Trying to summarize nearly 38 years of service to one community is virtually impossible.
But that’s exactly what Dorothy Vandagriff tried to do recently, as she said goodbye to her role with the Escalon Police Department and retired from the city as of July 1. She had been with the city since late 1977, originally starting as a clerk shared between city hall and the police department.
She quickly transitioned into a fulltime role with the police department as a clerk-dispatcher, later became the support services supervisor and, for the last several years, has served as Police Service Manager for the department.
“It was way different,” Vandagriff said of dispatching and clerking for the department in the late ‘70s. “I had to flip a switch at 5 p.m. when I left, then flip it back when I came to work.”
The after-hours dispatching was handled elsewhere, Vandagriff’s flip of the switch returned it to local control each day.
Vandagriff said the main difference between when she started and now, upon her retirement, is the speed at which things happen.
“Just the technology, there is so much knowledge available on the Internet,” she said of being able to quickly access information.
She has also worked with nine different police chiefs, starting with Chief Black and including Storne, Middleton, Murken and Dunford, along with interim chiefs Shaw, Medeiros and Harden, in addition to ‘breaking in’ the newest chief, Mike Borges, who has completed a year and had his contracted renewed.
“The city was a little over 3,000 in population when I started,” Vandagriff added, seeing an increase in cases handled by the department. “Now it’s over 7,000.”
She also had to learn to adapt to the different management styles of all the chiefs, often served as a liaison between the department and the community, as well as the department and city hall.
Among the most memorable cases during her tenure, she said, was a late 1970s-early 1980s accidental shooting that left one youngster dead, in addition to a number of accidents along the train tracks through town.
“There were days I thought ‘no way I could do this’,” she said. “At one point, I had five or six phones on my desk, I was dispatching for the police and the volunteer ambulance, running the paging system.”
Through it all, a couple of words have helped Vandagriff maintain an even keel.
“Just stay calm,” she said. “And use patience.”
The best part of her job, she added, has been meeting a variety of people along the way.
“Everyone’s different and I like seeing how the city adapts to the different management styles,” she said.
Taking over the position – and knowing she has some very big shoes to fill – is Sara Cardoso, who has been a reserve officer with the police department since 2007 and also worked part-time with the sheriff’s department.
She has been able to join the Escalon staff full-time and has been working with Vandagriff for the past few months, learning the ins and outs of the job.
“I’m learning everything and anything,” Cardoso said, noting it includes warrant information, report reading, getting motor vehicle information for officers and the like.
“I’m sure I’m leaving something out,” Vandagriff said of trying to pass along nearly four decades of knowledge in the span of a few months.
Vandagriff was feted by the city at a retirement dinner on July 24, with many former chiefs and officers in attendance, several of them sharing stories and recollections of their work with her.
An Escalon High graduate, Class of 1974, Vandagriff and her husband Krandall have been married for 32 years. Oldest son K.J. is a police officer in Escalon; son Josh has just transferred to Fresno State.
Retirement plans include helping Josh get settled in Fresno, then doing some home projects in addition to a bit of travel.
“Last year, I knew I was going to retire,” she said of setting the date. “When I first started here, I made $575 a month, I thought that was great.”
For his part, Chief Borges said his transition into the chief’s role was made that much easier by Vandagriff, who always made sure he was brought up to date on critical city issues even before he sat down with his first cup of coffee for the day.
“I didn’t even have to read the reports, I got my briefing from the overnight or the weekend as soon as I walked in.”
Though now officially retired, Vandagriff said she will remain available for any questions that come up – anticipating there will be a few.
“My phone will always be on,” she said.