From the jan. 6, 2010 issue
By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer
Saying he’s taking “the next logical step” in a law enforcement career that’s spanned 30 years, District Attorney’s Office Chief Investigator Mike Hislop has announced his candidacy for county sheriff.
In an interview, Hislop said his priorities would be community outreach and fiscal responsibility if he’s elected.
He’ll be running against Undersheriff Mike Downey, who’s been with the Sheriff’s Office 24 years and has the support of retiring Sheriff Gary Philp.
Hislop also has the support of his boss, District Attorney Paul Gallegos, and he said his experience as a Eureka Police Department field training officer, detective and sergeant combined with his management-level investigative work for the DA’s Office gives him “a wider perspective on how the criminal justice system works.”
He added, “I will use all of my experience, along with my professionalism, to bring the Sheriff’s Office up to a higher level.”
Part of that would involve improving community relations. “Typically in law enforcement, there’s a disconnect between the law enforcement agency and the community that it works for,” said Hislop. “I would narrow that gap.”
He also stressed the importance of financial management as a recession and budget deficits continue. Overtime costs need to be controlled, Hislop continued, and he said his successful grant-writing efforts have done that in the DA’s Office.
Asked about crime trends that concern him, Hislop said methamphetamine use is related to violent crime.
“We need to think outside the box and come up with some inventive ways to attack that problem – if we effectively attack the methamphetamine problem, I think we’re going to lower the violent crime rate,” he continued.
For years, meth suppression has been described as a priority law enforcement goal. But recently, the prevalence of marijuana growing has gotten more publicity. It’s been associated with robberies and sometimes, violent crime.
Hislop acknowledged those impacts but distinguished between legal and illegal cultivation. “We don’t make the laws up, we enforce them,” he said. “If people stay within the (Proposition) 215 guidelines, they’re going to be okay, they’re not going to be in trouble.”
The Sheriff’s Office’s most notable controversy has probably stemmed from the teaming of deputies with code enforcement officers.
“Code enforcement needs to be its own entity,” Hislop said, adding that the back-up of deputies is an option.
“But only if there are officer safety issues and not because of a preemptive strike on marijuana grows,” he continued.
Of the cases he’s worked on as a DA investigator, Hislop regards the successful cold case investigation into the 1990 killing of Curtis Huntzinger as the most memorable. It resulted in the arrest and conviction of Huntzinger’s killer, Steven Daniel Hash, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence, and the recovery of Huntzinger’s body.
“We solved the crime and brought closure to the family, which is very important in the Native American culture,” Hislop said.
Another important case, he continued, is that of “a certain police chief we were able to prosecute,” a reference to the prosecution of former Blue Lake Police Chief Dave Gundersen.
Gundersen was acquitted of the 12 counts of spousal rape that were brought against him but was convicted of taking nude photos of his wife without her permission and of illegally possessing weapons.
“I firmly believe that police need to police themselves,” said Hislop. With the Gundersen case, he continued, “We were able to clean our own house and I’m proud of that.”
The County is setting up a Citizens’ Law Enforcement Liaison Committee, and one of its provisions will be the capability to bring in an independent auditor – essentially an outside investigator – to probe controversial incidents involving deputies.
It would depend on approval of the sheriff. Hislop said the work of an auditor would be limited because of personnel issues and the inability to access information while internal investigations are going on.
But he supports using the committee as a “sounding board” and views it as “part of establishing a better connection with the community.”