Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

In front of a handful of Smith River residents and Tolowa Dee-ni’ community members, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors officially entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Tuesday with the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, putting a resident reserve deputy in the Smith River area.

The issue has been on the minds of many Smith River residents for years. Many feel crime there has increased and the situation is compounded by a long response time from law enforcement.

According to staff reports, Sheriff Erik Apperson began meeting with tribal officials more than a year ago to discuss the issue.

The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation recognized staffing restrictions and challenges being faced by the sheriff’s office and took action,” county staff reports said.

The tribe decided to fund law enforcement training of Wade Owen, a U.S. Army Military Police veteran, tribal member and a lifelong resident of the area. In return, the sheriff’s office will certify Owen as a reserve deputy, providing training, equipment and support.

“Wade will report to the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office prior to any shifts and be provided with all the tools he needs to serve as a member of the DNSO law enforcement team,” staff reports said.

It’s unanimous

With Apperson away in training, Deputy Gene Mcmanus read a letter to supervisors on his behalf.

“I really wish I could be there,” Apperson wrote. I’m so proud of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation and our community in general, for this exemplary display of collaboration.”

Apperson expressed confidence in Owen’s ability.

“It will be a highlight to my tenure as sheriff, to administer his oath of office upon my return,” Apperson wrote. “This makes a historic day for all of us.”

“It’s an exceptional boon to our department that we will be able to cover that area,” McManus said.

Tribal Chair Scott Sullivan echoed Apperson’s sentiments adding it’s a great first step in collaboration between the tribe, county and sheriff’s office.

After some prodding from Supervisors Chair Chris Howard, Smith River community activist Joni Forsht spoke from the podium.

“I am so excited and pleased that we will be able to share this deputy together,” she said, turning to face Sullivan. “I’m grateful to you and our county for being a part of each other now. I think this is going to draw us closer together.”

Forsht was the last resident deputy in Smith River. She retired 18 years ago and has been the de facto face of Smith River Neighborhood Watch for seven years. She also serves on the sheriff’s advisory committee.

“We have not had a resident deputy here for 18 years,” she said by phone Tuesday, “and we are bulging at the seams with crime and drugs out here.”

As a former deputy and Smith River resident, Forsht said she still patrols her neighborhood, notes activity and changes and reports them to the sheriff’s office.

“We’ve been fighting for this cause for a long time,” she said.

Forsht explained Apperson has also tried to get a resident deputy for Smith River but faced too many constraints. She said the sheriff’s office then began talking with the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation about partnering.

“He’s great, a really stand-up guy,” Forsht said of Owen, “He’s going to make a great deputy.” The training will make him a reserve deputy, with all the authority of a regular deputy. He will also wear a sheriff’s uniform and drive a sheriff’s patrol vehicle.

Mcmanus explained Owen will be hired by the tribe as a reserve level 1 deputy. While that gives him full peace officer powers, he may also work independently of the sheriff’s office.

Forsht also explained Owen will not be the tribe’s deputy or Smith River’s but will serve both areas. His patrol beat will essentially be from the Oregon Border to Dr. Fine Bridge, Forsht said.

Owen has to complete some further training but Forsht said it’s expected he will begin patrolling Smith River in October.

“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “I just can’t describe it. These people that are breaking the law here are the same people doing it over and over. Now maybe they’ll take a different look — maybe even leave town.”

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