Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: This cop fights rural crime

January/February 2020 California Bountiful magazine

Deputy's small-town values aid in his role

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Butte County Sheriff's Sgt. Josh Brazzi works with farmers and ranchers to help prevent and solve a variety of crimes. Photo: © 2020 Frank Rebelo

Having grown up in a family of public servants—his parents worked for the U.S. Forest Service—Sgt. Josh Brazzi brings a duty-to-serve mindset to his work with the Butte County Sheriff's Office. He and his team work with farmers and ranchers to investigate agricultural crimes, which can include theft of anything from tractors and ATVs to fuel and even crops and honeybee colonies.

How does your rural upbringing inform your work? When I was growing up (in Glenn County), the main industry was rice farming. A lot of my friends lived on rice or dairy farms, so I was constantly around farmers, hearing about the good crop years and bad crop years. As I got older, I noticed farmers always having to deal with thefts. Once I got into law enforcement, I started to see how theft has a big impact, especially on a small farmer.

Tell us about your team. I oversee Butte County's Designated Area Deputy Team, which focuses on rural crimes. Our team is kind of a mixed bag, but everybody has a specialty. One of the guys is a beekeeper, so he brings knowledge of apiaries and how agricultural businesses work. Another deputy is a former Marine and one of our field training officers. Another deputy is a SWAT team member and brings tactical expertise. We do a lot of nighttime operations, so we're good at sneaking around when we've got to set up a sting.

What are the rural crime trends in Butte County? Thieves are just looking for that crime of opportunity. A lot of the crime that we see are thefts of tractors, vehicles, pumps, generators, fuel or items getting stolen from vehicles. Or maybe the tractor is still there, but the battery is gone. We see spikes in crime at different times of the year, such as early spring, when farmers haven't checked on things all winter and notice that property is gone.

Brazzi regularly meets with farmers, including Rocky Donati, to take reports and discuss crime prevention. Photo: © 2020 Frank Rebelo

Can you describe crime-fighting technology such as SmartWater CSI? SmartWater CSI is a forensic marking solution that people can use to mark their property. The solution is invisible to the naked eye, but we shine special lights on the marked property. A chemical code helps us identify the property and return it to the owner. It also gives us probable cause to arrest the person in possession of the property.

Why do you put on the uniform each day? Honestly, it is because of the people that I work with and for those times that we can actually solve a crime. When we get to solve any kind of crime and the victim gets some sort of satisfaction that we helped them out, that's why.

Tell us about your family's work as public servants. My parents worked for the U.S. Forest Service. My dad started out as a smoke jumper and later as a wildland firefighter for 30-something years. My mom worked for the Forest Service as a dispatcher and then a dispatch supervisor for 30 years. My sister works for the Forest Service now and another sister has a childcare career.

How did you train for a career in criminal justice? I attended Butte College Police Academy and graduated in 2006. The academy teaches essentially what you need to be in law enforcement and then it's just ongoing training. It wasn't until I got my foot in the door that I started realizing how much fun it is, and that the work I'm doing actually helps people.

What are some highlights of your career? One highlight is we had a series of burglaries a few years ago. One witness saw a green truck leaving one of the places and we were able to get tire tracks and shoe prints from a different place. Based on just the minimum information, we were able to solve those burglaries and recover thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of stolen property that we returned to the victims.

Can you share some highlights of Butte County agriculture? The great thing about Butte County is all of the produce is fresh and farmers here care about growing good food and do a good job at it. I cook a lot; that's one of my favorite things to do. You can find everything you need here, anything from beef and lamb to rice and nut crops. I cook with all of these products.  

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