When Napa County Sheriff Doug Koford retired earlier this year, the board of supervisors did not have to look far for an appointee to replace him.
Koford’s second in command, Undersheriff John Robertson, was appointed sheriff in April and is expected to run for the post when Koford’s term expires next year.
"It is my plan to serve the community for many more years to come," said Robertson, who at 53 has worked his way up the ranks from deputy to highest peace officer in the county.
Napa Patch recently spent some time talking with Robertson about the challenges that face the county’s top cop, who also pointed out some things he feels are going right in Napa.
Napa County is different
“While other departments have cutbacks and layoffs, we continue to move forward with community policing: We do not do online crime reporting. We try to do face-to-face policing,” he said.
"There are always challenges in our economic times with the budget," Robertson acknowledged.
But, he continued, “we continue to do our job without budget increases and the board of supervisors through the budget process gives us the funds to provide an extremely high level of service you don’t see with other agencies in the state of California."
Robertson said Napa County is different from other communities because of the cooperation and cohesiveness of the county and cities' agencies.
"At times it may appear we don’t get along, but we always pull together and make decisions that work for all of our communities,” he said.
Among the examples he cited of “criminal justice partners” working together is the Napa Special Investigations Bureau, an interagency task force that works cooperatively to target drug dealing throughout the county — with methamphetamine a priority, Robertson said.
"Drug addiction's just tough"
“Drug abuse and sales are difficult to deal with. Drug crimes so often lead to other more violent crimes such as robbery and domestic violence,” he said.
“We are aware it is a problem, and we are constantly trying to keep on top of it.”
But "drug addiction's just tough," Robertson said. "I wish we didn't have methamphetamine, that's for sure."
Meth abuse is “something that’s just totally overwhelming,” the sheriff continued.
“It’s ruined so many lives; and there's no socioeconomic factor to it. It takes everyone, from your business person down to your homeless."
Methamphetamine use contributes to other crimes, such as metal theft, Robertson said, employing a phrase from his earlier cop career: “You don't steal tapedecks out of cars because you love music."
"We never know what to expect"
Another challenge for law enforcement is when deputies and officers respond to calls where there are mental health issues,” Robertson said.
“We use county mental health services to help the person, but it can be difficult. We never know what to expect when we answer such a call.”
And, Robertson said, in many cases the problems of mental illness and drug abuse are intertwined when sufferers self-medicate with illegal street drugs instead of prescription medications.
"Is arresting them and throwing them in jail the right thing to do? We struggle with that," he admitted.
Randy Snowden, Napa County Director of Health and Human Services, said Robertson "is important to us here at HHSA. John is conversant with the way health and social services can interact with law enforcement.
“He never compromises safety and is a steely cop when he needs to be, but he also understands the challenges people face and appreciates the emerging evidence based practices that can make all our services more effective,” Snowden said.
Straight from college to police academy
Robertson was born in San Mateo and graduated from high school in 1976. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University, San Diego.
“Seventy-two hours after graduating from college I started at the police academy" in Santa Clara, he said, graduating in 1981 and working as a police officer in San Mateo for the next decade.
Robertson and his wife, Maggie moved to Napa in 1991.
“In the 22 years I’ve been in Napa, I have never regretted one day moving and working in the community. It’s a wonderful place to work and raise a family,” he said.
The Robertsons have a son in the U.S. Marine Corps and a daughter who is a sophomore in high school.
“This job is my passion. I do it because I want to do something that benefits the community — do something that makes a difference,” Robertson said.
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