By Kathe Malouf
Kern Valley Sun
Kern Valley’s newest Sheriff Sergeant was the guest speaker at the recent Coffee with a Cop session held last week in Lake Isabella.
Sgt. T.J Robins assumed command of the Kern River Valley sheriff’s sub-station on Nov. 25 following the departure of Sgt. Josh Nicholson, who has been reassigned to the special investigations unit in the Bakersfield area.
Speaking to the group of community members, Robins opened his introduction by stating that he was born and raised in Bakersfield and has been with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office for the past 15 years. During that time, he has worked a wide variety of assignments throughout the county, including Mojave, Lamont and Buttonwillow sub-stations. He has also worked in various units in Bakersfield, including three years in homicide, narcotics and regular patrol, which he said he enjoyed. “I enjoy taking bad people to jail,” he said.
Robins recently transferred from internal affairs, saying that he was extremely familiar with handling and resolving complaints.
Robins had been in the valley for less than a week when he spoke at the Coffee with a Cop session. Despite being a newcomer to the area, he was receptive to the issues that were raised during the round-table discussion.
The newly-promoted Sergeant told the group that he had heard from many sources about the phenomenal job that Sgt. Nicholson was doing in the Kern Valley in reducing crime and making arrests. Robins stated that he has known Nicholson for a very long time and plans to continue with Nicholson’s trend and stated that he will also continue with the policies and practices that Nicholson implemented in the Kern Valley.
“We are of the same mindset,” he said. “I want to improve the quality of life for the citizens of the Kern River Valley, ” noting that he will continue to focus on vagrancy, property crimes and nuisances, stating that he will hammer those crimes, adding that he has a good staff of deputies working at the local sub-station.
Robins said he will maintain an open-door policy at the Kern Valley sheriff’s sub-station, inviting residents to come and talk with him if they have any issues or concerns. “If anyone has any complaints regarding my personnel, I would love the opportunity to handle it at my level first before you take it over the hill to Bakersfield,” he said. “I’m not discouraging anyone from taking complaints to the office in Bakersfield, but I’m asking for the opportunity to handle any problems or complaints myself at my level first.”
Robins said that he requested the assignment to the Kern River Valley, saying that he had always wanted to work in this area and enjoys water activities and hiking.
Those in attendance openly discussed the community problems such as drugs, vagrancy and homelessness. Robins listened as various concerns were brought to his attention and responded that he would look into the concerns raised.
Questions from the group ranged from information about the recent burglary at the Pizza Factory and the general increase in crime in the Kern Valley to what was being done about squatters and vagrants who move into vacant homes or set up camps in remote areas.
Robins said that the investigation at the Pizza Factory is still pending, and they are attempting to make an identification of the make and model of the car shown in the surveillance video. He said that he had already met with the code compliance officer assigned to the Kern Valley and that he understands that vagrancy is a serious problem in the area, adding that he plans to make dealing with the issue a top priority.
Ted Brumer stated his concern of the number of squatters hiding out in Keyesville to which Robins responded that he would be willing to shift focus of his officers to the Keyesville area.
When asked about the number of deputies working in the Kern Valley during a 24-hour period, Robins responded that he did not wish to give out technical details, but that deputies were on a 12-hour shift system, which puts more deputies on at any given time. He added that he currently has one deputy vacancy and hopes that within a year, the sub-station will be fully staffed with a total of 12 deputies, two Senior Deputies and a Sergeant.
Robins said he was aware of Nicholson’s town hall meeting, adding that he intends to organize a town hall meeting once he has had the opportunity to get to know the community, issues and his staff.
The problem of homeless camps dominated much of the Coffee with a Cop session, specifically with questions of what can be done to discourage homeless individuals from moving in to the area and what can be done to encourage them to leave.
One resident commented that there are a number of homeless camps located in areas around Lake Isabella that are inaccessible to sheriff patrol cars. He offered to show the new sergeant the areas where homeless individuals gather as well as the drug camps in the area. Robins accepted the offer.
Another issue that was raised was the amount of trash and debris that is left behind when homeless camps are abandoned, leaving the responsibility of clean up to community volunteers or Kern County code compliance. Stories were shared about vagrants camping out along the dry Borel Canal, and criminals who use the canal to evade pursuing sheriff patrol cars.
When one resident asked what the community could do to assist the new sergeant in his duties, he responded by saying that communication is critical.
“If I don’t know there is a problem, I can’t fix it,” Robins said. “Our greatest resource is you guys being the eyes and ears and letting me know about these problems.”
Robins told the group that it would take him a couple of weeks to get to know the area and formulate his plan, but he concluded that he was pleased that the issues of the morning were brought to his attention adding that he looks forward to working in the Kern Valley and getting to know the people and area.