Law enforcement is serious business for William Bowen. Galt's newest police chief will flash a smile when he talks about how he wanted to design buildings growing up, but his demeanor intensifies when discussing the issues facing his city — such as the spike in underage prescription drug abuse or the need to quickly paint over gang-related graffiti.
Bowen, who served as Rio Vista's police chief for more than five years, officially began duties with the Galt Police Department in late May. He served the bulk of his more than three decades in law enforcement, 26 years, with the Reno Police Department. In a lightly edited interview with the News-Sentinel, Bowen talked about his new position, its challenges and how law enforcement is embracing the digital age.
Q: What career would you have chosen if you had not entered law enforcement?
A: I actually had no desire to go into law enforcement when I was young. I wanted to be an architect. I was going to take a drafting class at a junior college in
Fremont, but it was canceled. I needed something else that had three units, so I took a class on police community relations. I went on a ridealong as part of the class and have been in law enforcement ever since.
Q: What are some similarities and differences between Rio Vista and Galt?
A: The biggest difference is the population. There are about 8,000 people in Rio Vista and around 24,000 in Galt. However, both places have a strong community support system for law enforcement. Citizens in both places are very giving and have a sense of closeness with one another.
Earlier this week there was an attempted purse-snatching in Galt. A citizen assisted the woman and obtained the suspect's license plate number for police.
One of the things I've noticed about Galt in the short time I've been here is the geography-based crime we get. Since we are in between Highways 99 and 12 and Interstate 5, we get a lot of the "hit and run" crimes. Since we are in this transportation junction, people will roll through from bigger cities and attempt strong-arm robberies and burglaries.
Q: What other crimes does Galt consistently see?
A: I haven't seen many locations with graffiti because we are quick to paint over it, but gang-related graffiti is common. When we see a tagging, we photograph it and then get it covered up. Leaving it up creates more of a problem because it gives them notoriety. The graffiti itself can also contain threats to a rival gang.
There was some Norteño graffiti near the Brewster's Bar and Grill that just opened, but we have already covered it up.
Property crimes and burglaries related to substance abuse are always an issue for us to focus on. Larceny and thefts from suspects looking to fund their drug habits was an issue in Rio Vista, and it's an issue here. We are seeing copper wires stolen from irrigation systems and brass sprinklers stolen from fields. People will recycle the scrap and use it to pay for their drug addictions. In my experience in Rio Vista, these crimes were related to methamphetamine addictions.
Finally, prescription drug abuse among minors continues to be a growing trend nationally and locally. Counselors at the high school have said students will raid their parents' medicine cabinets and steal the painkillers. They will either sell them at school or use them.
The best way to fight this is to not leave your pills out in the open and know how many are in the bottle.
Q: What role does technology play in Galt's law enforcement?
A: We compile data and do a lot of crime analysis. Back when I started we had a "pin map," which was a map mounted to a wall with pins stuck in it. Now we use Google Maps to track and recognize patterns. From there, we can send patrols to areas with higher concentrations of reports and also connect with neighbors in the area. Technology is important, but we still focus on keeping the community involved. Getting them to call us when something doesn't look right is important.
Technology has also helped us because everyone seems to have a cellphone with a camera now. We regularly have witnesses take pictures or videos with their cellphone cameras and show it to one of our officers.
Q: By many measures, violent crime is down nationwide despite the economy. Do you agree with these figures?
A: I'd answer your question with a question: Law enforcement agencies across the country have lost staff members and had their budgets trimmed in recent years. With fewer officers on the force, fewer calls can be serviced. In turn, citizens end up reporting less crime because they feel the police can't respond in a timely fashion or have other crimes to worry about. So my question would be: If a crime isn't reported, does that mean it didn't happen?
Q: Speaking of budget cuts, what is Galt's situation and how are you planning on coping?
A: One of the reasons the Galt position was so attractive is because citizens here passed Measure R. The initiative passed in 2008 and increased sales tax in Galt by one-half of one cent to help fund public services. We have a committee that tracks expenses to make sure the money is used properly, and Measure R funds have helped protect us during these lean times. We're still making cuts and monitoring our costs, but we are in better shape than other organizations.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.