In principal, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors has granted the sheriff authority to continue to increase staffing in the unincorporated areas of the county. However, the 5-0 vote at the Sept. 1 meeting did not authorize any more funding for this fiscal year.

In fact, unanimous support for the proposal introduced by board Chair Marion Ashley and 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington was obtained by acknowledging that the public safety budgets, including the District Attorney’s Office and Probation, as well as Sheriff, would be available for review in early 2016.

When the supervisors approved the 2015-16 budget in July, they asked Sheriff Stan Sniff to limit hiring of more deputies for a year. They also agreed to County Executive Jay Orr’s request to independently audit the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s budget and Probation.

While Orr recognized the demands on these agencies, many external, such as realignment and AB 47, and some directly from the board such as expansion of the Indio Jail, he recommended the review of their budgets as necessary to alleviate recent protests from contract cities.

Last week, Ashley and Washington asked the board to approve a policy goal of achieving a ratio of 1.2 deputies per 1,000 residents in the unincorporated areas by

fiscal 2018-19. The proposal authorizes a ratio of 1.08 deputies this year rather than the current level of 1.04 deputies.

Their concern was the recent “preliminary Riverside County crime trends for the first half of 2015, as reported to the FBI, … show that specifically within the unincorporated areas of Riverside County, reported FBI Part 1 violent crimes increased by over 15 percent, property crimes increased 7.7 percent and overall FBI Part 1 crimes increased 8.4 percent in the first six months of 2015 over the same first six months of the previous year.”

“Complaints of crime are up all over the county,” Ashley emphasized. While the public safety budget study is expected in January or February, “I’m concerned if we stay paused and stopped ’til then, we’ll lose momentum and it will be tougher to adjust to increase in crime rate.”

Washington expressed concern about the response times to Idyllwild and neighboring mountain communities. “We’ve got to ramp up staffing levels to get back to problem-oriented policing,” he stressed.

However, their colleagues addressed the county’s overall budget condition and the deficit in the Sheriff’s budget, which is currently about $20 million. “Public safety is the number one priority of the board … but we really don’t have funding to sustain this if we add $15 million to fund a very laudable goal,” said Supervisor John Benoit (4th District). He preferred to review the result of the public safety budget study.

Supervisor John Tavaglione (1st District) also said, “Let’s hold this off until we see what the audit says.”

Finally, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (2nd District) who advocates more deputies, was dubious about the effectiveness of the proposal and wants to develop a “better way to deliver serious response time improvements.

“The current proposal doesn’t appropriate a single dollar or doesn’t authorize any hiring,” he added. “It basically does what supervisors Benoit and Tavaglione want … so let’s wait to make an informed decision.”

After about an hour of discussion, the board adopted a modified proposal from Jeffries, which simply asked for a plan to increase the Sheriff’s staffing in unincorporated areas to 1.2 sworn personnel per 1,000 residents during fiscal 2018-19 and to project the costs for fiscal year 2016-17 through 2018-19 to achieve this goal.

In an email, Jessica Gore, legislative assistant to Sniff, wrote, “The sheriff will have his staff work closely with county staff in refining a multiple year fielding plan that balances the clear safety needs of our unincorporated areas in keeping with the board's fiscal concerns expressed last week. The sheriff continues to strongly support return to 1.2 sworn per 1,000 population as quickly as possible across our county in our unincorporated communities. Because of the long lead time in hiring and training new deputies, Supervisors Ashley and Washington were correct in bringing this item recently forward after the local and state crime trends arose in 2015.”