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Q&A: Nine Questions for Retiring Solano Sheriff Gary Stanton

Retiring Sheriff Gary Stanton answers questions about life during and after a four decade career serving Solano County.

Gary Stanton, retiring Solano County Sheriff/Coroner and Dixon resident, answers questions about life during and after a 40-year career serving Solano County in law enforcement.

When is your last day?

My last day of work with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office will be on October 31, 2012.

I began my career with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office as a Deputy Sheriff on November 1, 1972. My retirement date of October 31, 2012 represents precisely 40 years in law enforcement.

What was the driving force for you to serve as an officer? Your father retired as a Captain for Solano County Sheriffs Department after a 34 year career, did he encourage you to follow his lead?

Although my Father and my Uncle were both Deputy Sheriffs before me, they did not encourage me to join law enforcement.

At approximately age 21 I had already served some active duty time with the military (Army Reserve), I was married and my wife and I had a child. I began to realize that it was time for me to commit to a profession so that I could take care of the financial needs of my family, and assure my future.

I began by taking a course in Administration of Justice at Solano Community College, which peaked my interest in law enforcement. At the age of 22, I decided on a career in law enforcement and applied for the position of Deputy Sheriff.  

Although my Father did not specifically encourage me to join law enforcement, he was pleased when I did.  For a period of eight years my Father Robert, my Uncle William and simultaneously worked for the Solano County Sheriff’s Office.

All years tallied, we now have 100 years of law enforcement service in the Stanton family, all with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office.

Do you have a favorite memory of the job?Craziest memory/event?

I have hundreds of good memories of the job, and many of those memories would qualify as my favorites. The craziest memory or event would have to be being injured by females. 

Early in my career I had a tendency to treat female offenders a little differently because we often didn’t consider them a significant physical threat. The moment I let my guard down, they proved me wrong! My most painful experiences have been at the hands of drunken females, and those were hard learned lessons.

I have also see things during my career that I wish I had not seen, and I have had to do things during my career that I would have preferred to avoid. 

For a law enforcement officer, these things are unavoidable.  You take it in stride and move on to the next, or you leave the profession for something that is a better suited to your character.  The job is not for everybody.  

You're a Dixon resident now, how long have you lived in Dixon, do you plan to stay here after your retirement?

I was born and raised in Solano County and I have spent my entire life in this community. My wife Claudia and I have lived in Dixon for approximately 27 years. Claudia and I own our home and we are making no immediate plans to relocate. We will at some point examine our options.

What made you decide to make the move to elected position? Did you imagine that as your goal when you started? 

When I was first hired in 1972 by Sheriff Al Cardoza to become one of his deputies, I thought that I would be fortunate to be able to make it through the probationary period. My goal at the time was to prove that I could learn to do the job, and during the 70’s that was not easy to do. 

I did make it through the probation period and I learned quickly. I knew when I accepted the job that I would net be considered for promotion as long as I had family members in administrative positions working for the department. I accepted that condition. 

Eventually my Uncle and my Father retired, and I found that having completed 12 years with the Sheriff’s Office I was ready to take on a little more responsibility. I then tested for Sergeant and was selected for promotion. Six years later I tested for Lieutenant and was again promoted. 

Restructuring of the organization resulted in me becoming a Chief Deputy.  A few years later I tested for the Assistant Sheriff position and was again fortunate to be selected for promotion. The Assistant Sheriff position was reorganized and I then become the Undersheriff. 

My intention was to support Sheriff Rick Hulse as his Undersheriff until I achieved retirement age. Sheriff Hulse decided to retire earlier than I had anticipated, and in 2001, I was appointed Sheriff by the Solano County Board of Supervisors to fill out the remainder of the previously elected Sheriff’s term of office.

In 2003 I was elected to the position of Sheriff-Coroner. I then ran for re-election in 2007 and again in 2011. Somewhere in the process I forgot that I had planned to retire in 2003.

What changes have you noticed over a 4 decade career in the same field?

During my 40 years in law enforcement the changes have been significant.  We have far more legislated oversight now compared to what we had in the 70’s and 80’s.

Many new laws have been passed defining how law enforcement interacts with specific groups of people, and due to legislative and federal court involvement the job of peace officer has become far more complex. 

During the 70’s heroin was the drug of choice, and the use of illicit drugs evolved to cocaine during the 80’s. Late in the 80’s we began seeing the emergence of methamphetamine as a less expensive and more potent option to cocaine, and in my opinion methamphetamine has evolved to become the most devastating drug of all. 

Of course we have always had the presence of marijuana, and in California we continue to debate what is and is not the legal use of that drug.

Technology has provided us with improved radio communications, our protective equipment and firearms are far more advanced, and when the opportunity presents we now have the option of utilizing less than lethal weapons as an alternative to deadly force. 

I think the most disturbing trend that I have observed is the profound increase of mental illness in our communities, and the tendency for criminal offenders to kill law enforcement officers. 

We are now dealing with a far more violent class of offender, and the profession of law enforcement is rapidly becoming more dangerous. Every one of us in the profession is fully aware of the risk attributed to the job, and for reasons that I am unable to explain, we find that risk acceptable. It becomes a way of life.    

Whats next? Travel? Sleeping in? New job? Volunteering? Relaxing? Projects? Maybe get involved in Dixon politics? 

Claudia and I plan on spending more time together.  Hopefully we can take a couple of trips and use our motor home a little more. I am a golfer who suffers from a high handicap, and I plan on quickly improving my game.

One of my hobbies is building and flying remote controlled airplanes, and I intend to spend some additional time improving my flying skills. I also teach others how to fly RC, and plan on spending more time helping others learn the hobby.

After a brief rest I will probably work part-time as an independent consultant, just enough to keep me current with law enforcement.  I have no political ambitions at all, and at this point in my life I prefer to make politics a spectator sport.

Volunteering is certainly not out of the question, and after 40 years of public service volunteering seems like a natural progression.   

I do not know exactly what is next for me, but I am confident that whatever it is, it will find me. Doing nothing is not on the menu.

Is your family excited to have you settling down after years of tough work and long hours?

Claudia is eager for me to retire. 

During our 34 years of marriage I have been away from home for many days at a time pursuing my career. Long work days are commonplace. The career of a law enforcement officer puts a lot of stress on the family.As we head off to work each day hoping to get into something exciting, loved ones are left behind wondering if we are safe.

Candidly, there is nothing safe about the profession. Good training, confidence, situational awareness and a well-developed instinct are the deciding factors. The job is never safe, but we learn to work safely. 

As the Sheriff my day is never done at 5:00, the position requires 24/7 attention and frequent after hours participation in the community. 

I enjoy being busy, I will need to learn to relax. I am confident that I can learn to relax.  

Any advice you would give to those who look up to you?

For those in the profession of law enforcement and for those entering the profession, integrity is paramount. We must at all times protect the public trust. We must continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and for us there must be no acceptance of ethical transgression.  

We are the protectors of our communities and we must always put service ahead of self. Anything less is unacceptable.  

We are only as good as the worst member of our organization, and we must work diligently to make sure that all members of the organization clearly understand their role in public safety.

At the same time, we must accept the fact that we cannot hold all others to the same high standard that we adhere to.  Even the worst of those we meet must be afforded some measure of dignity, and we must never abandon our compassion.

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