In the News - Friday, May 7, 2010
candidates face off at 3R forum
by John Elliott
Monday, May 3, local voters had just such an opportunity
at the regular Three Rivers Town Hall to become more
informed about the issues in the campaign for Tulare
Following a brief explanation of the
ground rules for questions from the audience, candidates
Chief John Zapalac (challenger), and Sheriff Bill
Wittman (incumbent) were allotted up to seven minutes
to make an opening statement.
Zapalac, 59, currently Woodlake’s
chief of police, opened the discussion by framing
the challenges of fighting crime in Tulare County.
He said the majority of crime in Tulare County involves
gangs and drugs.
I took over as police chief in 1997, gangs actually
controlled the two city parks in Woodlake,”
Zapalac recalled. “Today, the community owns
those parks and families can enjoy these parks and
feel safe to walk the streets.”
Zapalac said the number-one drug problem
in Tulare County is methamphetamine. It’s like
a disease, he said, and one that he has combated in
Woodlake with prevention.
want to be your sheriff because I’m young, healthy,
and want to reduce crime in Tulare County like we
have done in Woodlake,” Zapalac told the audience.
Sheriff Wittman admitted he was a little
nervous but assured the audience that he is the current
sheriff and has been for the past 15 years.
I first became sheriff in 1995, the department didn’t
even have bullet-proof vests for its officers,”
Wittman said. “Today we have the best equipment,
best patrol cars, and the best firearms of any department
of similar size.”
Wittman, 66, also reminded the audience
that he has been in law enforcement for more than
40 years, the majority of that with the Tulare County
Sheriff’s Department. He said when it comes
to dealing with gangs “…we hit them hard
For his department, suppression is the
priority, but the 12 community-based officers that
are being funded with federal stimulus money demonstrate
that “…we are for prevention too.”
The questions from the audience ranged
from how to deal with rowdy youth to protecting riverfront
property owners’ rights. The answers to these
questions eventually came around to coverage and response
Huge challenges are posed by the lack
of funding, Wittman said.
15 years, I’ve seen the budget grow from $33
million to $82 million but for these last two years
I’ve had to take a $5.2 million hit,”
Wittman said. “You have a resident deputy and
I’ve tried to have an extra deputy up here on
Deputy Fansett’s days off.”
But there still is little coverage at
night and 911 response times that have ranged from
a few minutes when the resident deputy is on duty
to an hour or more when no deputies are local.
Here’s where the two candidates
had some clear differences.
response times are not acceptable,” replied
Zapalac. “There are ways to rotate the officers
so some could always be available to respond in less
Wittman rebutted Zapalac’s statements
by assuring everyone that the department is doing
the best they can given the current budget.
would address the Board of Supervisors and educate
them as to why funding must be in place to rotate
these officers,” Zapalac said.
One possible solution to the lack of
law-enforcement coverage at night is the use of surveillance
cameras at key places.
used cameras in Woodlake in the city parks and it
has had an impact when an officer can walk right up
on the criminal activity,” Zapalac said.
Wittman concluded his remarks by saying:
“I’ve had to fight for every dime for
what this department needs to do the job and as your
sheriff I will continue to do so.”
The next Town Hall Meeting is scheduled
for Monday, June 7, and will deal with the legality
of river use and access.