Reelected by a wide margin in last week’s primary election, Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff plans a major reboot — to resume the work of rebuilding and restructuring the department that was interrupted by the economic recession.
“In 2011, when the effects of the recession were most severe, I had to focus on keeping the department intact, taking the force down by attrition rather than forcing major layoffs,” said Sniff. “Now, with the go-ahead from the Board of Supervisors, I can resume rebuilding and restaffing.” That included increasing patrol ratios in the unincorporated areas of the county to 1.2 deputies per 1,000 residents compared to 0.75 deputies per 1,000 at the height of the recession. Sniff estimated present staffing at 1.0 per 1,000. “We’ll be focusing on regaining the ground we lost in 2009 [when ratios were last at 1.2 per 1,000],” said Sniff.
He suggested several areas to restructure his department: subordinate development — resuming structuring of training programs that ensure those promoted are ready from day one to serve in their new capacities; more training in tactics, especially for utilizing new weapons and equipment; and replacing some high-level officers, including Undersheriff Coleen Walker who is retiring after 35 years of service.
Discussing plans for subordinate development, Sniff said smaller organizations can accomplish this through mentoring programs but that given the size of his department, this would have to be done through training programs. “This is a very young department with new people leading new people,” he said. “With training programs in place, those promoted would be well prepped prior to assuming greater responsibility.” This program would continue Sniff’s goals of up-leveling the quality and capability of serving officers. Sniff had previously instituted educational requirements for captains and serving officers. “Beginning in 2010, all captains had to have a four-year college degree,” he said. “Currently, 80 percent of our lieutenants have that degree requirement and half of our 350 sergeants either have the degree or are within striking distance of completing it.”
Sniff said acquiring new equipment — including weapons, replacing the existing fleet of patrol cars, and beginning to test body cameras to be used by patrol deputies — would necessitate creating new training programs and funding sources.
“Body cameras would bolster department credibility and better ensure safety of serving deputies,” said Sniff of new technology just beginning to come online. Even without that technology, Sniff noted how untarnished his department is in comparison with other police departments that have made headlines because of using excessive force or internal corruption. “We don’t have the problems as do some other departments you read about. This is a great organization with some extraordinary people serving in it,” he said. “I am so proud to head it. We’re also the gold standard in both ethnic and gender diversity, something I plan to continue to expand.”
Sniff said the department is considering taking over policing responsibility for Desert Hot Springs. The department currently provides contract service for 17 of the county’s 28 cities and Desert Hot Springs would make it 18.
Sniff said his primary focus is in rebuilding staff. “We currently have 700 to 800 vacancies,” he observed. “Rebuilding staffing levels is my main objective.” He said he would keep the need to increase staffing front and center with the Board of Supervisors, so that money to do so is not directed to other things because of falling crime rates within the county. “Everything costs money, but rebuilding is what I want to do.”