In mid-May, Sgt. Larry Rich, mountain area deputy and life-long resident, was tasked with getting the new program off the ground and starting out as a team of one.
“The intention is to be an outreach to the people in the community, and to take a very proactive approach to stopping ongoing criminal activity that is a problem to certain areas,” says Sgt. Rich.
Traditionally, law enforcement has taken more of a reactive approach, responding to calls from citizens and taking reports on that specific incident. The POP approach seeks to address the broader problem of repeated calls to the same area and/or like incidents, such as residential burglaries in the same neighborhood or suspected criminal activity by the same individual.
It is also designed to engage the public, local businesses and organizations in crafting long term solutions to specific problems, and identifying ways that the community can participate in helping to prevent future incidents.
So what’s the difference between the historic way of doing things, and what Sgt. Rich will be able to do going forward? It’s a lot about being able to work on one specific problem.
“This gives me the freedom to stay focused on one thing,” says Rich. “If I were the patrol sergeant, I may have to say, okay we’ll work this the best we can, but next thing you know, we have a call somewhere else, and I have to leave and handle those routine calls for service. Being on the POP Team [currently, he IS the team] leaves me free so that unless it’s some horrible emergency, I can stay focused on the task at hand.”
Rich says this gives him the flexibility to work on assignments for longer than the typical patrol officer is able. After seeing the reports taken by other deputies or detectives, he can adjust his schedule to be in an area when he feels it will be most effective, to witness or intercept illegal activity, and perhaps apprehend the perpetrator.
“So a deputy might get off at 6 p.m. and go home, and a new shift comes in,” says Rich. “And that deputy who took the report may not even work that same area the next day. I can put all my attention to that ongoing problem.”
He is also patrolling businesses and making time to walk the trails in the area looking for illegal encampments.
“If I find a tent on someone’s private property, that doesn’t do me any good if the squatters are not there,” he says. “I’ll need to adjust my schedule to come in early in the morning or late at night to make contact with them.”
Having lived in the area his entire life, the 47-year-old Rich is familiar with several generations of families here, and also with those who may cross his path regularly as perpetrators of illegal activity. One crucial part of being an effective POP team member is knowing your community.
“If you live up here, you get involved with the community,” say Rich, who is in his 4th year coaching Girls’ Softball, his 20th year with Little League Baseball, and is president of the Yosemite High School Girls’ Softball Boosters Program.
“You know these people, know their problems at home, know the things that are going on, and you understand it a little more.”
Rich also brings a lifetime of experience in police work, having joined the Madera County Sheriff’s Explorer Program at the ripe old age of 14, and becoming a Deputy Sheriff at age 20.
He went on to run the Explorer Program, served as a K-9 Officer and a Field Training Officer, continues to plays a pivotal role in Search & Rescue Operations, and is credited with reestablishing the Department’s Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) program, which he still commands.
He continues, in this new assignment, to make it his mission to engage with the community by talking with residents, attending merchants meetings, town hall meetings and neighborhood watch gatherings.
Rich will also be the featured speaker at Thursday’s Women in Business Luncheon at noon on June 11, at Crab Cakes in Oakhurst. The event is open to the public, and is a good opportunity to learn about the Problem Oriented Policing program, and ask questions of Sgt. Rich.
The POP program is something recently elected Sheriff Jay Varney had on his radar early on.
“It was an idea that was on my to do list during the campaign,” says Varney. “It required the right staffing opportunity to come up.”
Sheriff Varney says this is a pilot program that is constrained by budget and other service demands. He selected someone in a supervisory position so that they would have the immediate ability to act on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office to solve problems and to work with the community.
“Sergeant Rich has wide latitude in determining which problems to address, and certainly homeless issues are always high on the list,” says the sheriff.
As he learns more about his new responsibilities and the POP format, and hopes to have additional deputies added to the team, Sgt. Rich wants to let the public know that there is someone they can contact when they have an issue that needs addressing.
“One nice thing about our smaller department is that we can have a good working relationship with our community,” he says. “Of course, we do make some people upset, but that just comes with the job, as you have to enforce the laws. But I still want to build on that small town sheriff attitude, where people know there’s someone they can call.”
To RSVP for Thursday’s WIB Luncheon, call Michaela at the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce at 559-683-7766.
To learn more about Problem Oriented Policing, visit http://www.popcenter.org/about/?p=whatiscpop