Bill Pooley was sworn in as the new Sheriff of Tuolumne County by Judge Donald Segerstrom at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday afternoon to the rousing applause of more than 100 community members and law enforcement.
It was a far cry from his start in law enforcement 28 years ago.
When Pooley began his career as an officer of the Sonora Police Department in 1990, he never imagined, nor did he desire, he would lead a law enforcement agency in Tuolumne County.
“When I was younger, I would have said I would never promote,” he said. “As you mature, it’s more fun to help people and serve people. I think that’s where the dynamic changed for me.”
One lesson from the first days of his career still resonates for him today. As an officer of the Sonora Police Department, Pooley said he was introduced to the concept of “community policing.”
He patrolled downtown Sonora on foot during every shift. He checked in with local merchants. He introduced himself to passersby.
That model, he said, would be reproduced at the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office through a concerted program of local engagement and conscientious enforcement.
“The first time you meet one of our deputies should not be when you are in crisis,” he said. “It’s really about getting out of your car. It’s about talking to people. Even those that are reluctant to be engaged, and I believe that.”
After the Sonora Police Department, Pooley worked for a few years at the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office. He was providing security in front of the old community courthouse when, during the trial, Ellie Nesler sho t the man accused of molesting her son and was a bailiff during her subsequent trial.
He spent the bulk of his career in Stanislaus County, working in narcotics, as a detective, on street crimes, on wiretaps for the Scott Peterson case, and later as the interim chief of the Hughson Police Department, and chief of the Riverbank Police Department.
In 2013, former Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele offered him a position as undersheriff, where he served for the past five years.
“I jumped at it. It’s been like coming home,” he said.
A Tuolumne County native, Pooley said he spent most of his young life in Alaska but visited family in the area every summer. His roots go back five generations to the 1860s, he said, when his family members helped settle the area. Pooley now lives in Twain Harte with his wife, Jamie.
Pooley said since he served as undersheriff for five years to three-term Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele, there wouldn’t be “very many major changes” to how the Sheriff’s Office runs day-to-day. Mele resigned six months before his term ended,
“My role from undersheriff to sheriff has changed. I’m more of a political figure now. It’s going to be hard for me to turn the day to day over to the undersheriff,” he said. “My job is getting out in the community. My job is finding better ways of doing business.”
Lt. Neil Evans will be promoted to undersheriff on July 8, Pooley said.
One of his first actions as sheriff, he said, would be to assign one full time deputy and one part time deputy schools as resource officers.
“I think in today’s day and age, we need them to build those relationships with those kids,” he said.
Pooley also noted his intention to seek solutions for quality of life issues, including homelessness and petty crime. His father was once homeless, he said, and his family experience taught him that empathy and availability of resources were the first steps to setting individuals on the track of personal success.
“I have a lot of sympathy for the homeless,” he said. “We’re not here to arrest our way out of a situation.”
Pooley spearheaded a task force to help Jamestown address issues related to homelessness last year with many merchants complaining about campsites, public drunkenness or defecating in the streets. Under his leadership, deputies would continue to visit those areas in the early mornings to catch people before they become intoxicated and offer them services. Just since last year, he said, some of the homeless people that he contacted had found their way off of the streets.
“If you can’t get them help at the exact moment, you’ll never be able to help them,” he said. “That’s not what Tuolumne County is. That’s San Francisco.”
But Pooley acknowledged that his plans for the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office were underscored by fiscal and budgetary restraints.
“We have to look at the Sheriff’s Office like a business. Successful business are constantly overhauling themselves. We have to get better,” he said.
The plan for school resources officers in schools would pull manpower from patrol, he said. A developing plan for a Tuolumne County Sheriff mounted division was indefinitely on hold.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office employs 62 sworn positions, including Pooley, detectives and deputies. This year the office is anticipating four vacancies and plans to send four Tuolumne County locals to the academy for training.
Pooley’s three-point plan for the Sheriff’s Office focuses on efficiency and eliminating wasteful or redundant spending.
Computers in patrol vehicles, he said, would “enhance delivery of services” by not forcing deputies to drive long distances to check or validate information. Referring to the distribution of Sheriff’s Office employees as “fractured,” Pooley also said he would seek internal deficiencies and consolidate resources for deputies or detectives assigned to specific tasks.
Lastly, he said he planned to “enhance staffing” to increase retention, provide opportunities for deputies seeking advancement.
A major milestone of his tenure as sheriff, he said, would be ensuring the completion of the $40 million dollar county jail, the J.H. "Jack" Dambacher Detention Center, “on time and under-budget” by the end of 2019.
Pooley also reinforced his opposition to commercial marijuana cultivation.
“I’m 100 percent against it,” he said. “I think this county, if you allow that, you’re rushing into it. As I sit here today I see no good coming from it.”
Pooley acknowledged the opioid and methamphetamine problem in the county, and noted that the new jail could alleviate some of the issues with the cycling out of misdemeanor offenders from the current county jail.
At the swearing-in ceremony, there was little, if any, discussion about the pressing law enforcement and political issues facing the county. The event was marked as a tribute to Pooley.
“Nobody likes Mr. Pooley, I can tell,” joked Supervisor John Gray, indicating Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, District Attorney Laura Krieg and dozens of other law enforcement personnel in uniform. “This is something the board is required to do, but in this case, it’s an honor to do.”
Pooley choked up when he introduced his wife and their two children. As he turned toward the crowd, his voice broke with emotion.
“It’s your organization,” he said. “You are the Sheriff’s Office.”