Lassen County Sheriff’s perspective overview

Lassen County is struggling to maintain the quality of life for its residents while coping with justice system reforms and limited resources. In the next few weeks I will be releasing a series of papers outlining my perspective on the status of our criminal justice system (both local and state) and how our communities are being impacted. I will describe the positive things that are occurring, as well as the negative. My goal is to disseminate information that I believe is important for the public to know and understand. I believe that in our current state of partisanship and division, the truth is often lost or ignored.

This article will serve as an overview of items that I will discuss more in depth in future articles.

Criminal Justice
System reforms:
The transformation of our justice system began in 2011 with the passage of a series of bills, including AB109, which altered fundamental principles of our criminal justice system. This series of reform bills, commonly referred to as “public safety realignment,” shifted a great deal of responsibility to California counties.

The reforms continued with the passage of proposition 47 by a vote of the people, in November of 2014. Proposition 47 changed most felonies into misdemeanors, which has altered our criminal justice system in many ways.
Proposition 57 was passed by the voters in November of 2016. Proposition 57 included a number of reforms that will accelerate the release of many people serving time in the state prison system.

Lassen County Jail:
The Lassen County Jail, in use today, opened in 1991. The facility was originally constructed to serve as a county jail, as well as a community correctional facility. Lassen CCF housed low-level state prisoners under contract. This contract helped cover the cost of the facility itself, as well as operational and personnel costs. Lassen CCF was closed in 2011 due to public safety realignment, resulting in significant staffing and resource reductions.

The Lassen County Jail has received some upgrades, but still has infrastructure and staffing needs that will need to be addressed in order to remain in operation.

Personnel/human resources:
Many of the agencies in Lassen County experience heavy turnover among personnel. The Lassen County Sheriff’s Office is no exception. The average experience level of correctional deputies assigned to the jail is less than two years. Many of the inmates have more experience in the facility than the staff do. In the patrol/operations division, retention has been a challenge for decades. Trained and experienced patrol personnel can go to other agencies and see a 25-60 percent increase in salary and benefits. The sheriff’s office has taken measures to improve hiring and retention, but continuous turnover results in staffing shortages and affects the ability to provide basic public safety services.

Mental health
services and the
criminal justice system:
The lack of adequate mental health services is apparent in the community as well as in county jails. A large number of the calls for service received by the 911-dispatch center are related to people in mental health crisis. The options available to responding patrol personnel in resolving these issues are very limited. Likewise, the population housed in the Lassen County Jail includes a high percentage of offenders with mental health treatment needs. County jails were not designed to serve as mental health facilities, and this increased burden draws on limited local resources.

Emergency communications:
The Lassen County Sheriff’s Office operates a 911 emergency dispatch center. This center receives the majority of 911 calls placed within Lassen County. The remainder of the calls goes to the California Highway Patrol dispatch center. The Sheriff’s Office dispatch center processes an average of 3,000 non-emergency calls, and 900 emergency calls each month and dispatches patrol personnel from the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office and Susanville Police Department. The 911-dispatch center has experienced many changes that will improve efficiency and service to the citizens.

Patrol operations:
Sheriff’s Office patrol personnel are responsible for general law enforcement services and coroner services in all areas of Lassen County. Patrol personnel are scheduled with the goal of providing the best service possible to all 4,720 square miles of the county. Staffing and hours of coverage are limited based on the number of personnel available. Staffing shortages are further impacted by personnel turnover, training mandates, and other factors.

California’s criminal justice reforms, changes in case law and changes in our local justice system, have continually made the job of a peace officer more difficult. Reduced criminal consequences, repeat arrests and increasing crime rates can be demoralizing. Luckily, Sheriff’s Office patrol personnel remain diligent in their daily work and they do what they can to protect our communities.