MADERA COUNTY – Dennis Fairbanks is running for Sheriff of Madera County and not, he says, because he needs the job. Rather it’s because he’s confident he has workable plans and ideas that he wants to implement – something he says sets him apart from others seeking the office.
Fairbanks and his wife of 40 years, Patty, are realtors at Realty Concepts in Oakhurst, a new career he took on when he retired from the California Highway Patrol after more than 30 years of service.
That change from government to the private sector gave him a new and valuable perspective, he says.
“When you work for the government and are feeding out of the government trough, you get your paycheck once a month and your raises every year. Do that for 25 years and you think that’s a way of life.”
Fairbanks says that when he retired and went into business, he saw the real world.
“I saw people lose their homes, lose their jobs, and at no fault of their own. I can bring back to government that new perspective.”
Fairbanks began his academic career at Moorpark Jr. College where he majored in Administration of Justice. He went on to Cal Lutheran University majoring in Business Administration, and later, the University of Redlands, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration.
“I found out that once you get past a supervisory rank, it becomes a business. I knew if I ever wanted to move up in the ranks, I would need a different area of expertise.”
Fairbanks says he’s ready to take on the challenge of making the Sheriff’s Office work efficiently within the financial constraints it faces.
“The biggest challenge we face is budget,” he says. “We’re going to have a lot of growth and could actually double our population soon. We need to consider how we are going to raise our level of service with less money and more people coming in.”
Though candidates have talked about re-staffing lost deputy positions as the economy picks up, Fairbanks is not as optimistic as some that the economy is going to recover any time soon.
“If you can’t afford to hire people, what do you do?” He says he would look at ways to consolidate and explore areas where services may be duplicated.
“Look at Animal Control. Deputies do most of the animal control work, so why are we paying for top administrative positions? We also need to do a feasibility study on the administration and management of the jail. Madera is one of only three counties in California where the sheriff isn’t in charge of the jail. What do the other 55 counties know that we don’t? We need to look at that.”
Another way he sees to maximize service without raising costs is to tap volunteers.
“I would restructure the COPs (Citizens on Patrol) program to include different levels of training and participation. There are people who don’t want to drive around in a patrol car or direct traffic. They want to teach or do administrative work, file papers and answer phones.”
Continuing to build and restructure the COPs program is one way to increase response times and allow deputies to focus on work only sworn personnel can do, says Fairbanks.
“Why pay a sworn person to do something that a civilian can do cheaper? We need to get those deputies out on the road where they’re needed – answering calls for service. Response times go down and officer safety is enhanced.”
He would also expand and recruit for the Sheriff’s Reserves and focus on bridging the gap between citizens and law enforcement.
“Law enforcement is a community thing,” he says. “If citizens don’t have confidence in the Sheriff’s Office, you’re not going to get anything done. I intend to be accessible. Talk to me; call me anytime. I encourage my sergeants to be out there, have coffee with the citizens, get to know them. When the chips are down, you’re going to want those folks to help you out.”
One topic that has been discussed among the sheriff’s candidates at community forums has been securing grants.
“I will not use grants for personnel; that’s false economy,” he says. “I believe in grants for some things, but grants aren’t free money. With grants come hooks and strings. The federal government starts telling you how to run your business, and I’m not giving our sheriff’s department over to the federal government.”
Another issue out on the campaign trail has been the idea of a Sheriff’s Foundation. Fairbanks doesn’t believe that’s quite the way to go.
“I really don’t like using the word foundation,” he says. “Start an auxiliary. A grassroots group of local people who will get nonprofit status to do fundraisers to help our volunteer programs and provide equipment for the sheriff department. Foundations become too political.”
Fairbanks says he got the idea for an auxiliary during his service on the grand jury.
“The first year we looked at the libraries, and they all have Friends of the Library. There are also fire department auxiliaries. I thought, how come the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have that?”
Fairbanks would also like to start a Citizens’ Advisory Committee made up of people from each community.
“I would like to sit and talk, three or four times a year, with people who really have their finger on the pulse. Bass Lake has different problems than Ahwahnee or the Ranchos. We need to create partnerships between the Sheriff’s Office and the community.”
Fairbanks says he will be a Constitutional Sheriff.
“I support and defend the 2nd Amendment. As long as I’m sheriff, people will not have to worry about having their guns taken away. I will not allow the federal government to dictate to me that I’m going to violate someone’s constitutional rights.”
When asked if his 10-plus year absence from law enforcement puts him at a disadvantage, Fairbanks says it’s actually just the opposite.
“I’m the only candidate who has a degree in business and public administration. Law enforcement hasn’t changed. Burglary is still burglary, theft is still theft, assault is still assault. Probably the biggest change would be in technology, and no other professional uses more technology than real estate people.”
Fairbanks says he’s always been successful in supervising and managing people because of the way he treats them, making everyone feel important and part of the process.
“Today’s sheriff has to be an administrator and manager. You don’t elect me because I’m the best at something, but because I’m going to make the people who work with me the best. That’s my philosophy.”
To learn more about Dennis Fairbanks’ background, education, training, professional history and community service, visit http://www.dennis4sheriff.com/
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