On any day, Darrel Carr is one of only two sheriff's deputies watching over 500 square miles of rural San Diego County.
From a base in Valley Center, a small agricultural community a few miles east of Escondido, Carr and his fellow deputies cover a territory ranging from Escondido to the Riverside County line, and from Interstate 15 in the west to Lake Henshaw in the east.
Carr and his "partner" Brix, a German shepherd, ride the range in green-and-white Chevy Blazers--not fast enough to bust the numerous "ninja bikers" who come racing through early on weekend mornings, but sufficiently nimble to negotiate the rugged terrain.
Carr's domain tops out around 5,300 feet on Palomar Mountain and includes five Indian reservations. It comes with special problems: avocado thieves, missing hikers, San Luis Rey River drownings and crimes involving livestock.
In life-threatening situations, Carr can get a powerful adrenaline rush waiting precious minutes for backup units to arrive from several miles away. At 2 in the morning once, he drove out to a house to investigate reports of gunshots.
"I left my truck and walked up to the house, where I didn't get a response. I went around to the garage and I could hear someone in there. I banged on the door and shouted that I was with the Sheriff's Office. The guy yelled, 'Get out of here or I'll blow your . . . head off!' I was away from my truck and I would have had to cross in front of his view to get to it."
Instead, Carr used his portable radio to call for help, then waited in a nearby grove for what seemed like an eternity until deputies arrived from Pauma Valley.
"We forced the door open, took his guns away and carted him off to a mental hospital."
Carr was out of uniform the day we spoke over coffee at The Stagecoach, a small Valley Center restaurant that serves as a sort of informal home base for the deputies.
Marijuana runs rampant in Carr's area. Pot busts range from 20 or 30 plants in someone's back yard to the 40,000 to 50,000 discovered last year on Palomar Mountain.
Based on population, violent crimes occur about as often in this part of the county as they do anywhere. Carr rarely fires his gun. He has never killed anyone in the line of duty.
At 40, Carr has been based in Valley Center for 10 years and hopes to work there until he retires. He likes living in a place removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, the gangs and crack wars and homeless. People seem to respect him.
"I've been out late at night on one of the roads in town, and I'll stop a vehicle, and someone from town will stop and ask if everything's OK. It's nice to have community support like that. I doubt if in Escondido or San Diego people stop to ask an officer if he needs help."