Governor John Kasich said, “The people want the community and law enforcement to come together.” That is exactly what Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux has been doing since being elected in 2014. One of his goals for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department (TCSD) was to create the Sheriff’s Public Outreach Team (SPOT). With one more quarterly meeting planned for spring of 2016, SPOT became a reality and is completing its first successful year.
Participants of SPOT are community members from diverse backgrounds who offer the TCSD fresh ideas and provide feedback on how to better serve the community. The members are from various communities, to name a few. The participants make a one-year commitment and after their year is over, they are asked to recommend other members of the community to replace them. The community advisory committee meets quarterly at the sheriff’s department.
One of the issues tackled by SPOT was the acquisition of body cameras. The discussion revolved around the cost versus the benefit of buying and using the cameras. The cameras won the debate. Boudreaux also wanted SPOT’s feedback on changing the name of the Police Activities League (PAL) to Sheriff’s Jr. Explorers. Armondo Apodaca, chair of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, thought the idea of rebranding and keeping things fresh is always a good idea.
The sheriff’s department, and law enforcement’s relationship in general, with the Hispanic community was one of the big issues taken on by SPOT. It wasn’t on the agenda, but was brought to light by Lali Moheno, former Tulare County supervisor and agricultural labor advocate. What ensued was a lively debate about the sometimes mutual distrust between the two communities. As a result, an educational video was produced to ease tensions in the community.
The TCSD hired a professional film crew to produce the educational video in English and in Spanish to illustrate why the sheriff’s department’s procedures are what they are. Every 63 hours an officer is killed in the line of duty in the US, and that fact is what shapes law enforcement’s protocol for traffic stops. Because a driver could be concealing a gun, deputies ask drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel during a traffic stop. A deputy will also ask the back seat passengers to put down their window and put their hands on the front head rest.
Moheno said that many in the Hispanic community, including herself, didn’t understand that the sheriff’s department had a right to pull over drivers on the highway. She said that they felt they were being targeted or profiled. As a result of the committee meetings and the video, it is now clear that it is not just the Highway Patrol’s job to conduct traffic stops.
Art Pena, of Pena’s Disposal in Cutler, expressed that he was very appreciative of the video produced by the sheriff’s department, but added that the Hispanic community needs to also take some responsibility for the distrust between two.
The January 14 meeting was the third quarterly meeting for SPOT and Boudreaux used the opportunity to show off Deputy BuzzBee. The inspiration for Deputy BuzzBee came to Boudreaux during a visit to Disneyland. At first the sheriff department’s new mascot was not embraced, but now Deputy BuzzBee has taken on a life of his own, with an overflowing calendar of events. The department has been hard pressed to keep up with the community’s demand. The new mascot visits schools and participates in parades primarily to interact with children and foment trust between law enforcement and Tulare County youth. Boudreaux said that Deputy BuzzBee’s message to the kids is to “be safe, be nice and be honest.”
Another aspect of the sheriff’s department that Boudreaux introduced at the meeting was a new tool to create a trusting community within the 800 employees that make up the department. Each month employees can click on a message made just for them that are made by various people in the department, but every quarter Boudreaux gives the message. One of his videos shown during the meeting communicated Boudreaux’ goals for the department and ended with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see.”
SPOT members were quick to suggest that the sheriff’s department produce a similar video message for all of Tulare County and put it on their public website.
Boudreaux used the end of the meeting to update the committee on the purchase of two drones and a second department airplane. The drones need to be approved by the FCC and the department is in the process of applying to get approval for them. The goal of a second plane is so that Tulare County can have a plane in the air everyday. With only one plane there was a lot of down time for repairs and maintenance.
Boudreaux wrapped up the meeting by getting last comments from members. Larry Peltzer, a farmer in Ivanhoe, wanted to thank the sheriff for the department’s fast response to a possible theft of water from one of his wells and for eradicating the pot grows in his area. Boudreaux commented that his department has been working hard on improving response times.
Boudreaux ended by saying is that what the community needs to see is that we listen.
Moheno replied, “You are open sheriff, so far so good.”