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Auburn police chief retiring after 30 years in law enforcement

Working with Harris like working with ‘trusted friend,’ sheriff says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Police Chief Valerie Harris said she is grateful for the community’s support of the police department and thankful to have been able to serve the residents of Auburn. Harris is scheduled to retire Wednesday, with Capt. John Ruffcorn being sworn in as chief Thursday. Harris, who grew up in the Sacramento area and was the first in her family to get a college degree, began her career in law enforcement 30 years ago, and it all started by getting robbed. “I got robbed twice working in a savings and loan, and I met some Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputies and they told me about the academy you could put yourself into,” Harris said. “I entered into that academy and became employed with Auburn … in 1981.” Harris said there was a specific reason why she wanted to get into law enforcement. “I enjoy engaging with people,” she said. “I was taught to do the right thing for the right reasons and law enforcement is filled with opportunities to help people do the right things.” From 1981 to 1996 Harris worked at the department and then left to work for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. “With a larger agency you have more diversity and I felt promotional opportunities would come around sooner,” Harris said. Harris was a sergeant when she left the Auburn Police Department and started as a deputy at the Sheriff’s Office. She promoted to sergeant and then to lieutenant. In 2004 she returned to the police department as a captain. In January 2006 Harris was sworn in as chief. “You usually obtain the rank of chief later in your career, and anymore if you are in the role of chief for five years that is pretty good, and I think that has to do with the number of demands in the role. All of the pace and the activities I think tend to stretch you.” One of her proudest accomplishments has been to serve, Harris said. “First of all, (I am proud of) simply having the opportunity to be in law enforcement,” she said. “Law enforcement is not for everyone. It takes a person that is willing to problem solve, deal with death, confrontation, other people’s pain and it, I believe, helps to define your personality through time.” Harris said she can remember being told as a reserve officer to never let the negative parts of the job harden her heart. Harris said she is also proud to have served at both the department and Sheriff’s Office, as well as earning her master’s degree in emergency services management. She is also proud of attending the FBI academy in 2008 and her time on the hostage negotiations team at both the Sheriff’s Office and police department. “I had the opportunity to hopefully convince several people not to take their own lives, and that is a sense of accomplishment,” she said. Harris said she is very proud of the work that went into the Paul Kovacich case to bring some kind of peace to the family of his wife, Janet Kovacich, of whose murder he was convicted 26 years after her death. Harris said she had several goals during her time as chief. “My goal as chief was to leave Auburn P.D. better than when I first got there,” she said. “By that I mean department members more engaged with the community, that all staff have an individual understanding of community needs and expectations. And I wanted to do what I could to maintain higher standards with officer performance, our technology, our service level, all those things.” Harris said she has a few goals for her retirement, including spending time with her five children and being able to relax without being on-call every hour of every day. “I want to spend time with family (and do some more) bicycling,” she said. “I have met some fantastic people through our Amgen activities and I have already started cycling with some other women in town. I want to travel across the country. I haven’t driven across the country before.” Harris said she wants to do more scuba diving and travel to Alaska with her husband, Michael. Harris said although she doesn’t have any grandchildren yet, she is looking forward to her family expanding. “We may have some marriages come in the next year,” she said. “We may see the family grow in size. (My children) know I’m excited about retiring, and they are excited for me.” Harris said she still plans to stay as involved in the community as she can. Linda Robinson, president of the Auburn Old Town Business Association, said she has mixed feelings about Harris’ retirement. “It’s kind of a bitter sweet feeling that I have,” Robinson said. “She has been in law enforcement for a long time, but she has always been accessible. She has always taken the time to listen, to give good advice and she has always been business friendly. I consider her a professional friend. In a way I’m sad to see her go, but she deserves to retire, and I think she is young enough to have a lot of life yet to enjoy and I’m sure she has had many good memories here.” Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner said Harris is a dedicated hard worker, and she has been a pleasure to work with. “Working with Valerie as a police chief is like working with a trusted friend,” Bonner said. “Valerie had a much greater understanding of the responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office, how we might partner in things. It’s been very cool to watch her grow and do the job she’s done.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com