In an attempt to educate the citizens of the county, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sheriff’s Association is airing a message warning the public about the effects of county “budget restrictions,” especially to public safety.
The one minute ad aired on three local Modesto radio stations cautioned listeners about a predicted influx in crime in the area if those convicted are released early from jail due to cuts to the sheriff’s jail staffing. The commercial asks its audience to contact the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors urging that they not cut public safety funding to the sheriff’s budget and to call 52FELONS (523-3566) for additional information.
“We’re not trying to scare (the public), but to be aware,” said DSA president Grant Beard. “We live in the community too. It isn’t about just layoffs.”
Beard, a 12-year veteran of the department’s custodial division, said the jail staffing has been at minimum levels for years and has gotten to the point he’s seen the same subjects re-arrested and back in the jail within days of their early release.
“You can arrest criminals all day long, but if you don’t have the bed space they’re going to be released,” said Beard. “It seems right now we’re only keeping the most dangerous of the dangerous.”
The DSA believes that because of county budget reductions, 300 inmates will be released from the sheriff’s honor farm and those convicted of felonies such as auto theft, burglary and domestic violence will serve their sentences in a work-release program. The Department of Corrections is also slated to release 40,000 inmates statewide later on.
“The criminals know there’s less funds for public safety,” Beard said. “They’re going back (when released) to the areas they came from with little risk of going to jail if arrested again.”
County Supervisor William O’Brien said he had not heard the radio ad and on Wednesday, when the ad debuted, only received one phone call regarding the cuts. O’Brien’s district covers the Oakdale and Riverbank areas.
O’Brien said the county has an over $900 million budget but only about 25 percent is discretionary and of that 25 percent, two-thirds goes to public safety. Discretionary spending are those items not mandated by law.
“It comes down to real tough decisions on what to keep and what to go,” said O’Brien about the budget. “The DSA is right. Public safety is a priority.”
O’Brien said he has told Sheriff Adam Christianson that he will get about $700 thousand more than last year’s budget but costs have risen so cuts will still have to be made within the sheriff’s office. The proposed cuts are to jail housing and the gang unit. O’Brien has asked Sheriff Christianson to look at the dive team and helicopter unit instead.
Future budget meetings are scheduled to discuss more funding. O’Brien estimated that the sheriff’s office would need close to $6 million more just to operate at “status quo.”
“There may be more funds available to infuse for public safety,” O’Brien said, “but it won’t be close to six million.”
Oakdale Police Chief Marty West was not aware of the radio announcement but was concerned about the effect early inmate releases would have on his already short-staffed department.
“Any kind of early release in this region, or for that matter where the person has ties in Oakdale, will have an impact on crime in Oakdale,” said Chief West. “I don’t want to see a higher crime rate in Oakdale or other regions such as Riverbank and the surrounding areas.”
West said that he currently relies on assistance from the sheriff’s department and county probation department to assist Oakdale PD in checking and monitoring sex registrants, parolees, and those on probation.
“I’ve lost eight officers on my department due to my own budget cuts and am having a hard time trying to keep (crime) figures down,” West added. “Any change where county or state inmates are released early will have a severe effect on crime in the city.”
West expressed a concern that crime figures for auto theft, burglaries, and violent assaults may rise.
Riverbank Police Chief Bill Pooley said he had only heard the last part of the announcement but also had similar concerns to Chief West.
“Any time you’re releasing felons back into the public without serving their full sentence, the person is not learning the lesson and will likely re-offend,” said Pooley. “It takes so much for law enforcement to put them there.”
Pooley said the county cuts in personnel would not have an impact to the staffing of the deputy sheriffs contracted at Riverbank; however Riverbank city officials have asked him to look into the possibility of cutting two positions from his budget.
“As chief I’m going to adamantly advocate keeping everyone assigned,” Pooley said. “Any cuts within public safety results in a reduction of services.”
Pooley has a meeting later this month with city representatives to discuss budgetary issues. Pooley plans on including figures on the sex registrants, parolees, and probationers living in the city.
“Add now the early release of inmates,” said Pooley. “The council will be the ones to decide on what cuts are needed.”
Joan Western, Director of Sales at Citadel Broadcasting, said the Stanislaus DSA purchased the 60-second advertisement to be regularly aired beginning on Dec. 1 on Kat Country 103.3 FM, The Hawk 104.1 FM, and ESPN 970 AM.
Beard said the DSA plans on continuing to educate the public and raise awareness to get concerned citizens to contact public officials.
“Now’s the time to step up,” said Beard. “I don’t want to see libraries cut, but if it isn’t safe you’re not going to be able to go there.”