50 years behind the badge

For the past 16 years Madera County and Mountain Area residents have called one man “Sheriff.” But on Dec. 31, 2014, the county will bid farewell to the beloved Sheriff John Anderson who will officially retire after 51 years in law enforcement.

Anderson was born and raised in Williams, Calif. He enlisted in the United States Army directly our of high school serving four years in active duty with most of his time being spent in West Germany and as an adviser in Laos.

Upon returning to his home Anderson found work in a local feed mill for a few months before he was approached by the Williams City Police Chief about a potential graveyard shift. Unbeknown to Anderson this would be the start of a long and fulfilling career in law enforcement.

After a small stint with the Williams City Police Department, Anderson took his first job in a sheriff’s office as a Deputy Sheriff in Stanislaus County (Modesto area) before being appointed to the California Highway Patrol in 1964.

During his 35 years with the CHP Anderson was assigned to several high risk locations throughout California including Los Angeles, Oakland, Eureka, Sacramento, Vallejo and Fresno.

Anderson served as a Special Representative to the California Legislature and served in the same capacity in Washington D.C., lobbying Congress for the CHP.

As Captain Anderson was the Commander of the CHP Academy for three years, and directed athlete transportation security during the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, he was allowed to witness the U.S. Greco Roman wrestling team take home nine gold medals in 20 events.

Anderson’s worth to the CHP department was evident to his superiors as he was quickly promoted up through the ranks to Chief - the highest CHP civil service rank.

However Anderson’s success did not come without risk. On several occasion Anderson said he suffered several close calls putting his life on the line while on duty.

Aside from those close calls during his service, Anderson says he mostly recalls the good times and recalled one specific traffic stop.

“I once stopped a man towing a horse trailer for a burned-out tail light, only to discover that the horse being transported was “Trigger” (a palomino horse made famous in American Western films with his owner and rider, cowboy star Roy Rogers),” Anderson said.

Anderson was also working as a CHP officer in Los Angeles during the Watts riots which lasted more than six days and caused $40 million in damages. When the dust setteld more than 4,300 people were arrested, 1,000 were injured and 34 people were dead.

He was also noted for his involvement in the infamous Yuba City Bus Incident known as the second deadliest bus accident in American history which ended with 29 of the 52 passengers on board killed, including 28 students and an adult adviser.

Later, serving as a Division Commander for CHP Central Division, Anderson found himself near the top in law enforcement delegating to as many as 17 subordinate commands with 1,100 personnel, and all CHP operations in nine San Joaquin Valley Counties.

Following his retirement from the CHP Anderson made the decision to run for Madera County Sheriff in 1998 running a successful campaign and defeating incumbent Glenn Seymour.

As sheriff, Anderson was credited with bringing a lagging Madera County further into the 21st century.

“I think we’ve done a good job bringing the sheriff’s department into the 21st century. I had been a deputy sheriff back in 1964 in Modesto and when I got here 35 years later they were doing many of the same things here that we were doing back then,” Anderson said. “We have made a lot of advances.”

A few of Anderson’s accomplishments in his 16 years as sheriff include:

* Obtained grant for Off-Highway Vehicle Program. Through this grant the department received overtime for enforcement and funding for off-road motorcycles, snowmobiles and quads.

* Planned, and obtained funding for, and constructed new headquarters and Mountain Division office buildings. Previously, both divisions had three separate locations. Centralization provided economic savings and operational improvements.

* Revised anti-drug program to include state and other local agencies. Named MADNET (Madera Narcotics Enforcement Team) it effectively combats drug crimes in the county including Marijuana raids and eradication.

* Established “regional SWAT” team, consisting of sheriff’s office and both Madera and Chowchilla police departments.

* Initiated first reverse 911 system (now MC alert) in Central Valley, enabling the department to contact citizens and relay emergency information when needed.

* Received State and National award for “Saving our Seniors” (SOS) program, which provided free cell phones to persons, enabling them to call 911 emergencies.

* Received Sate and National award for operation “Lost and Found” program, which provides transmitter bracelets enabling search & rescue to locate Alzheimer’s and other patients who wander off.

* Upgraded vehicle fleet to phase out high mileage vehicles, replace old equipment, and install in-vehicle cameras and computers.

During his time as Madera County Sheriff, Anderson and the sheriff’s department solved several investigative crimes but none more personal than the murder of Sportsman’s Den owner Gary Flynn. Flynn was murdered in 2001 and his killers were not caught until 2013 when a convict being held at the Fresno County jail bragged to a cellmate about his involvement in the killing.

Anderson said he had spent many hours inside the Sportsman’s Den prior to Flynn’s murder and had developed a close relationship with the victim.

“People who had the pleasure of dealing with him really loved Gary and that was a personal thing that we struggled with for years,” Anderson said. “Even if you weren’t going to buy a gun you might stop in and say hello just to talk.”

A big reason for Anderson’s unprecedented consecutive four terms was his involvement in the community. Anderson always made time to maintain a presence in the community for fundraising and special events. Anderson was recently recognized for 12 years as co-chair of the Smokey Bear Run/Walk at Bass Lake.

Now after so many years in a law enforcement, and the military, Anderson said the hardest part will be learning to live without discipline.

“I have had a regimented life joining the army one week out of high school and I have carried a gun ever since. It’s going to seem strange not having that obligation everyday. The biggest change will be the lack of regimentation, plus, I wont have a title anymore and will just be old man Anderson,” Anderson said laughingly.

Anderson, who published a true crime book called “The Newhall Incident” concerning the shooting deaths of four CHP officers, said his first order of business will be to complete his next book on the implementation of management techniques.

The soon to be ex-sheriff said he enjoyed his time in Madera County and says he will always call Madera County and the Central Valley home.

“I really enjoyed my job as sheriff here. Most days are fun and a pleasure to serve the people of Madera County. It’s the longest I have lived anywhere in my life and I am proud to call this home,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s final day is Dec. 31 as he will be replaced during the Jan. 6 swearing in of Jay Varney, who won the election in November.