Ralph Obenberger sworn in as county sheriff Tuesday

Undersheriff Ralph Obenberger was unanimously appointed as Mono County Sheriff by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Dec. 11, and sworn in on the same day by Superior Court Judge Stan Eller.

Obenberger’s term will end in two years, at which point the seat will be up for an election.

He will begin serving on the evening of Dec. 20, after Sheriff Richard “Rick” Scholl officially retires.

The Mammoth Times interviewed Obenberger prior to his swearing in.

MT: What do you think are the top three law enforcement challenges facing Mono County in the next two years?

Obenberger: How will Mono County handle the larger number of inmates now being housed in our facility instead of being sent to state prison? [A new state law, AB 109, realigns some state prisoners to county jails.]

This will continue to be an issue due to our small population capacity, which is 44 inmates. AB 109 inmates are being sentenced to longer terms than what a county jail is meant to house, which used be only pre-trial or sentenced misdemeanor crimes. With longer sentences, our facility will eventually reach capacity. Thus our office, along with other county departments and the courts, will have to work together to determine the best and most efficient way of housing the inmates and keeping the public safe.

Second, trying to deal with manpower issues and residency issues within our own sheriff’s office. We are in tough times relating to the hiring of qualified employees to be a deputy sheriff or public safety officer.
Due to a change in state law several years ago, our office could no longer hire a deputy with the stipulation that he/she had to reside in a specific community … and we have employees now moving into Nevada or Inyo County (due to a lower cost of living). I will be forming a working group within our office to try and come up with ideas on how our office, the county, and the employee groups can work together on a long-term solution.

Third, the Town of Mammoth Lakes and the Mammoth Lakes Police Department are facing numerous issues that will affect the sheriff’s office. Our two agencies are small in size, so we have to work together in all that we do to better protect the public. Due to the remoteness of Mono County and Mammoth Lakes, we have to be there for one another to get the job done. 

MT: What is the status of the relationship between the sheriff’s department and the Mammoth Lakes Police Department as the town moves to cut the police force from 17 officers to 10?

Obenberger: I have been in discussions with Chief Watson, along with Lt. John Mair. We have discussed how our two agencies, along with other local law enforcement agencies, could help one another in this trying time for the town.

Our office will always respond at the request of the Mammoth Lakes Police Department for mutual aid requests and/or life threatening situations. With that said, the area that Mono County deputies patrol is vast, and if we are requested to assist in the Town of Mammoth Lakes for an emergent situation, they must realize that our response could be delayed due to the location of our deputy at the time of the request.

MT: Why do you believe you are you qualified to do this job?

Obenberger: I have been in law enforcement for over 27 years, beginning my career in 1985.  I worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office for almost 15 years until I moved to Mono County as a resident deputy in June Lake. During my career, I have worked as a patrol deputy, special assignment deputy, training officer, dispatcher, sergeant, lieutenant, chief deputy coroner, and currently as undersheriff.  I have had a vast amount of training throughout my career. I have been in my current position as undersheriff for almost five years, during which I managed the sheriff’s office in its entirety. I oversee jail and custody operations, patrol operations, all budgets, grants, emergency operations, coroner functions, search and rescue, etc. I believe I have excellent communications with all of my staff and employees, as well as allied agencies and other county departments.