When Dominique “Dom” Hauscarriague was hired as a police officer at Napa State Hospital in 1999, the state psychiatric institution was gearing up to admit the first patients referred through the criminal courts.
Today, Hauscarriague, Napa State’s newly appointed chief of police, oversees a campus where the vast majority of mental patients come from the criminal system and security is a top priority, especially three years after the killing of psychiatric technician Donna Gross at the hands of a patient.
Hauscarriague succeeded chief Denise Daly, who retired in September. He oversees Napa County’s largest law enforcement agency: 91 officers, 10 sergeants and five lieutenants, none of whom carry firearms.
The department, which also includes two K-9s, Max and Buster, oversees all security matters on the 400-acre campus. That includes the area behind a 16-foot fence where more than 1,160 male and female psychiatric patients from the criminal justice system are housed.
The son of a teacher and a Basque immigrant who started out as a sheep shepherd and eventually became public works director for the city of Pacifica, Hauscarriague grew up in San Bruno and attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco before attending Santa Rosa Police Academy. After a few years in the private sector, Hauscarriague was hired at Napa State Hospital, where he rose through the ranks.
Hauscarriague, who also earned a degree in criminal justice from Napa Valley College, has led investigations on staff misconduct, patient abuse, neglect and deaths and contraband trade. In October 2010, he was among the officers who provided support to the Sheriff’s Office during its investigation into Gross’ killing.
Napa State Hospital Director Dolly Matteucci has welcomed Hauscarriague’s appointment as has the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents the officers working for the California Department of State Hospitals.
“We believe that he understands the concerns that the officers have,” said Ryan Navarre, legal counsel for the association. “He’s well respected among the rank-and-file officers.”
“He’s fabulous. That’s my two cents,” Matteucci said in a brief interview.
Hauscarriague, 48, said the Napa State police force is “specialized law enforcement,” with officers dealing on a daily basis with the mentally ill. “We have certain understanding and a certain expertise in doing that,” he said.
With training and experience, the officers learn to diffuse tense situations as they work hand in hand with psychiatric technicians, nurses and other staff members, Hauscarriague said. “It’s not something that you get right off the bat.”
“It involves a certain amount of patience and empathy,” he noted. “You have to take time. You can’t rush calls to try to diffuse situations. You have to listen to what the patient is saying.”
The father of three, Hauscarriague has coped with adversity himself. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003 for which he underwent a stem cell transplant at University of California San Francisco Medical Center. In September 2012, he underwent a second stem cell transplant for myelodysplastic syndrome. His donor is from Germany, said Hauscarriague, who is now in remission.
He learned there is hope, he said, even when “there are times that you doubt and wonder.”
“My immune system is working the best it has for a long time,” he said.
Hauscarriague and others are working on a five-year strategic plan to improve safety at Napa State Hospital and other facilities the California Department of State Hospitals operates. He primarily focuses on officer recruitment and retention at a time when other law enforcement agencies have started to hire again.
“We’re constantly recruiting,” said Hauscarriague, who needs an extra 10 officers to be fully staffed. “It’s difficult.”
Seven officers have resigned this year, the hospital said. Union representatives note that Napa State peace officer salaries are on average 63 percent lower than those of other law enforcement agencies, including Napa Police and Napa Sheriff’s Office. The monthly salary is $3,455 to $4,447.
The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association strongly supports arming the officers as they perform certain duties, including transporting patients to doctors and court hearings. The representatives argue that not allowing the peace officers to have firearms when transported in the community endanger the lives of both the officer and the community. The union also wants better training and higher salaries.
Arming peace officers was discussed at a state Assembly hearing in October. Since then, there have been no new developments, Matteucci said.
Gross’ tragic death prompted renewed calls for reforms and improved security measures at institutions. Over the past three years, security improvements have included the installation of a campus-wide electronic alarm system. Police officers on bikes and in vehicles now patrol the area inside the sally gate, not just the perimeter, thus reducing response times.
Hauscarriague said he plans to remain a “hands-on” police chief, working closely with his officers and the hospital staff. He and his wife, Elizabeth, a dean at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, live in Vacaville. They have three children, including a son who wants to enter law enforcement.