County sheriff bringing back resident deputies for rural areas

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During his 2018 election campaign, Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez pledged to resurrect his agency’s resident deputy program, which assigns officers to serve the communities in which they live.

Lopez filled that role himself during the early days of his career, so he knows first-hand the benefits to his constituents.

“It’s near and dear to my heart, having been a resident deputy for five years” for the communities of Esparto and Winters, Lopez said.

Former Sheriff Ed Prieto halted the program during his 20-year tenure, citing its prohibitive costs. To Lopez, the pros outweigh any budgetary cons.

“You have to consider the benefits of having somebody building trust with the people they see every day, knowing when things look out of line because they’re there all the time,” he said.

So when it came time to revise the Sheriff’s Office budget, Lopez found a way to restore the resident deputy positions. Today, there are three — Reiko Matsumura and James Mount serving the Capay Valley, and Tom Hayes in the Zamora area north of Woodland.

All three are Yolo County natives, with Hayes raised in the western part of the county and Mount south of Woodland. Both have agricultural and farming backgrounds.

Matsumura, who filled the first restored resident deputy position in early 2020, was raised in Esparto. Lopez coached her in Little League for a time, and he’s urged his resident deputies to become equally involved in their communities.

“That’s part of the mindset I’m hoping to have them adopt — do things where folks will see you not only as a deputy but as a person, more than just a cop,” Lopez said.

He noted that the resident deputies’ presence goes “above and beyond” the county’s normal patrol staffing, with those deputies having the added responsibility of making contact with local businesses, schools and community groups.

Resident deputies also enjoy “flex shifts” that allow them to attend community events such as town-hall meetings and football games in order to build relationships there.

“Some people may look at it as Mayberry, and in some ways it is because it’s a familiar face,” Lopez said. “But with familiarity comes trust.”

The program’s expansion came as good news to Capay Valley residents, said Wyatt Cline, who said rural residents had begun to fear they’d been forgotten when it comes to law-enforcement protection.

“People talk about defunding the police. In our case it was, could we fund the police, as police coverage was thin at best,” said Cline, a rancher, retired Woodland firefighter and owner of the Guinda General Store.

The expanded resident deputy program “does not guarantee safety, but it does mean help is near and as we know generally bad people don’t tend to do bad stuff when cops are around,” Cline said.

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