Rural Crime Deputy Doug Vander Esch was recently honored as the
employee of the year, but for the second year in a row his position
is in jeopardy due to the county’s $111-million budget deficit
Gilroy – Underneath his dark shades you know Deputy Doug Vander Esch’s eyes are sharp. They have to be.
“Did you see that blue cart?” he asks.
You didn’t. All you saw was some trees.
He turns his Chevy 2500 pick up truck around and drives across the dirt along the field. There it is – 100 feet off the roadside – the stolen motorized cart farm workers reported missing Thursday morning – abandoned between two trees.
“That’s the benefit of knowing your beat, of knowing your area – you know what belongs and what doesn’t … They’ll be happy they got that much back at least,” Vander Esch said. “Those look like good batteries and good tools (inside).”
Overnight they lost a pressure washer, power tools and a welder. The suspects used the cart to drive the goods through the orchard to a waiting vehicle on the roadside.
“It’s just now the innocence is lost. Now we have to start locking things up,” said Terrance Norby who serves as the supervisor for Satake Nursery in Morgan Hill from where the goods were stolen. In 10 years they’ve never had a problem.
“It’s sad,” Norby said. “You just get suspicious.”
Part of Vander Esch’s mission as South County’s rural crime deputy is to prevent these thefts from ever taking place. He visits ranches and farmers throughout Santa Clara County preaching to them to lock up equipment and use the owner-applied numbering system.
“Times have changed, you’ve got to lock things up,” he explained.
The identification system allows individuals to register for free – anything of value from farm equipment to VCR’s – with the sheriff’s office by receiving a personalized number.
“It’s a better tracking system … A lot of times we find stuff we know is stolen, but people don’t always write down the serial number,” he explained.
So Vander Esch introduces himself to individuals in the rural communities, hands out his card and cell phone number, focusing on forming personal connections with people.
He drives between 125 to 150 miles a day through unincorporated areas of South County, up 3,200-foot hills searching for marijuana grows, stolen farm equipment, and keeping his eye out for suspicious activity.
He notices a new horse trailer on someone’s property and asks them about it. He knows whose cattle belongs to which rancher and if they’re in the wrong place.
“There’s some crazy stuff that happens in the hills,” he said.
The places you don’t know exist, the residences you can’t get to without four wheel drive and a compass – Vander Esch visits on a regular basis to make sure he’s seen, and that people can feel safe knowing someone’s looking out for them.
“There’s no road signs. It’s all by memory. If you don’t have firsthand knowledge at where you’re going – you’ll never find (a residence.) Especially at night – it’s almost impossible,” Vander Esch explained.
His area extends from the hills past Mount Hamilton to the hills south of Highway 25. Police back-up is often 25 minutes away if it’s needed.
Though he’s only been working the beat since January, the former Iowa farm boy has made an impression on rural residents.
In late September he helped recover more than $200,000 worth of stolen farm property from three separate counties and put five people behind bars in connection with the thefts.
He was named the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office’s employee of the month – yet his position may be cut due to trim the budget.
“The position is on the chopping block this year,” said Sheriff’s Captain Ed Laverone. “We’re not mandated to (fill) it. It’s not one of those positions that people feel is essential to our mission. I do.”
This is not the first time the position has been threatened.
Just weeks into Vander Esch’s assignment the position was almost slashed.
Laverone is hoping it will be salvaged once again.
“He’s just made a dramatic impact,” he said. “He’s a dream deputy that you couldn’t ask more from. He’s a great asset.”