Robinson grew up in Hanford and has lived there all of his life, except for a short time when he went away to attend Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. While attending school and working a part-time job, Robinson wasn’t quite sure what avenue he was going to take in life and then he started having chest pains.
Taken to the hospital he was found to have a collapsed lung due to a weak spot, something not uncommon for lanky, tall young men, he was told. He spent 16 days in the hospital and had surgery to repair his lung. Then returned home to recuperate.
“I went deep-sea fishing that day with my grandfather, and had to work that night at the farmer’s market in downtown San Luis Obispo,” he said,”and while I was at work I just felt chest pain and went to the hospital and they said that my lung had collapsed. It was wild!”
“Health wise, it never slowed me down,” he said. “It healed and I was fine . . . and I have never had an issue since.”
Robinson decided not to return to Cuesta and took an old job back at K-Mart, where he began working in shipping and receiving, which also included chasing after shoplifters.
“That’s what got me into law enforcement,” he said. “I liked it!”
Robinson was looking through a College of Sequoias catalog one day and ran across the college’s Police Academy, which was then located in Visalia. He signed up and never looked back.
While he graduated from the academy in 1992, he did not find a position in law enforcement until 1995 with the Kings County Sheriff Department.
“There was an opening in the jail and I was fortunate enough to get hired. My long-term goal was to work the streets and after about a year, I was assigned to Hanford patrol.”
Robinson was later reassigned to the Avenal substation, which at that time had a pretty significant crime rate, he said. He then moved on to gang-enforcement and was selected to serve on a multi-agency task force for 10 years, three of which he worked as a detective.
“I was fascinated by gangs and what makes them tick,” he said.
He was promoted to sergeant, but then left the sheriff’s office deciding to take a position with the Kings County District Attorney’s office, as an investigator, where he worked as liaison to three state prisons operating within the county.
“It was interesting,” he said, “seeing how they worked – they were like little cities.
And, it helped me to understand the correctional aspects – working and dealing with inmates.”
Robinson also served on the Sheriff’s Honor Guard and as a team leader on Kings County SWAT. He completed his Bachelor of Science degree in 2008, majoring in Criminal Justice Management.
When Robinson first ran for Kings County Sheriff in 2010, he was 38 years old. He was elected that year and started his first term at the age of 39.
“It is pretty unusual,” he said, “There’s a reason for that, because there is a high risk involved for those of us who are not to retirement age. In the law enforcement sector, generally retirement age is 55 years old. But, you can take early retirement at 50 years old. So, if you run for sheriff in your 30’s and you don’t get re-elected, there is no going back to a different position – you are out of a job.
“So, there’s a high risk involved for someone who runs and if you don’t get re-elected and now you’re out of a job, you have to go find another job – well what other job do you go find? Maybe a police chief job . . . and those aren’t necessarily easy to get into.
“You have to really weigh the factor of, do I really want to have to go start over somewhere else, if I’m out of a job.
“I think that is a major reason that you don’t see a lot of people in their 30’s or 40’s – it’s not that they don’t necessarily meet the qualifications or have the experience, it’s just that there is a risk involved,” he concluded.
“To me it was worth the risk involved because I grew up in this county for one, but I also grew up in this organization – it was my first law enforcement job,” he said.”I started in the jail and I am very passionate about the sheriff’s office. I love the sheriff’s office and what we do, and what it’s all about. And so the risk-reward, for me, was definitely worth the challenge.
“I’m really glad that I did. I love coming to work every day. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and come to work.”
Robinson admits that thinking about his work sometimes gives him insomnia and he may get up at 3am to come into the office, or to work on his computer at home. He knows that it happens for other people in different jobs as well, but he said he just has things he wants to accomplish.
“The staff that works here are amazing – I couldn’t do what I do without the staff,” he said. “We have such a great team atmosphere here. And that is not to say, I don’t want to mislead anyone, it is not that 100% of the staff here think everything I do is amazing, but we have such a great team that the vast, vast majority of staff are all on the same page of the direction we want the department to go and with the vision that we see for moving things forward in that we work with our community.”
“The direction for me is that we want to serve our community. I tell people all the time – I work for the citizens. I work for my employees – they are also citizens here – we all work together. And so, the direction is that we want to do everything we can to keep our community safe as our number one priority. In providing that service, I want to make sure that we give our staff the tools that they need, the equipment that they need, the infrastructure that they need, to provide the best service possible.
“One of the things we have worked really hard at, as a team,” Robinson said,”is building out our jail facilities to the expansion. One of the things, when I took office that was a primary focus of the campaign, was to reduce the early releases. We were seeing so many early releases back into our community, where people were getting arrested and then they would immediately walk out the door. I am really proud of the effort that we have made, even under the circumstances of realignment and Prop 47 – we were going for hundreds of early releases, even more than a thousand or more early releases for a couple of years, to SEVEN last year,” he emphasized. “So we’ve taken that and just really driven home that we don’t want to release people early.
