Rather than an article relating to the Sheriffs Department in each county, Crime, Justice & America would like to comment on the fiscal crisis facing every metropolitan Sheriffs Department in California.
The people who live and work in these counties have come to expect a certain level of Law Enforcement, Crime Prevention, and Criminal Detention. In the foreseeable future, these services, some of which at times have been widely criticized, may be drastically reduced or not even be available.
Imagine these scenarios:
You come home and find your house burglarized and everything taken. No one hurt? However, Law Enforcement will not investigate, or respond.
It’s Saturday night and your neighbors’ party is so loud that your kids can’t sleep and are screaming. No one from Law Enforcement can respond.
You find out that your old roommate ran up bills on your credit, and tells you “go to hell.” No investigation from Law Enforcement.
Even worse, you’ve experience domestic violence or sexual abuse and now you feel that Law Enforcement does not understand what you are going through.
Every month, and sometimes every week, it is common to hear that due to fewer staff members and an increasing numbers of calls, some sheriff’s departments no longer respond to some less serious calls, including property offenses, noise complaints and vehicle lockouts. Many no longer perform follow-up investigations to less serious crimes, including property crimes with no known suspect and financial crimes, such as credit card abuse and forgery. Further, most departments have reduced crime prevention programs and other community interaction activities, including school programs.
In addition, jails are overcrowded: Los Angeles, Merced, Placer, Riverside, and Santa Clara were all under federal court order to reduce overcrowding. Increased arrests and more defendants awaiting trial (rather than plea-bargaining) because of the Three Strikes law are primary contributors to this problem. Pretrial inmates now make up 65 percent to 70 percent of the inmate population in some counties, compared to 40 percent 10 years ago. In addition, counties are increasingly using less secure facilities to house accused felons due to lack of space. Security issues including increased escapes have resulted.
Because of overcrowding, counties commonly release the least dangerous inmates early into work programs or use electronic monitoring, leaving only the more serious offenders in the jails. Others no longer jail some types of offenders. For example, in Solano, residential burglary is the minimum offense necessary to be jailed, and Merced no longer jails offenders with bail set at less than $25,000. In Placer, misdemeanants rarely serve jail time.
Due to increasing caseloads and funding cuts, probation departments routinely bank adult cases. Alameda banks 6,000. Solano banks 1,600, nearly 35 percent of their entire caseload. These cases may not receive meaningful supervision or rehabilitation. Banking less serious cases frees up officers to supervise the more serious offenders
Orange County proposes a plan that saves $14.8 million by eliminating or reducing funds that would have covered treatment for drug offenders rather than jail, psychiatric treatment beds for severely mentally ill adults, medical beds at Theo Lacy Branch Jail, speedy child-abuse assessments and other programs.
Santa Clara proposes a plan that would mean fewer patrols in unincorporated areas, the elimination of specialized services, such as sexual predator and domestic violence units, community policing, crime prevention programs, jail perimeter patrols, and the terrorism unit.
It is my belief that Law Enforcement and Corrections are the highest priority within the community. The people in charge, our politicians and bureaucrats, should take from the programs that are a “want” to insure the programs that are a “need”. One final question, what is the price or dollar value attributed to the harm to that family, little boy, or little girl because the resources do not exist any more?