Darren Thompson was inspired to pursue law enforcement growing up in Santa Cruz County in the early 70s when there were two serial killers and a mass murderer in the area.
“Those things had a tremendous impact on me and my household,” said Thompson, age 53.
Thompson is running against Bill Hutchison, 44, a deputy with the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office.
Thompson mentioned how he came from a family where his father was a minister and public service was important.
“I knew I needed to combine my desire to serve people with my passion for justice,” Thompson said.
He went on to work his way up the ladder at the Watonsville Police Department to lieutenant and spent 23 years in total there before winning the local sheriff’s role in 2010.
“It’s an interesting thing about being sheriff,” he said. “When I was campaigning, people tried to encourage me and tell me that being the sheriff is a powerful opportunity. I just haven’t experienced that. I’ve never felt powerful a single day. I’ve only felt responsible.”
He said he can retire in a few years but he’s still young and intends to continue pursuing his calling.
He said he wants to continue developing staff into a “deeper level of professionalism” and said law enforcement is in his nature.
Looking ahead, he said there are significant challenges internally and in the county. He said the office battles the same issue as other rural agencies, how to attract and retain qualified candidates.
“It’s very difficult to locate those people,” Thompson said. “We’re all competing for them. Every agency around us is hiring, and they have many opportunities in those agencies.”
Another big challenge is communication, he said. Equipment has been upgraded, but he said there are areas in the county where radios are ineffective.
“We need to spend a good amount of money in redesigning our infrastructure for our radios,” Thompson said.
He also wants to improve community communication and become more adept at social media.
From a broader perspective, he said the agency must learn how to deal with State Senate Bill 54, which restricts local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal agencies on immigration matters. In the past, witnesses could work with law enforcement without worrying about immigration status, he said.
“We have some challenges and some difficulties with that,” he said. “If we’re not going to be allowed to communicate with our federal partners — then on those occasions when communication is necessary for public safety, even necessary for the safety of our undocumented residents, we’re struggling with that now.”
Adult-use marijuana legalization has come with complications, he said.
“We now know that the criminal enterprise is thriving in that chaos,” he said. “They’re operating in the legal market and the black market.”
His big goal for the next term is finding and developing staff.
This is an ever-changing industry, and it’s critical that we invest in the proper training for the people that work here that are out there risking their lives to serve,” he said. “We want them to be serving in the most effective way possible.”