Staffing shortages at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office have reached “critical levels,” forcing the closure of the Santa Maria Jail on various days, according to the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.
Sheriff Bill Brown echoed the concerns Friday, and said he will be requesting additional funding from the county’s Board of Supervisors during upcoming budget workshops.
“The issues raised by the DSA concerning the Sheriff’s Office staffing levels are concerns that I share,” Brown said.
Among the areas affected by the staffing shortage are jail closures and community policing.
Deputies in the region have to decide whether to cite and release people who otherwise would go to jail because they don’t have the staffing necessary to drive a subject to the main jail in Santa Barbara, said an association spokesman.
“We have to take a cop of the streets for three hours to drive all the way to Santa Barbara,” said Matt McFarlin, board member of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.
That can lead to multiple trips by multiple deputies, so the practice of citing and releasing is utilized on occasion.
In March, the Santa Maria Jail was closed at least twice as a result of the staffing shortage, according to the association.
The staffing shortage impacts city police departments as well, including the Guadalupe and Santa Maria Police departments, as both agencies hold prisoners at the Santa Maria Jail.
But more jail closures are expected because of a recent development requiring additional staff at the main jail in Santa Barbara, the association spokesman said.
The additional staffing requirement in Santa Barbara will likely mean that there will be less staff in Santa Maria, which could impact North County communities.
When the Great Recession hit, the Sheriff’s Office had its authorized strength cut by 13 percent, from 708 to 617, Brown said. Thirty-three positions have since been restored, largely as a result of state and local grants, he said.
Both regular and custody deputies are among those the Sheriff’s Office is having a tough time recruiting.
As a result, custody deputies have been asked to sign up for voluntary overtime to allow for safe jail operations with minimum staffing, the association said.
But starting April 11, the sheriff’s administrative officials are preparing to implement mandatory overtime for almost all deputies, the association said.
Last week, the human resources division of the Sheriff’s Office said there were 19 deputy vacancies, according to the association.
What has complicated matters is that deputies have been working without a labor contract in place since February 2015, which according to the association, has impacted recruiting efforts.
The association also says that its pay and benefits have fallen well behind surrounding agencies and that the last pay raise for deputy sheriffs and custody deputies was in February 2011.
The Sheriff’s Office has long had a history of retaining good employees but is now starting an era where employees are leaving for better paying jobs, they said.
As a result, the association has asked the Sheriff’s Office to alert the Board of Supervisors and the public of the issues and that an effort to cure the deficiency should be initiated, because the problem impacts the entire community.
In response, Brown says he will be requesting additional staffing at the upcoming budget workshops.
“While the DSA’s concerns are valid, the Board of Supervisors will continue to be faced with difficult decisions on how to allocate the limited revenue growth the county government has received in the aftermath of the recession,” Brown said.
“Everyone should be aware that the dedicated men and women of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office continue to have the communities’ welfare at the forefront of their concerns,” he said.
Brown added that the problem of recruiting new people is felt by agencies around the country.
“Agencies across the nation are struggling to recruit sufficient numbers of law enforcement and custody officers and Santa Barbara County is no exception,” he said.
“I remain committed to working with the DSA and the board of supervisors to resolve these challenging issues.”
Kenny Lindberg covers Santa Barbara County for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter.