Citizens group says sheriff needs more funding

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office citizen liaison committee’s thoughts on the department’s employees could be boiled down to one sentence: “They are doing so much on so little, but to do the job they are asked to do requires more adequate funding.”

Sheriff Greg Hagwood formed the citizen group as a means of increasing communication between his office and the County Board of Supervisors.

The supervisors selected four citizens to sit on the committee, which toured the department’s facilities, participated in ride-alongs and employee interviews, and explored the sheriff’s office (SO) financial books.

The group’s first annual report primarily argued for increased funding to supply more staffing and updated communication capabilities to the sheriff and his staff.

“The sheriff’s office must have enough sworn deputies to cover the county and must have communication systems brought up to date.

“Adequate staffing and functional communications are not frills, particularly in the correctional facility. Not to address these two issues poses a danger not only to officers in the department, but to public safety.”

The report also argued grant funds were being used as a replacement for county funding in some cases, a tactic the committee saw as unreliable in the long run.

In reaction to a tour of the county jail, the committee commented, “Though we believe the facility is well run, we were appalled at the poor condition of the facility itself.”

The document mentioned “a woeful excuse for a phone system and officer-to-officer communication” among the issues plaguing the building.

In the area of fiscal management the group praised the department for its dedication to fiscal responsibility but also voiced concerns about a small number of overworked officers handling the majority of fiscal work.

“We saw a strong need for cross training in the department to protect against a meltdown should the financial officer leave or become incapacitated.

“There is an immediate need for updating job descriptions and responsibilities and matching them to comparable salaries in like departments county- and statewide.”

The commission also contended the department was severely understaffed.

“Using a common ratio of officers to population, Plumas County should have 33 officers. Currently allotted 20 positions, the department has only 17 who patrol right now.

“Officers worry that if they take vacation or sick leave, they will leave their fellow officers uncovered and unsafe. Effectiveness can become a big issue when officers are working tired, sick, and drawing too much overtime.

“In reality, the county is not sufficiently covered full time which puts both officer and public safety at risk.”

The report later mentioned that on some nights there might be a couple hours where only one officer was on duty in the whole county.

It also indicated understaffing often left deputies working alone and isolated.

“Deputies want someone with them when they work the night shift as it is unsafe to be alone given that back-up is often far away.”

The committee argued that aging equipment, dependence on grants for funding, and understaffing indicated the department was functionally “financially bankrupt.”

“Public safety needs to be a priority, especially in times of budget crises.”

This led the group to the conclusion that events like High Sierra Music Festival, music events in Belden, and Fourth of July celebrations “should pay the real cost of protection that the sheriff’s department provides, not just what they want to pay.”

“Perhaps the county might consider keeping less than $25 million in reserves when safety is at risk,” the report added.

The document discussed several sources of sheriff’s office spending.

It explained marijuana garden eradication efforts on public lands were large sources of overtime and expense.

The report indicated the SO and local California Highway Patrol office didn’t have helicopters or pilots, meaning the department had to contract with other county sheriffs during pot busts in the forest.

It added that in the future “the sheriff hopes that Plumas, Lassen and Sierra counties can share a chopper or a drone.”

The committee went on to address coroner duties, commenting that the department had to check and constantly review unattended, accidental, suicidal or suspicious deaths.

“Autopsies must be performed in Washoe County, cost an average of $2,000 not including overhead, and require travel and deputy presence.”

The report explained there were also 46 sex offenders in the county that must be monitored.

Boat patrols on four county lakes were also included as major sources of expense.

The committee mentioned that some of these functions were covered by grant funds, although the future of some of those sources was in doubt.

“The department works hard and has been successful in winning grants, but depending on grants for one-time purchases is not the way to run a business. Depending on grants to fund personnel is poor practice.”

At a Board of Supervisors meeting, Sheriff Greg Hagwood told the supervisors the report was written by the committee with no input from him.

Hagwood and various committee and board members all voiced their feeling that the exercise was a success.

The sheriff asked the supervisors to appoint two members each to next year’s committee, adding that this year’s members would stay on for an additional year to give the program a sense of history.

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