By Deb Murphy
Inyo County voters have a choice between the continuation of the current level of service with some reorganization to provide more coverage in South County or a new vision because the “good old boy” system isn’t working.
That was the picture presented by Undersheriff Jeff Hollowell and Deputy Josh Nicholson, respectively, as they faced off at the Independence Civic Club’s voter education forum Monday evening.
With the retirement of Sheriff Bill Lutze, Hollowell’s candidacy was a given; Nicholson was a surprise.
Here are the highlights of the forum:
Hollowell is a Bishop native with 30 years working his way up through Inyo’s Sheriff’s Department. As Undersheriff for the last four years, he has run the day-to-day operations.
Nicholson graduated from Bishop High in 2000, joined the Army with two deployments in the Middle East, earned his Bachelors in criminal justice, his Masters in public administration, signed up with the California National Guard and deployed to Kosovo.
Hollowell sees untreated mental health as one of the primary challenge for law enforcement. He’s currently working with the County’s Behavioral Health Department to establish a relationship with a facility in Ridgecrest to help deal with those issues. Other challenges include prescription opioids and changes in legislation that put more pressure on department.
Nicholson points to the loss of personnel in the last two years due to a lack of leadership. He feels the department hasn’t adapted to new laws and propositions.
On budgetary issues, Hollowell has experience developing budgets for the department for the last seven years. Nicholson hasn’t overseen budget but as a Bishop Unified School District board member understands the discipline necessary in the process.
Neither agreed with California’s sanctuary state law.
Both agreed 12-hour shifts, rather than the current 10-hours, would provide better coverage. Both agreed the reduction of drug possession to a misdemeanor was an issue. Hollowell said the department needed to stay on top of drug offenses; Nicholson would assign an investigator to work on the problem. “You have to be creative,” he said, “and help youth make the right choices.”
Nicholson felt officer training needed to be revamped. Hollowell cited the current six months of academy training and four months of field training.
Nicholson would appoint a school resource officer to serve the whole County and begin building relationships, noting something was better than nothing. Hollowell has discussed potential funding sources for the position with Barry Simpson, running uncontested for the position of County Superintendent of Schools.
In his closing statement, Hollowell explained the sheriff’s job wasn’t one you could learn on the job. Nicholson said the choice for voters was easy—either a positive change and vision or the good old boy status quo.