French Valley jail re-named after respected retired sheriff

The Southwest Detention Center has been renamed after Cois M. Byrd, a retired Riverside County Sheriff who was responsible for opening the law enforcement complex many years ago. Courtesy photo
The Southwest Detention Center has been renamed after Cois M. Byrd, a retired Riverside County Sheriff who was responsible for opening the law enforcement complex many years ago. Courtesy photo

The Southwest Detention Center in French Valley now has a new name and a fitting one.

After the July 25 meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, suspects in southwest Riverside County will now be booked at the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center. Byrd, a Riverside Polytechnic High School graduate who served as Riverside County’s 10th sheriff from 1986-1994, was instrumental in having the jail, adjoining courthouse and sheriff’s station built in the first place, a press release from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.

Byrd said it was an honor to have the jail – the justice center itself will keep its name – christened after him.

“Somebody talked about death, previously, that frequently things aren’t named after people until they’re dead, and I’m kind of glad that I’m still here,” Byrd – whose first name rhymes with “choice” – said. “Especially for my two children, they’re enjoying it.”

He said “after all these years,” it’s an interesting feeling, and a little bit of an ego boost. Byrd has been retired from the sheriff’s department for 22 years. Coincidentally, that is the same number of years he’d been alive when he first became a deputy in 1958, he said.

“I recognize that recognitions, all of them, are pretty fleeting,” Byrd, now 80, said. “But it is nice that they would go back that far and recognize somebody from the past.”

To many though, Byrd isn’t just “somebody from the past.”

“I have known him personally throughout my law enforcement career, as I rose through the ranks in various assignments,” current Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff said. “In fact, he sat on my hire interview as a new deputy, and I was lucky enough to directly work for him as a staff assistant for several years as a newly promoted Sheriff’s lieutenant when he served as Sheriff. Cois has been a friend, confidant and mentor to many of us that have emerged over the years in the senior leadership positions of the Sheriff’s Department.”

In the proposal to name the jail after Byrd, Supervisor Chuck Washington recognized Byrd for his dedication to inmate rehabilitation, his work in ensuring deputies had firearms to match those of the criminals they were up against and many other accomplishments.

“As sheriff, he exemplified what it means to be a professional in the evolving and challenging field of law enforcement,” Washington said in the proposal. “Therefore, it is only fitting and proper that the Southwest Detention Center be renamed in his honor.”

Byrd said by telephone Saturday that what is now the Southwest Justice Center was built on land sold to the county by the Borel family – the namesakes for a road in the area – at a heavily discounted rate.

At first, some judges in Riverside were privately skeptical of building the jail, Byrd said.

“And I explained to them,” Byrd said, “Well, our projections are that there’s going to be major growth in the southwest county, the entire region. And we need this out here.”

He was right. Three decades after the Southwest Justice Center was first proposed, formerly rural southwest Riverside County, now has a population in the hundreds of thousands.

Byrd said he’s quite proud that both the Southwest Justice Center and the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, constructed during his time as sheriff, came in on budget.

Byrd is not the only person in his family with a background in public service. His father worked over three decades with the Riverside County Road Department, as it was called then. His brother clocked over four decades with the same agency.

Because of his family’s involvement with the road department, Byrd said it was something he knew he did not want to do.

“I always wanted to work for the sheriff’s department, because it paid $395 a month when I started in 1959. It was a little bit more than what the road department paid, but not much,” Byrd said.

And to this day, he’s still very much involved in the Sheriff’s Department as a volunteer historian.

Byrd said having the jail named after him, though he’s grateful for it, is still going to take a little bit of getting used to.

“I read in the paper, two days later, there was an arrest over in Elsinore of some people that were stealing from the city yard and the newspaper article said they were taken to the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center,” Byrd said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, I’m probably going to have to see that often in the newspaper now.’”

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