By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
Josh Nicholson had at least two goals in mind when he took over command as sergeant of the Kern Valley Sheriff’s sub-station last November. He wanted to establish an open line of communication with the community, and he wanted to drop the crime rate.
Both goals have been met and last week Nicholson transferred out of the Kern River Valley making way for a new sergeant to take over leadership of the local Sheriff’s sub-station.
“I wanted to make a ton of arrests of bad people,” Nicholson said reflecting on his goals during the past year. “We didn’t eradicate crime, but we dropped the crime rates, and we made a ton of arrests.”
Nicholson’s last day at the Kern Valley sub-station was Friday, Nov. 24. He has been assigned to a special investigation unit and will be working in the Bakersfield area. While his new assignment is one that he applied for, he said leaving the valley was a difficult decision for him.
“My decision to leave was not an easy one to make. I like the deputies here, and I like this community. This is a great place to live and work, and I honestly enjoyed working here,” Nicholson said. “I think we have done a lot in terms of making this place better. And I wanted to do that.”
Nicholson was a newly promoted sergeant when he came to the Kern River Valley in November of last year and he wanted to demonstrate that he had a vested interest in the community.
He openly met with the community on numerous levels, meeting with service groups and organizations. But it was a community town hall meeting held in August of this year that Nicholson was able to reach out to the community in an open forum where about 90 residents had the opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns about law enforcement issues.
“I wanted to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community,” Nicholson said. “I wanted to reach out to the public with that community meeting and I wanted to answer as many questions as I could.”
Kern Valley residents were receptive to the setting of the town hall meeting and they were not shy about asking questions and expressing their concerns. “This community is very vocal, and people take an interest in their community,” Nicholson said.
Because the Kern Valley is comprised of numerous communities, Nicholson said that from a law enforcement perspective, it runs the full gamut of specific needs and crime. But the diversity provided him with the experience of handling a spectrum of issues from criminal activities to assisting with river rescues, fires and floods.
While the primary role of the sergeant’s position is to supervise sub-station staff, Nicholson was a hands-on sergeant, handling calls for service and making arrests.
“We needed the people who needed to go to jail to go to jail,” he said. “I have not solved all the problems, but we put a huge dent in the criminal activities here.”
A dent in criminal activity that resulted in more than 1,000 arrests for various crimes such as thefts, burglaries and narcotics. In addition, crimes have dropped from previous years.
“Our thefts are down, burglaries are down and calls for service are down. And the arrests are way up,” he said. “All the things that we wanted to go up are up, and the things we wanted to go down are down. We tried hard to actively go out and make arrests. That is how you drive crime down.”
During the past year, the sheriff’s office conducted three major community policing projects in the Kern Valley resulting in about 200 arrests, Nicholson said. During one project that was conducted from January through March of this year, Nicholson said his deputies made approximately 27 arrests for vagrancy, nine arrests for theft, and 48 arrests for narcotics. In addition, officers seized nine firearms, 14 ounces of methamphetamine, 12 pounds of marijuana, 17 grams of heroin and 3 pounds, 10 ounces of illegal mushrooms during that three-month project.
The most recent policing project focused on vagrancy and vagrancy-related crimes in the Kern Valley. The Sheriff’s office worked closely with the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Kern County Parks Department, Kern County Code Compliance, and the California Highway Patrol to reduce the number of crimes related to vagrancy such as illegal dumping, scavenging, public intoxication, loitering to solicit for money, trespassing and drug related offences. Attention was also given to illegal camps on private property and county parks. In total, Nicholson said, 76 arrests were made during the 30 days.
The current staffing level at the Kern Valley Sheriff’s sub-station includes 10 deputies, two senior deputies and a sergeant. Nicholson said by the end of February, the number of deputies is expected to increase to 12. “The Sheriff and sheriff’s office truly does care about this community, and you will be getting more staff,” he said.
Nicholson said he appreciated when residents would thank him and his deputies. “Compliments empower the deputies to do more. I hope that residents will let our deputies know that they are appreciated.”
With his new assignment, Nicholson said he will continue to work cases in the Kern Valley. “Just because I am leaving doesn’t mean that law enforcement will stop,” he said. “I will still be engaged with the people that I’ve met up here. I am not abandoning the Kern Valley area.”
Nicholson said the Kern Valley has so much to offer the recreationalist, including fishing, hiking, water sports, off-road trails and a gun range, activities that he said he enjoys.
Nicholson said he is grateful for the experience he gained while serving in the Kern Valley and for the patience the community showed him. He is hoping that the community will extend that same courtesy and patience with the new sergeant. Sgt. T.J. Robins started his assignment at the Kern Valley sub-station last Saturday, Nov. 25.
“I can honestly say that this is one of the best places I have worked,” Nicholson said. “And I would work in this area again in a second.”