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The phone call that led to Margaret Mims' career as Fresno County sheriff

Mims K9 Station Wagon (1).jpg
Fresno County Sheriff's Office
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims was the first woman K-9 handler in the department. She retired in January 2023 after 42 years in law enforcement.

FRESNO, Calif. — Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims retired after a long career in law enforcement this January. She spent her final days packing her office.

“It truly is bittersweet to know that I'll be walking out of this building for the last time,” Mims told KVPR in late December.

But Mims knew she was making the right decision. She retired after 16 years as sheriff and 42-years in law enforcement.

The way she got into her career came in an unlikely way. It can be traced to one fateful phone call in the late 1970’s.

The phone call

One night, Mims father called her looking for a dinner date. He was invited to a party and Mims’ mother was home with a headache. So he asked Mims.

Kerman PD Officer Mims.jpg
Fresno County Sheriff's Office
Retired sheriff Margaret Mims earlier in her career.

Mims obliged. Her father, a police officer in the community of Kerman, was attending the retirement party of the outgoing police chief. Mims spoke with the incoming chief who told her of his plan to hire Kerman’s first woman cop. At the time, Mims thought of that as “cutting edge.”

On their drive home from the party, Mims told her dad she would apply for the position.

“I'm a woman of faith. I know that phone call did not happen by accident that night because that started my very long and rewarding law enforcement career,” Mims said.

Mims saw the move into law enforcement as a career opportunity. At the time she was a single mother working as a teacher’s aide at a local school, helping in the library and cafeteria.

She applied and got the job and her first day with Kerman Police Department was in January 1980.

A career of ‘firsts’

She served four years in Kerman and her arrival meant change at the department, which needed new badges — the term “patrolman” no longer applied. They were updated to say “police officer.”

Mims continued a career of “firsts.” She was the first woman in the Fresno County department to become a K-9 handler and the first woman to attain the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and assistant sheriff, according to the sheriff’s office.

She worked her way through the ranks, she said, when a chance to run for the position of the county’s top sheriff arrived.

“Just like that phone call that night, the door of opportunity opened for me when our former sheriff decided to retire and I made the decision to run, and I won,” Mims said.

In 2006 she was elected Fresno County’s first female sheriff and was re-elected three times after that.

Beyond sheriff

During her tenure Mims said she aimed to defend constitutional rights, improve community relations and tackle immigration reform — a topic she discussed with former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Fresno County Sheriff's Office

She made national headlines most recently during the pandemic when she said law enforcement should not be enforcing health laws, such as wearing a mask.

“I hope I was a voice of reason because whenever I was called by a national network or government agency, it wasn't because I asked for it,” Mims said.

While in office Mims said she had to learn the “art of delegation” in order to address the number of requests that came her way. She said her philosophy was “service first.” She also tried to remain active in the community, feeling pressure to remain accessible as an elected official.

“I have to be worthy of that confidence that people have in me and I worked very, very hard to try and keep and be worthy of that,” Mims said.

The now-former sheriff said she plans to spend a period of her retirement reflecting and decompressing, but she will make new plans “because I've still got something in me to do.”

John Zanoni was sworn in as the 26th Fresno County sheriff on Jan. 3.

Elizabeth Arakelian is the host of All Things Considered. A Valley native, Elizabeth earned her bachelor's degree in English Language Literatures from the University of California, Santa Cruz and her master's degree in journalism from New York University. She has covered a range of beats. Her agriculture reporting for the Turlock Journal earned her a first place award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. While in graduate school she covered the New Hampshire Primary for NBC Owned Television Stations and subsequently worked as a television ratings analyst for the company's business news network, CNBC. Upon returning to California, her role as a higher education public relations professional reconnected her to the Valley's media scene. She is happy to be back to her journalism roots as the local host of All Things Considered.