Lassen County has always struggled to provide basic services to the people of the county. With people living in small towns spread around the 4,700 square miles that make up our county, it is difficult to provide these services to all residents in an efficient manner. The issue is further complicated by our limited resources and the ever-expanding state and federal mandates that draw resources away from the core functions of local government.
The most basic function of government is to provide for the safety and security of its citizens. The Lassen County Sheriff’s Office, in partnership with other state and local agencies, provides those basic public safety services. The sheriff’s office is made up of hard-working men and women who are committed to providing these services. The biggest challenge in providing these services has always been staffing levels.
Staffing levels in patrol, the jail and the 911-dispatch center are inadequate to meet the needs of the community while preserving personnel safety. We have made some small gains in staffing over the years, but the gains have not kept up with the volume of work and the turnover in personnel. The staffing need is apparent in all of these functions, but the shortage in patrol personnel is the most visible to the public. When you factor in the number of allocated positions, the number of vacancies, annual leave, time away for mandated training and other factors, the number of deputies (including patrol sergeants) assigned to patrol averages around 20 but sometimes drops lower.
These patrol personnel are deployed to provide the greatest coverage during the hours when calls for service are the highest. There are no deputies on patrol during low call volume hours and their presence gradually increases to three to five deputies in the afternoon and evening hours. The limited hours of coverage creates many issues. Criminals know our schedules and plan their criminal acts accordingly. There are delays in response times when deputies have to be called to respond from home on their time off, and deputies are not always available to readily respond to all areas of the county.
Additional resources would allow the sheriff’s office to expand the number of deputies available to respond to calls and the hours of patrol coverage. The goal would be to provide 24-hour coverage, and additional hours of coverage to the Westwood, Big Valley/ Ravendale, and Doyle/ Herlong patrol areas.
The sheriff’s office would also be able to create deputy sheriff recruit positions that would allow new recruits to attend the police academy without taking positions that should be filled with deputies assigned to patrol. Hiring deputies and sending them to the police academy has become a necessity to fill vacancies, but without dedicated recruit positions, it causes a delay in filling patrol deputy positions.
The sheriff’s office is not the only county office that faces staffing and resource issues, and I am not aware of a single county agency that does not experience these same issues to some extent.
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with community members on a regular basis. During these interactions, I hear a few common discussions. One is related to property taxes and the common belief that the county keeps all of the property taxes that are collected. In reality, the county general fund realizes only around 20 percent of the property taxes collected.
Another common discussion is related to county employee compensation.
This one is more complicated and depends on the perspective of the individual. However, I can say that most of our turnover at the sheriff’s office is from deputies going to state agencies or other jurisdictions. There is great financial incentive to leave as many of these former employees double their income within a short period of time and improve their level of employee benefits immediately.
Another common discussion centers on neighborhood watch programs and the use of volunteers. The sheriff’s office remains committed to supporting neighborhood watch programs in our communities, and also relies heavily on many other volunteers who support sheriff’s office operations. These dedicated volunteers are part of the solution, but we still need deputy sheriffs who can respond to the criminal activities as they are reported.
Law enforcement and community partnerships are vital and have always been an important part of our mission. By far, the most common discussion centers on the increase in crime. This is not an issue that is easily resolved. My advice in this area is to get informed and be part of the solution. Talk to deputies, police officers and other criminal justice personnel and find out what they are facing. Even better, do a ride-along and see for yourself. Take that knowledge and use it to guide your thoughts, actions and votes. Work with me and all other elected and appointed officials in working toward meaningful solutions.
These are difficult times, and unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to the issues we face. It is incumbent upon all of us to come together for the sake of the safety and security of our communities. I hope that each of you will find a way to be part of the solution.
I would appreciate you giving careful consideration to Measure J on the June ballot. Additional resources will help support critical public safety services in Lassen County.