“We don’t mind getting them out into a live-in program. We don’t mind getting them into something that will help them and hopefully reduce revisiting rates, but as far as just releasing them early with nothing hanging over their head, we are working really hard to reduce that. And, I have to give my staff kudos – they have really worked hard to carry that vision forward.”
“We recently started up, and it’s really close,” Robinson said excitedly, “to work with the State of California and the fire camps. And so, we will be sending some of our inmates to the state fire camps and that’s going to come any day now. We have a few inmates in the hopper that we’re just waiting for approval on.”
“There’s a live-in treatment program in a partnership with the Kings County Probation Department – they partnered with a local recovery group, Champions, and they developed a 49-bed men’s residential, live-in treatment program and so now, some of our inmates have qualified. Most of our inmates that are in that program, would have just sat in our jail – now they go live in this facility and get direct treatment for whatever they need – predominately drugs.
“And we’re really proud of those things,” he said.
Inmates have an incentive to learn a skill – they earn extra time credits for participating in a work-program and with fire camp they may earn very low pay, like $1/hour, Robinson said. While they may not qualify for eventual employment as fire fighters, they learn other skills such as brush clearing, the use of tools and food service skills.
It is an inmate’s choice whether he, or she, would like to participate in a program.
As for Robinson, he lived in various areas of the city while growing up, one of two sons of divorced parents.
“I got to learn a lot about the city by living in different places,” he said. “I met a lot of people in the community and it has helped with the job that I’m in.
“I have great parents, and [even though divorced] they always communicated with each other,” he said.
His dad, retired now, was in cement construction, a job which both Robinson and his brother learned. And while his brother took up work in construction, Robinson, while able to do it, did not want to work with cement in 100+ degree summer heat, he said.
Robinson’s work in the jail and with the DA’s office helped him realize the emphasis he wanted to put on the Kings County Jail, the focus of which is now more aimed at helping inmates’ mindset to prevent future crime, rather than just punishment.
“We’re not quite there yet,” Robinson said of the county’s jail expansion and development.
Following the 252-bed expansion currently underway, Robinson looks to more classroom and program space – including a vocational warehouse, and a culinary kitchen with adjacent classroom.
“We want to decrease revolving door inmates,” he said, “and change their minds, so they won’t want to come back to jail.”
There are still many other improvements he’d like to make. The current office was built in 1964 and stands next to what was the former jail. Robinson would like to see a new office connected to the jail, and a facility where all staff can work under the same roof with “no disconnect.” That would take approximately $18 million, he said.
As sheriff, Robinson also oversees Kings County Animal Services, which operates out of the oldest county building in use, he said. Here too, he would like to see new facilities for staff and animals.
“Animal services has a great staff,” he said. “They do a great job at reducing euthanasia and focus heavily on spay and neuter.”
“This is my sixth year as sheriff and I feel like it just started,” Robinson said.
“As I sit here today, I would love to serve two more terms, 10 more years, equaling four terms total. If still as passionate as I am today, maybe more.”
Robinson has four children – two with his previous wife, and two with his current wife, Melonie, who is a Hanford school teacher. His children range from age 5 to 22, and the family enjoys camping, fishing and hunting. He visits with his mom and dad, both retired, as well as two of his grandparents, who are still living in town.
Robinson travels frequently to the state capitol to meet with the state’s decision makers, he said. He has been involved with the California State Sheriff’s Associations for several years and now serves on its board of directors.
He is an Elks Lodge member and was active with sports booster clubs when his first two children were in high school. He has coached Little League as well as soccer, and can see becoming active in booster clubs again, time permitting.
As sheriff, Robinson became a member of the Kings County Sheriff’s Posse. He hadn’t ridden a horse since he was about 14 years old. When elected in 2010, a friend gave him some riding lessons, and now he rides in parades with the posse every year, including the 2012 Rose Parade. The 79-year-old posse does more than just ride in parades though, Robinson said, it is involved search and rescue, and it fundraises for the sheriff’s department K-9 unit as well as the Explorer
“It’s an honor to serve Kings County,” Robinson said.
He gives out his personnel cell number to anyone who asks.
“If someone wants to talk to the sheriff,” he said, “they should be able to talk to the sheriff.”
What would Dave Robinson be doing if he hadn’t entered into law enforcement? Well, he might be forecasting the weather.
“Not like a television meteorologist,” he said, “but I have always been fascinated with weather – although I could not be in an office all day.”