Sheriff to build up patrol staff in response to increased crime

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley's proposal for the sheriff to gradually increase the number of personnel who can be deployed to communities reeling from spikes in violent crime was approved today.

The Board of Supervisors accepted Ashley's "1.2 Budget Doctrine" in a 5-0 vote preceded by observations from all board members that crime was becoming more prevalent countywide, but particularly in unincorporated communities.

"It's really getting tough out there," said Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, a resident of Lakeland Village. "There's more gangs and crime."

He expressed concern about a local park being overtaken by "tweakers," or methamphetamine users.

Supervisor John Tavaglione said all signs point to growing criminal activity, not only in Riverside County but the entire Southern California region.

"Seems like every day, people are shooting at cops," Tavaglione said. "We have community members' lives at risk. We need a roadmap to get back to where we need to be."

Ashley's mandate calls on the sheriff to boost hiring over the next five years so that unincorporated communities enjoy a deputy-to-residents staffing ratio of 1.2 per 1,000.

The current ratio is .75 -- a level it fell to last year to meet the county's spending containment goals.

The last time the patrol ratio was 1.2 per 1,000 occurred in 2009, according to Ashley.

Most of the personnel reductions have been achieved through attrition, not pink slips.

Last September, the board authorized the sheriff to return to a one deputy per 1,000 residents ratio in unincorporated areas, but most of the 50 deputies hired under the plan won't be fully trained and on the streets until next year.

"In the meantime, Riverside County shows an increase in violent and property crimes in unincorporated areas around Hemet, Perris, Lake Elsinore, Cabazon, Palm Desert and Blythe," Ashley said.

"Assault with a deadly weapon and burglaries have risen ... in southwestern Riverside County. It is with a heavy heart that I continue to see reports of serious and violent crime within my district."

The supervisors blamed much of the surge on realignment legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, which allowed the early release of many prisoners not convicted of violent crimes to relieve overcrowding in the state's 33 penal institutions. The county was the recipient of several thousand early releases, of whom Ashley noted two-thirds were known "high-risk" recidivists.

The realignment bill, AB 109, also required counties to begin incarcerating individuals convicted of "non-serious, non-violent" crimes that don't stem from a sexual offense. The result was more pressure on the county's overburdened jails. In 2012, the sheriff released 6,990 inmates to make room.

Under a two-decade-old federal court decree, the sheriff is required to have a bed for each inmate; if not, he must make space for incoming prisoners, typically by turning loose "low-level" offenders. The early releases are known as "federal kickouts."

Sheriff Stan Sniff applauded the board's decision to grant him the discretion to expand staffing, but noted it won't be easy.

"It'll be a heavy lift just to get to one per thousand," Sniff said.

"Less than one percent of those who apply to be deputy recruits are hired."

District Attorney Paul Zellerbach said more emphasis should be placed on jail expansion.

"We need that mid-county detention center. Nothing is moving forward other than talk," Zellerbach told the board. "It's time to put our money where our mouth is. Things are going to get worse before they get better."

Ashley hoped that shoring up the sheriff's workforce would translate to a more inviting place to do business.

"We must bring job growth to Riverside County to preserve and enhance the quality of life for our residents and communities," Ashley said. "But these efforts will be threatened by a persistently rising crime rate and perceptions that our communities are at risk."

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