Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

A long-awaited feature of "community policing" was realized Wednesday with the opening of a Calaveras County Sheriff's Office substation in Valley Springs.

About 50 people crowded into the office space next door to the town's post office in the Mar-Val supermarket shopping complex for a speech by Sheriff Gary Kuntz and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Opening the doors fulfills a campaign promise Kuntz made when running to replace retiring Sheriff Dennis Downum in 2010. The Valley Springs substation was closed as a cost-cutting measure Downum ordered in 2008 as his annual budget began to spiral downward.

"You can be at Mar-Val and come by, it's kind of a one-stop shop," Kuntz told the public Wednesday.

"We want the kids in the community to know if they get lost, or if they need help, to come here," added Capt. Jim Macedo.

The substation, at the corner of highways 12 and 26, boosts the law enforcement presence in a town that has become notorious for having the highest crime rate in the county.

It has no set hours as of yet but Sheriff's Office volunteers are striving to keep the doors open as many hours as possible. The town's "resident deputy," Cpl. Rudi Leon, and his fellow officers will file reports and make calls from the office, also aiming to have a presence whenever possible at the site to meet and interact with residents.

"If somebody has a question, they can come knock on the door and I can help him," Leon said. "We're going to be more accessible."

The sheriff, a Valley Springs resident whose own home was burglarized in a crime spree last year, said he wants to set up his own regular office hours at the substation.

Volunteers will do foot patrols of the surrounding parking lot, which has sometimes been a scene for drug deals, Kuntz said. He expects the presence of the non-sworn personnel to be enough to deter some criminals.

Having deputies in the area will lead to better response times and save on overtime and fuel costs, he said.

"If something goes down in town, it's a one-minute response," Kuntz said.

The Sheriff's Office also operates substations in Mokelumne Hill, West Point, Arnold and about two years ago re-opened one in Copperopolis.

Kuntz said he also has identified his full roster of resident deputies, those who, like Leon in Valley Springs, live in a particular community and devote time to engaging with community fixtures like schools and businesses to address local issues. In addition to Leon, the resident deputies are Paul Newnam in Copperopolis, Mike Oliveira in Arnold and, pending completion of about two months of new-hire training, John Alfred for the West Point-Mountain Ranch area.

Alfred is an 11-year veteran of the University of the Pacific Police Department in Stockton who recently joined the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, Kuntz said.