As he prepared to leave the Merced County Sheriff’s Department for a job with the California Governor’s Office, Sheriff Mark Pazin reflected Friday on his time as a deputy and as the department’s top cop.
“Looking back, I really can’t say I have any regrets,” he said.
Pazin, 57, confirmed his appointment this week to serve as chief of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Law Enforcement Branch. Gov. Jerry Brown’s office announced the appointment Thursday in a statement.
The veteran sheriff will formally step down from the department Dec. 31 and start his new duties Jan. 2.
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Area law enforcement officials congratulated Pazin.
“I know this has been a goal of his for a long time, and I’m very happy to see him accomplish it,” Merced police Chief Norm Andrade said. “I know he’s worked very hard for it. It’s always been a pleasure working with him, and I know he’ll do well in his new position.”
District Attorney Larry D. Morse II said he was happy to have called Pazin a “friend and colleague for more than two decades.”
“I’ve always said Mark is absolutely the best local retail politician; he has indefatigable energy and has worked 365 days a year and never tires of the duties of the job,” Morse said. “I wish him all the best in Sacramento, and I think he’ll enjoy the new challenges.”
Pazin said he is proud of his achievements in office, including the state-of-the-art equipment that has come to the department during his tenure and the new facilities created in response to the state Prison Realignment Act.
“You make decisions, you have your critics and I’ve had mine,” Pazin said. “But I embrace those critics because I know I’m making decisions. If I didn’t have any critics, then I wouldn’t be doing the job.”
Specifically, the sheriff said he disagreed that he should have put more resources into combating street gangs in Merced County, saying he believed he did what he thought was possible with available resources.
“We have plenty of participation in the gang and (narcotics) task forces,” he said. “They may not have (the word) ‘gang’ in their title, but the STAR Team does a great job; they’re very aggressive combating the people that are hurting the quality of life in the area.”
The Sheriff’s Tactical and Reconnaissance Team focuses on narcotics, weapons, and dangerous fugitive apprehension, among other duties.
“Do we need more boots on the ground? Of course, we do,” he said. “But Merced County is 2,200 square miles so if we put more resources there (Planada) it’s at the expense of Le Grand, Delhi or some other area on the west side.”
There have been 28 homicides in 2013, 18 of which have been reported under the sheriff’s jurisdiction, making it one of the bloodiest years in recent memory.
Pazin said the high number of unsolved homicides is more of a reflection on the community’s unwillingness to help law enforcement than anything his office has or has not done this year.
“We get people asking, ‘What are you going to do? What are you going to do?’ But if people are not going to get involved, then our chances of solving the case are greatly diminished,” he said.
A lack of help is one of a great many things that has changed since Pazin first joined the Sheriff’s Department full time in 1981.
“The job used to be that you had a gun, a badge, a radio and just go get them,” he commented. “Now we have state-of-the-art technologies and communications, computers in vehicles and vehicles that we just never could have imagined when I first started.”
He said he’s also witnessed some very troubling changes over the years.
“Criminals are more aggressive now and much more sophisticated,” he said. “They know their rights, and they know exactly how far they can push law enforcement.”
He reflected on the fact that he’s seen many of the same names come through his jail over the years as successive generations of criminals “inherit” the family business.
“I chased their grandparents when I first started out, then that generation procreated and I chased them as a detective-sergeant and now there’s a new generation,” he said. “Some people have a farm that the next generation takes over and some have criminal activity.”
Pazin said he is “very proud” of the equipment – the helicopters and state-of-the-art SWAT weapons, vehicles and gear – that he’s helped bring to the department through military surplus programs and asset forfeitures.
“When I first took office in 2002, self-sufficiency was the mantra,” he said. “We didn’t want to have to be dependent on any other agency for equipment. That was our pursuit.”
Pazin said he is particularly proud of the Trident Center, a three-pronged approach to helping reduce recidivism after the prison realignment, which put many probation and alternative sentencing programs under one roof.
He said he believes that approach is the future of law enforcement and hopes other jurisdictions will use Merced County’s program as a template.
“I really don’t have any regrets,” he said. “It’s been a good career any way you cut it.”