Sun. May 22nd, 2022

By Samuel Strait – Reporter at Large – April 5, 2022

It is not often that so much is made of news out of the Del Norte County
Sheriff’s Office, yet that has changed in rather dramatic fashion
recently.  Following a Sacramento Bee article, some time ago titled ” No
Law North Of The Klamath.  Dysfunction, Scandal Plague California
Sheriff’s Office”, much recently has been made out of the local DA’s
Office in charging Sheriff Appointee, Randy Waltz, with three felony
charges surrounding his voter registration  and candidacy for the office
of Sheriff in its own right.  Whether the zealous behavior out of local
DA Katherine Micks is warranted or not, we have yet to find out.  The
case has been continued.

What ever is to be resolved with Mr. Waltz, there are clearly multiple
problems at the Sheriff’s Office that are more than recent, perhaps
extending back into the time when Erik Apperson occupied the Sheriff’s
Office as Sheriff.  We have been told that there is an acute staffing
issue in the department.  Initially, we are told that thirty position
are currently vacant.  That number declined to six in a later interview
from Lt. Daniel Schneck. Most recently that figure has swollen  to
fourteen of twenty six sworn positions.  We are told that this is a
result of many of the department’s most senior officers retiring within
a few months of one another.  A clue?  No just ignore it.

In a recent meeting with County CEO Neal Lopez and Supervisor Chris
Howard, Third District, money was the issue.  So what is it?  Money, or
retirement?  It is certainly comforting when those in County government
can’t get their stories straight.  Much of the issue is that County
government would loathe to loose their much touted Measure “R” money to
pad the County’s slush fund. Likely pay has little to do with the actual
reason that the Sheriff’s Office finds itself in turmoil.  Many senior
officers don’t suddenly choose to “retire” because they are looking for
a more lucrative gig else where.  So what’s really up in this department
where salaries and benefits are already relatively generous when
compared to those in the private sector of Del Norte County’s economy?

When speaking with sources associated with the Sheriff’s department, the
primary problem is not compensation, but morale. Senior officers are not
leaving due to insufficient pay, but living in a toxic environment of
poorly trained or fresh out of the academy partners, some who clearly
should not be wearing the uniform.  Policing is difficult enough as it
is, but when your life is on the line it is nice to believe that your
fellow officers have “your Back”.  For some, this is not the case and
hasn’t been for some time.  Since the Sheriff was Erik Apperson, this
issue has been upper most on the minds of many in the department rather
than “How Much Pay” an officer receives. Sheriff Apperson may have been
a sterling “Media” presence, but was clearly lacking in the
administrative aspect of his job.

Unfortunately things have not changed when the Undersheriff was elevated
to the position of Sheriff.  Staff vacancies will continue to be an
issue even if the department salaries are increased because that is the
smallest part of the problem. Competent, well trained and comfortable
with their work environment for officers will take time to be
reestablished within the department.  A Board of Supervisors that will
do more than throw money at what they “think” are problems and a Sheriff
that can reestablish the level of morale that has taken serious hits
over the past few years.

The department cannot continue to be thought of as bumbling keystone
cops; hence, those that fit that description must be weeded out and
sent on their way.  This does not include all officers in the department
as there have been genuine experiences with the Del Norte County
Sheriff’s Office that were executed with a level of courtesy,
professionalism, and competency that is a credit to those that conduct
themselves in that fashion.   This has not been the universal experience
for a few for some time. The incoming Sheriff, Garrett Scott, has his
work cut out for him in making the changes necessary to lift his newly
acquired department out of the state of “No Law North Of The Klamath”….

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