Most North Coast residents haven’t seen Jim Voge of Cambria around town quite as often since he officially became San Luis Obispo County’s undersheriff.
During his previous year and half at the Sheriff’s Office, Voge had commanded the department’s Coast Station, which patrols from Avila Beach to Ragged Point and from the Santa Lucia mountain range to the Pacific Ocean, so he was frequently in town, on cases or updating the public at meetings.
“It’s special to be a member of the community and be in charge of policing it,” he had said in 2017.
It still is, but his community is bigger now.
“I’ve always said our basic function is to protect the people, serve the people and enhance their quality of life,” Voge said after officially beginning his new job Dec. 16, 2018. “I still have that responsibility, but it’s for the entire county now.”
And instead of being based at the Los Osos substation, Voge’s new digs are at 1585 Kansas in San Luis Obispo, near Sheriff Ian Parkinson’s office.
Voge met Parkinson in 2010, during his first election campaign for sheriff, which was successful. Voge was hired in February 2011 as a non-benefited hourly employee with the rank of commander to oversee the internal affairs bureau — also known as the professional-standards unit — which had gone inactive under previous Sheriff Pat Hedges.
“(Voge) had recently retired after many years at LAPD,” Parkinson said in a Jan. 7 email interview. “I got to know Jim and then hired him because he had a tremendous amount of experience in an area in which we needed change, internal affairs.
“What I didn’t realize about Jim (then),” Parkinson added, “was what kind of person he is and how he treats people. I made him undersheriff because he’s earned the respect of not only the people at the Sheriff’s Office, but the community.”
On the coast
Voge became commander of the Coast Station in 2017, and in many ways, he followed the lead of his predecessor, Cmdr. Jim Taylor, especially in communicating with his communities and prioritizing problems with the homeless.
No matter what the issue is, Voge said, a key component in community policing is always “listening to residents’ concerns and acting on them. A lot of our work is really service.”
He said, “I did put a lot of attention on homeless issues,” with a kind of “big stick and nice smile” approach, using the department’s Community Action Team’s helpfulness on one hand and firm law enforcement and eviction notices on the other.
But Voge always stresses the requirement for respect … for and by the homeless, for the neighbors, for the community, for the law and for the environment.
“You can certainly feel compassion about people who are less fortunate than you, but homelessness is an epidemic in this country, even in Cambria … where a lot of us didn’t realize it, because it was happening behind the Monterey pines,” he said.
What wasn’t obvious to most then, he said, “was the litter, the fires, the debauchery” in the homeless encampments.
So Voge showed people a PowerPoint presentation, “The Hidden Cambria.”
The PowerPoint slides showed photos taken in local encampments in the forest — occupied or supposedly abandoned.
The sites were dredged in vast, deep piles of debris and trash. Their investigation also uncovered a manmade dam across the creek, an open fire pit, a butane stove and four damaged American flags being used as tarps.
Voge and his deputies patrolled likely areas of the forest and took actions that ranged from “a strong emphasis on repressible crimes, like car burglaries, to putting cameras in trailhead parking lots to prioritize stopping the crime. What helped most?” he said. “The signs saying the cameras were there,” which Voge said helped reduce the crime level significantly.
The multi-pronged approach to the homeless problem is best, he said.
“We provide services when possible, or when the homeless will accept them,” he said. “But we enforce the law and assist in cleaning up the environment we value so much in Cambria.”
Changing commanders’ assignment is fairly commonplace at the Sheriff’s Office, happening at least every few years.
Voge was replaced at the Coast Station in September by Cmdr. Michael Manuele, who’s been with the Sheriff’s Office since he joined the department as a cadet in 1989 and went on patrol in November that year. His assignments have ranged from the sheriff’s dive team, boat patrol and bicycle patrol to watch commander, court services/baliff and field training officer.
In turn, Voge replaced retiring Tim Olivas.
According to the contract approved Dec. 11 by county supervisors, Voge’s new assignment will pay approximately $16,094 per month.
Just what does an undersheriff do? Voge said he manages two chief deputies, custody captain and administrative services.
“I’m essentially managing managers,” he said, and as the No. 2 person at the department, “I’m the sheriff when Sheriff Parkinson is out of town.
“It’s a little like being vice president,” Voge said, then laughed and added, “but maybe a vice president doesn’t work this hard.”
The chief deputies working under Voge’s command oversee field operations and support services and the custody captain oversees the operation of the jail.
The jail had been outside most of Voge’s previous experience.
“Before, it was somebody else’s responsibility. Now, the jail is near and dear to my heart,” he said.
There are a lot of “challenges at the jail, and it will take a lot of work to really improve conditions … There are a lot of exciting things coming to the jail now. The medical unit is open, and a private vendor will take over medical and dental services at the jail as of Feb. 1.”
Voge and wife Ramona moved to Cambria full-time in 2008. Before that, he’d spent 33 years in Los Angeles law enforcement, including as a commander at the Los Angeles Police Department. He worked the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was on duty when the Pope visited and was there for the Rodney King riots and the Democratic National Convention.
During the years he commanded LAPD’s internal affairs group, he oversaw 278 employees.
Parkinson said Voge “is doing an excellent job as undersheriff. He’s doing exactly what I expected of him, and I foresee great things from him in the future for this agency and for the county.”
As for the new undersheriff’s fellow North Coast residents, Voge said, “I care about them and Cambria. I work countywide now, but I still live here. This is home.”