Praise for sheriff: Royal’s first year a welcome change |

Praise for sheriff: Royal’s first year a welcome change

In Truckee and across Nevada County, the previous sheriff’s tenure became inextricably linked to sexual misconduct at the substation jail there in 1997.

The fallout is still a fresh memory.

“It was just one of those unfortunate, ugly things,” said Truckee Town Councilman Bob Drake, recalling the case that brought multiple convictions against former correctional officer Bobby Rutledge. “Probably no one is more upset when things like that happen than other officers.”

But enough angry voters – citing the Rutledge case and others – petitioned for a recall vote, and then-Sheriff Troy Arbaugh wound up losing to Keith Royal in last June’s special election.

Now, nearly 11 months since Royal took office, Drake likes the changes he sees. And he’s seen four sheriffs – Bill Heafey, Paul Rankin, Arbaugh and Royal – over six years.

“We’ve had a good relationship with the Sheriff’s Office, and Keith is probably the most personable of the gentlemen I mentioned,” Drake said. “He’s a better speaker and makes more of an impression.”

A polished sheriff?

During an interview in his office last week, his desk covered with notes, the perpetually upbeat Royal centered on his accomplishments, not the least of which is getting word out about what his department is doing.

“We’ve done a great deal in improving communication, he said, noting how officers frequently meet with community groups or are made available to media.

During his campaign, communication was on Royal’s platform, along with restoring department credibility, giving residents respectful service, using money and resources efficiently and promoting community education and awareness.

“It’s been very exciting,” he says. “I guess when you look back at what I thought my commitments were and what we’ve been able to accomplish in this short period of time, I’m very satisfied. I’m very satisfied where we’ve come.”

Firing down that list, Royal included:

– Reopening the Truckee jail on a 24-hour basis, several months ago, with newly installed cameras that can monitor jailers and inmates in specific holding areas. The jail also saw the hiring of female correctional officers, which Royal said is a big step toward preventing further sexual misconduct.

– Restructuring the department’s leadership by switching from two assistant sheriffs to one undersheriff, John Trauner.

Now the department’s three captains – who oversee patrol and investigations, the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, and the Truckee substation – report to one boss.

“We wanted to clearly delineate the lines of communication and the chain of command,” Royal said.

– Launching into the Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) philosophy, which espouses officers working more closely with neighbors.

Historically, Royal said, robberies, burglaries and other serious crimes gained most of the department’s attention. But talks with residents show they’re just as concerned with racing cars, loud stereos and parties, arguing neighbors and stray animals.

“If we can improve the environment where people live, it means a lot to the quality of life to those individuals,” he said.

Residents near Scotts Flat Lake, he said, recently thanked him when concerns about speeding were resolved with the help of department volunteers.

Royal said the department has also become more responsive by opening service centers in Penn Valley and near Lake of the Pines.

– Getting five more officers on the streets through the use of grant money, restructured shifts and handing off more duties to volunteers. Two officers have become fixtures at Nevada Union and Bear River high schools, whereas before they often left school grounds to answer calls.

– Increased use of volunteers, thus freeing up sworn officers to patrol the streets more.

Volunteers were often “stuck in the office” filing papers and answering phones. More often they’re serving civil papers or out on citizen patrol. They’re also taking less serious accident reports and learning how to lift fingerprints.

He also sees the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility as a potential money-maker and is in contract talks with the Immigration and Naturalization Service on jailing illegal aliens here.

Proceeds from such an arrangement could help buy upgraded equipment, such as a high-band radio system (as opposed to the current low-band system) which can send photographs and other data to patrol officers.

Royal has been to the Board of Supervisors seeking money for hirings and equipment.

But, he said, “I don’t look at the Board of Supervisors as this wealth of dollars to hand out to the department, so we’re going to have to do it ourselves, so we’re taking steps to do that.”

Supervisor Sam Dardick said he’s been “very impressed” with Royal’s creativity in stretching his budget.

“I know it’s disappointing to him that we don’t have the resources and the money to provide him with all the men he would like to have on,” Dardick said.

Dardick said he and other supervisors have heard citizen compliments on Royal’s performance, but he avoided comparing Royal to his predecessor.

“It’s a new department with a new sheriff, and I think everyone is going to give him all the support they can, and I don’t think we’re going to measure him against the previous administration,” he said. “We’re going to measure him for what he achieves.”

Royal, 47, said the job has been everything he envisioned – no unexpected challenges, no unwanted duties. He likes the job, despite working 60 to 70 hours a week, and plans to run for reelection in two and a half years.

“I like people,” he said. “I like dealing with the community at various levels. I enjoy administrating and working with this organization because of the people that work here.

“They are the true hidden treasure of this community and they do their job 110 percent.”

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