Speeding cars were among the top concerns voiced to Colusa County Sheriff Joe Garofalo by Arbuckle residents at last week’s community meeting at the Arbuckle Fire Hall.
Residents also touched on the topics of immigration, drugs, gangs, firearms, legal cannabis, body camera usage, and sex trafficking.
Hillgate Road speeders
Multiple Arbuckle residents brought up the issue of cars traveling down Hillgate Road at high rates of speed, which was addressed by Franco Castillo, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol, Williams Area.
Castillo encouraged residents to continue reporting speeding cars to the area office, and to be specific when they make the reports. If the Williams area office is closed, Castillo said that residents have other options.
“(On the weekends), call our communications center in Chico. You can also use your cell phone and call 911,” he said.
Castillo added that residents should be as specific as possible with the times and descriptions of the vehicle: the license plate number, what type of vehicle it is, and even a description of the driver.
“Anything information helps,” Castillo said.
Residents asked Castillo to consider additional enforcement on Hillgate Road, and said that the electronic speed sign – which has been used by the Sheriff’s Office in the area – was often counterproductive, with cars trying to see how fast they can go on the sign.
Garofalo fielded more questions than concerns at the meeting. Some residents just wanted to know how they could help.
Garofalo said if residents see something suspicious – anything – to call the Sheriff’s Office and report it.
“I hate seeing people get victimized,” Garofalo said. “You know, property thefts – we’d love to just stamp those out. Drugs are always here, and we’re doing our best to keep them out of the county, but it’s an uphill battle,” Garofalo said.
Residents also asked whether illegal drugs in Arbuckle had been more or less of a problem when compared with past years.
“I’m optimistic. I think it’s less based on the stats,” Garofalo said, adding that drug trends were cyclical. “I’m hearing there’s more cocaine, which used to be that in the 80s and 90s it was prevalent. Methamphetamine did a big surge, now cocaine is coming back.”
Garofalo deferred to Task Force commander Michael Bradwell for more information on drugs in the community.
“The bad – cocaine, heroine – we’ve seen uptrends in Arbuckle, we hit a lot of houses in the last year, and we see the downtrends,” said Bradwell. “There’s always something going on. Every time we hit someone, there’s somebody else pops up. We don’t have a whole bunch of stuff going on in town, but we’re definitely working on that… they’re always there. They’re coming from other counties; they’re on I-5.”
Bradwell said that in the case of methamphetamine, most of the supply of the drug is transported into the country.
“Most of our meth is already produced in another country and brought here,” Bradwell said. “There’s so many hundreds of pounds coming up, to actually cook here would be pointless… There’s too much production going.”
Bradwell echoed Garofalo in saying the community’s help was a necessary component in successful law enforcement.
“The more you communicate with the Task Force… the more it helps us. We work off information,” Bradwell said.
Cannabis in the county
The discussion also moved to cannabis: where the county was in the process of considering allowing the commercial cannabis industry, and what was currently allowed for personal cultivation.
Bradwell said that illegal outdoors grows had been successfully tamped down in unincorporated Colusa County, and Garofalo added that nobody should be growing – even indoors – because no one had gone through the county’s process to grow legally by obtaining a permit.
“There has not been one permit issued in the county, so no one should be growing, period,” Garofalo.
Asked whether he had offered his personal opinion on the commercial industry to the County Board of Supervisors, Garofalo said he had.
“As the sheriff, I’ve provided my input. I don’t want it in the county.” Garofalo said. “I’m quite frustrated with the City of Colusa, and the open arms approach they’ve taken. I’ve expressed my frustration with that, and it’s fallen on deaf ears.”
Sex trafficking an increasing issue, but coming from neighboring areas
Another question, this one from Carol Geyer, superintendent of Pierce Joint Unified School District, was whether the Sheriff’s Office had begun to see an increase in sex trafficking recently.
“We think it’s an issue,” Geyer said.
Garofalo agreed before giving way to Bradwell again.
