The Sheriff's Office welcomed four new deputies Monday, including one who has worn the department's badge before.
Brian Lande, 30, returned to the Sheriff's Office after a two-year hiatus to finish his PhD at UC Berkeley and work for the federal Department of Defense.
"Brian's a phenomenal deputy and we're glad to have him back," Sheriff Phil Wowak said.
Luis Melgoza, a 24-year-old who moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 6 and attended local schools; Josh Mittmann, a former Monrovia police officer; and Matt Pressler, a transfer from the San Benito County Sheriff's Office also joined the Sheriff's Office staff.
"Today's one of the great days in law enforcement when we get to add to our ranks," Wowak said.
Like many law enforcement agencies, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office has struggled with budget cuts and staff reductions for several years. The agency still has six openings for deputy sheriffs, but no longer has the funds to hire recruits and put them through the police academy.
Two of new deputies sworn in Monday were "lateral" hires, meaning they have been peace officers at another agency in the past.
San Benito County Sheriff Darren Thompson, who formerly worked for the Watsonville Police Department, was on hand to wish one of his deputies well with a new agency; Pressler had been with the San Benito County Sheriff's Office since 2009.
Mittman, the other lateral hire, has been a police officer since 2006.
Lande also has worked as a deputy. He was with the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office for 14 months before taking a temporary two-year assignment managing the $37.5 million Defense Advance Research Project in Washington, D.C.
Lande, who also earned a doctorate in sociology during his hiatus, was managing a high tech social simulation program to provide cultural training to military personnel.
He said he always intended to come back to the Sheriff's Office.
"I never wanted to leave," Lande said. "I was very reluctant."
The new deputies will start the Field Training Program this week. Wowak advised them that they will work nights and weekends, in the heat and rain learning the streets and neighborhoods of their beats. The Sheriff's Office is responsible for patrolling the unincorporated areas of the 400-square-mile county.
"Today is the beginning of a new era for them," Wowak said.
The men were anxious to start patrol.
"Since I was a kid, that was my ultimate goal," Melgoza said. "... I look forward to serving my community as best as possible."