Ruffalo: Big personnel changes in local law enforcement

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Two local police officers are hitting some major milestones in their stellar careers, and while some may argue each is moving in an opposite direction, I would beg to differ. Auburn Police Captain John Ruffcorn moves up to the chief’s job this week, while Bill Summers announces his retirement as a Placer County Sheriff’s Investigator after more than four decades with that department. Reviewing Summers’ lengthy career would tempt most scribes to try to jam the word “irreplaceable” somewhere into the written description, but he’ll have none of that. After so many years of mastering a job, one of the few things that really sticks out is that many of us are irreplaceable only until we leave. Summers is quick to tell anybody listening that some way, the department goes on, although his boss — Sheriff Ed Bonner — admits to not being all that keen to finding out if that adage is true. “Bill will be hard to replace,” Bonner said, adding that “and not just for that retentive mind and innovative abilities he brought to the job. There’s a lot of institutional memory leaving here when he goes.” Summers, who worked 14 years on the streets before moving into investigations, isn’t exactly leaving the job. Oh, he’s retiring, and has plenty of plans for family and the never-ending honey-do list retirees get handed along with the gold watch. But there are also plans to keep active in the profession. He’ll continue teaching and, if Bonner gets his way (he usually does), Summers will be on-call for some work with his soon-to-be former employer. “My Christian background tells me I was given certain skills and talents, and that I have a duty to make the best of them,” he says. “If I can make life a little bit safer for victims to continue to live in the community without fear, then I made a difference.” As is the case with so many successful people I’ve stumbled across in my career, Summers is one of those who wakes up in the morning wanting to go to work. “If you like what you’re doing, then it’s not a job,” he says. Make no mistake, Summers is merely cutting back on the police work. There’s no way he gives it up entirely, not when there’s still a heart beating in the chest that carries that badge. Meanwhile, Ruffcorn gets ready to succeed Valerie Harris as Auburn’s Chief of Police, a job he was preparing for not just for the few years he’s been up here, but ever since he was a 19-year-old rookie with the Riverside Sheriff’s Department. “I remember on my first day of orientation in 1986. They handed us some paper and told us to write down our goals,” he recalls. “I still have that piece of paper, and the top goal said that someday I wanted to lead my own department.” The extra work doesn’t bother Ruffcorn. “I’m excited about the opportunities and the things we’ll be doing here,” he said, obviously thrilled that after 20 years of hard work, he’s finally arrived in the big chair. And if worse comes to worst, he can always give Summers a call. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs on Sundays. Reach him at