“We worked a couple cases, and we’ve actually had cases in this area,” Bradwell said. “A lot of it we’re working with Sacramento or FBI, and that kind of stuff. But this community, in general, we don’t have that big of a problem. We’ve had it come in, but mainly, it’s other counties kind of flushing over into here.”
What about gangs?
Garofalo said that gang activity had become less blatant over the years, but it still exists.
“They’re starting to blend in. We have some bleed over from other counties,” Garofalo said. “They’re still around. I don’t want to say they’re inactive; they’re just being smarter about it.”
Bradwell said that with drug sales, there was even some intermingling between what are seen as rival gangs.
Touching on Immigration, SB 54
Cooperation, or the lack thereof, with Immigration and Customs Enforcement was another topic of conversation that arose, with viewpoints on both sides of the issue – centered largely around the recently passed Senate Bill 54 – better known as California’s Sanctuary State Law.
Garofalo said that not much had changed for the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office after the passage of SB 54, because he said that the department was never “helping ICE do their job,” as it had been largely portrayed in the discussion about the bill.
“In my 22 years, we’ve never helped ICE,” Garofalo said. “Our only, what I would call slight assistance with them, is going to talk to an individual that’s been in custody, and asking if they want to talk to ICE. There’s a big misnomer out there that cops are helping ICE.”
Sheriff’s Office increasingly working with Behavioral Health
Garofalo also touched on the increasing emphasis on mental issues, and how the department’s practices had changed in recent years.
“We’ve seen a huge spike in dealings with mentally ill people, and in calls for service,” Garofalo said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office increasingly works very closely with the county’s behavioral health department.
Bradwell added that increased drug usage had exacerbated mental health issues in the community.
“We’re seeing drug-induced psychosis, from heavy use of drugs like methamphetamine or heroine, and marijuana,” Bradwell said. “There’s always a mental health issue, but we see an increase with the drug addiction problem.”
Body cameras “available” to everyone at department, but use isn’t mandatory
Merced Corona asked whether Garofalo had considered making use of body cameras mandatory for his department, and Garofalo said that everyone in the department already had access to body cameras, and that they are frequently used. He added, however, that there is no policy making their use mandatory – and that he didn’t see the need to put such a policy in place.
Assistant Sheriff Jim Saso added that their use was more commonplace than one might assume, because the body cameras act as an insurance policy in use-of-force incidences and against complaints.
Arbuckle resident asks for Sheriff’s stance on certain rifle platforms
Arbuckle resident Erik Kolderup asked what Garofalo’s stance was on public ownership of “military weapons” and if he would rather the public not have access to those types of guns – what he described as “high velocity, person-killing rifles” such as AR-15s and AK-47s.
“Are we talking about legal guns?” Garofalo asked. “I’m a proponent of concealed carry. I was raised around guns, I feel comfortable with guns, and I taught my kids the safety measures of guns – if that kind of answers your question. That’s the one thing I have under my control.”
When pressed by Kolderup, Garofalo added that he didn’t believe that guns were the issue.
“You might not agree with this, but I don’t think guns kill people,” Garofalo told Kolderup. “I think people kill people, and they’ll use whatever platform necessary – they’ve proven that with vehicles, knives, machetes, bombs… It’s whatever platform they choose to use. If they want to hurt somebody, they’re going to hurt somebody.”
Asked by another resident whether he felt there was an issue with the number of guns in Colusa County, or if he worried that his officers would be out-gunned, Garofalo said no.
“Some people have guns. Some people feel, ‘I don’t feel safe to have a gun in my house, I don’t want that responsibility.’ And that’s their right, absolutely,” he said. “But it’s also the next person’s right to have 100 guns. Some people like guns – it’s a sport for them, or a hobby for them… and that’s their right to own that.”
Bradwell noted that many of the guns seized in criminal investigations were obtained illegally.
“A lot of what I see, and what I deal with, whether there is more regulation on guns or not, it’s not going to make a difference – that’s what I feel,” Bradwell said. ■