Editor’s note: Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff met with the editorial and reporting staff of the Idyllwild Town Crier last week.
Sheriff Stan Sniff acknowledged the crime rate has been creeping up throughout Riverside County. This is the principal reason he wants to protect his department’s funding and has urged the Board of Supervisors to reconsider the retreat from increasing deputies in the unincorporated areas.
County Executive Officer Jay Orr warned the board this winter that revenues and expenses were not balanced. In October, the county hired KPMG, a consulting firm, to review the sheriff’s budget as well as the other criminal justice agencies’ budgets. In March, KPMG presented its report and Orr recommended, with board approval, to have KPMG pursue its 51 recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Probation Department and the Office of the Public Defender.
Part of this included the supervisors putting the goal of increasing the ratio of deputies in the unincorporated areas to 1.2 per 1,000 residents on hold. Currently, the ration is about 1.04.
The number of deputies is one of the sheriff’s more vulnerable budget items. “We can’t cut the jails. The coroner is too small. We can’t cut the cities with contracts because we bill them; the only place is the unincorporated areas,” he lamented.
Sniff is optimistic that board members are realizing that the growth in his budget is the result of labor contracts signed several years ago. He had no control over what was negotiated, but he wants to maintain staff.
While it is easy to rely on attrition (about 5 percent annually) to help reduce staff, vacancies in the field cannot be filled quickly. Recruitment and training can take up to 18 months or more before an individual can be assigned to a station.
Although he believes working with KPMG will help convince the board and executive office that the department is lean, it will take time. For example, the East County Detention Center, which will be ready to open in late 2017 or early 2018, has had its staffing delayed.
“We can just shift staff from the Indio jail to the ECDC,” Sniff stressed. “It’s a different configuration.”
And again, the lead time for recruitment and training delay the availability of new staff. “We can always shut staffing down, but it is hard to start up quickly.”
As always, Sniff emphasized that he will work with the supervisors and county executive on future budgets and remains optimistic that satisfactory solutions are on the horizon.
While dollars-and-cents issues have been in the forefront of the discussions with the board, Sniff has also been building the department’s use of technology to help staff.
“We’re only interested in technology which is a force multiplier,” he added. For example, the department is about to begin a one-year test of how drones (unmanned aircraft) might help with search-and-rescue incidents.
This type of technology may help reduce the time to find the lost hiker or injured person, but humans from the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit will always be needed to provide initial aid and extract the victim, Sniff stressed.
But technology brings its own problem, to which Sniff is very sensitive. Privacy issues can be a thorn both with the public and internally, he added. For example, as the department began planning the drone test, Sniff said they were adamant to avoid any unit other that fixed-winged drones. He didn’t want someone claiming that the sheriff’s staff was peering into houses.
Body cameras, which have become a public interest in recent years, raise questions with unions.
“But staff knows there is a national decline in credibility,” Sniff said, explaining one value of a body camera. “It helps with the credibility and integrity of investigation, and are critical in the future.”
Before departing, Sniff said he intends to run for re-election in the fall of 2018. A career law enforcement official, he was appointed to replaced Bob Doyle as Riverside County sheriff in October 2007. He was easily elected and re-elected with more than 62 percent of the vote in 2010 and 2014.