At its March 26 meeting, the county Board of Supervisor’s approved a “Roadmap for Public Safety.” This action preceded the board’s first budget hearings for fiscal 2013-14, which begins July 1, which were held Monday, April 1.

Fifth District Supervisor Marion Ashley submitted the road map. The approval formally sets public safety as the county’s top priority for the next five years.

As part of the roadmap, the board established a goal of 1.2 sheriff’s deputies per 1,000 residents within the next five years.

“If you don’t have a safe community you won’t locate jobs, and without jobs, property values don’t increase,” said 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone.

In 2009, the county’s ratio of deputies to residents was 1.2. Once county revenues began declining in 2008, budget reductions have affected all county agencies, even the sheriff’s department.

Last year, during Sheriff Stan Sniff’s budget presentations, he discussed the consequences of falling deputy sheriff’s staff. At that point, the number of deputy sheriffs had declined to less than 0.7 per 1,000 residents. At that moment, the supervisors decided to change that direction.

They authorized the sheriff to begin recruiting additional staff. Sniff pointed out that it takes more than a year to recruit and train new deputies before they are on the street. The process has started and he expects a new class in early 2014.

Ashley is concerned that concomitant increasing crime statistics will derail the county’s incipient economic recovery. “Opportunities [for economic revival] could be disrupted by worsening crime and public safety concerns,” he lamented. “Riverside County shows an increase in violent and property crimes in unincorporated areas.”

He and other supervisors were also worried about the safety of deputies responding without more backup. Stone stressed the need to improve safety for the officers involved in responses as well as for the public

“As a resident of the unincorporated areas, it’s really getting tough,” said new 1st District Supervisor Kevin Jefferies. “I’d like to achieve this before five years if the revenue allows and before neighborhoods are lost.”

“This is more than a symbolic message,” stressed Stone. “The sheriff has to invest in these individuals. We need to boldly tell staff they need to start having more [deputy] academies and more people to staff new jails. The rate-limiting step is not construction costs. The rate-limiting step is [having] personnel when it’s ready.”

The vote was 5-0 to make public safety, including the offices of the district attorney and fire department, the county’s first priority in the coming years. Public safety agencies presented their proposed 2013-14 budgets to the supervisors Monday, April 1.