Community Columns

Sheriff isn’t always such a tough guy

Sheriff Adam Christianson talks with Gov. Jerry Brown before the dedication ceremony of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Detention Center on Tuesday on Hackett Road in west Ceres.
Sheriff Adam Christianson talks with Gov. Jerry Brown before the dedication ceremony of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Detention Center on Tuesday on Hackett Road in west Ceres.

The job of county sheriff has to be one of the toughest around.

You deal constantly with violence, your main clientele consists of crooks and low-lifes and there are plenty of critics on the sidelines ready to pounce on any and all decisions that don’t turn out. It would be enough to make any normal person cynical and defensive, if not downright bitter.

That’s not how Sheriff Adam Christianson comes across. Just the opposite.

Several years ago we invited Christianson to join our local Salvation Army Advisory Board, a move that was not without controversy. Some believed his interest was entirely political. But Christianson, before joining, said that wasn’t the case. We took him at his word.

Adam immediately made his presence felt, faithfully attending our meetings and making valuable contacts for the Army with different local agencies.

Two years ago he brought a proposal to our board. He had worked out an arrangement to make government funding available to relocate light offenders, reducing the jail population and filling some empty beds at the Army’s Berberian Shelter.

We set aside five beds and he brought $74,000 of fresh money to help run our program.

An unexpected benefit became apparent when these young men would offer to assist around the premises during the day, performing various maintenance tasks and making some real improvements. This was a distinct contrast to the usual homeless population who grab a 7 a.m. cup of coffee and head out for the day only to return before the doors are closed.

Last month, Christianson came through again, getting additional funding for five more beds and providing a total of $148,000 for the Army’s shelter.

This has been a real blessing for an essential local program that consistently runs in the red. As a bonus, it offers a positive and caring environment for young offenders who need direction in their lives more than they need a place to sleep.

Last year, Adam accompanied several of us to the Stockton Salvation Army Adult Rehab Center to sit in on our board meeting and learn about this challenging program. Immediately intrigued, he asked good questions and then sent a team of six of his key staff to determine how the Army and the Stanislaus County jail could partner to offer hope and recovery for, in Adam’s words, “young guys who have a chance to turn their lives around.”

Through his encouragement, and with great cooperation from the courts, we now have young men serving their time in a positive and upbeat recovery program, instead of inside cold prison walls.

Two years ago the sheriff approached me and asked if I would help with a program to give new cadets going through the law enforcement academy some insight into how they can relate to the community and break through the negative perception some citizens hold of law-enforcement officers.

During week one of each new academy class, I join with other businessmen and women, mostly picked from the West Side and Crows Landing areas, and we work in small groups with the fledgling officers in open dialogue on how to blend with their community and constituents.

Christianson said this becomes a valuable part of their learning experience.

My own son is in law enforcement (12 year as an Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy ) I was surprised at a recent session to see one of the young Stanislaus cadets had a name tag, “Christianson.” I raised an eyebrow, and he smiled and nodded. Later I asked why he wanted to be a sheriff deputy and his answer was clear and simple. “I admire my dad and what he stands for. I hope some day I can be just like him.”

Well said, Kyle Christianson, but not because of your dad is a tough guy bringing justice to crooks and low-lifes; but because he’s helping those who need a second chance get one, and making this a better community.

Dick Hagerty, an Oakdale real estate developer active in non-profits. Send comments or questions to