GUEST COLUMN: A note from the police chief
After being asked to write a column for the Tribune, I gave thought to the format. The bureaucrat in me started to think about a formal report to inform the readers about the latest police action, community issues, and our organization’s future plans. Then I thought readers might like to know about my personal experiences as I adjust to living in South Lake Tahoe. Lastly, I thought that an interesting format might be to pretend it is like writing a letter to a friend – so here goes.
Wow, it’s been quite a winter. A few people accused me of bringing the snow with me, but I don’t profess to have this sort of influence. Since I have experience in the snow, near Mammoth, Calif., I was a little too confident in thinking my low-slung 4-wheel-drive sports car would be all that was needed. Ha, I was cured of this delusion when my normal five-minute drive to work took more than an hour (in my defense, I had the sense to take a shovel with me in the car). Within a week, I bought a Jeep. Along with that first snow, my fond teenage memories of shoveling snow with nice straight edges and idealistic view that shoveling snow was good exercise gave way to the common-sense decision that a nearly 50-year-old man really, really needs a snow-blower.
You might recall that I started my job as the police chief in South Lake Tahoe a bit before Thanksgiving. Taking charge of the department during the holiday season gave me a great opportunity to get to know people both inside and outside of the organization. During this introductory phase, I have really been impressed with the overall high quality of people in the organization. Yes, like any organization, there are a few problems. And yes, like most any city, South Lake Tahoe has its share of police problems. The official “honeymoon” period ended within a week – when I had to bring news to the organization that we would not be replacing a soon-to-be vacated lieutenant position for budget-cutting reasons. The honeymoon was officially over after the new year when the police department (and all city departments) started a major restructuring and strategic planning effort.
A major community issue here in South Lake Tahoe centers on marijuana. Its use is prevalent and its visibility in the community (along with the smell) seems to harm our quality of life. This said, officers here seem genuinely committed to doing their part to enforce the law when it is violated but also respect the needs of people who possess medical marijuana within the confines of legitimate legal protections. My impression is that some community members have “stretched” their interpretation of the law beyond what is legal. The misguided concept of making money from marijuana is core to this problem. Simply put, making money by selling marijuana cannot be legal under the guise of caring for sick people. In law enforcement, it is known that California now surpasses Mexico in terms of supplying marijuana to the rest of our country. Unfortunately, I believe that there are some in our community who are illegally diverting their “medical” marijuana into the nationwide marketplace.
A popular theme when discussing marijuana is the idea of taxing the proceeds. While at one time I shared this view, I have since realized that this only legitimizes the concept of using marijuana “commerce” as a means to create new government revenue. Federal law (and California law) does not allow for individual or government profiteering. Others, with the “we don’t want any part of it” approach, must also recognize that as a community, we have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that those who do cultivate marijuana do so safely. This said, I am pleased that our City Council is working toward passing an ordinance that supports legitimate medical needs and focuses on health and safety issues. A big part of the ordinance also serves to protect property owners’ interests.
Enough about marijuana; there are some exciting things happening here in South Lake Tahoe. Hosting the first leg of the upcoming Amgen Tour promises to be a great thing for our community. The city manager and staff have helped make sure that there will be tents with music and food along the route. While we will undoubtedly have people who do not like road closures and other inconveniences, volunteers, race officials, and law enforcement from three different organizations will try to make this a safe experience for all. There are also other efforts under way by both city and business groups to provide for more special events to occur all year long in an effort to draw in visitors and help our economy.
That’s all for now!
– Brian Uhler is the chief of police for the-South Lake Tahoe Police Department.