Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff triumphed in his bid for re-election as the county's top law enforcement officer.
``Things are getting better in the county as far as the fiscal picture goes, and the sheriff's department has come a long way from a few years ago when we were faced with the prospect of laying off a lot of deputies,'' Sniff told City News Service. ``The department is viewed as productive, efficient and doing a pretty darn good job. I think that resonated with the electorate.''
Sniff said he was ``humbled and gratified'' by the overwhelming majority that returned him to office.
His challenger, sheriff's Lt. Chad Bianco, did not respond to calls for comment as election night wound down Tuesday.
The 64-year-old sheriff stood on a record of fiscal discipline and less crime in his bid for a second full term.
Sniff was appointed to the position in October 2007 following the resignation of then-Sheriff Bob Doyle, and later elected during a 2010 campaign in which he handily beat former Chief Deputy Frank Robles.
The incumbent's campaign touted ``decreased crime,'' raising ``standards and morale'' within the sheriff's department and a ``balanced budget'' as bases for returning him to office.
The sheriff, who was endorsed by the deputies' union and most of the area's police chiefs, has boasted of a 16 percent drop in crime in areas patrolled by sheriff's personnel. The department handles law enforcement throughout the county's unincorporated communities, along with 17 cities.
Local statistics published by the agency indicated most Part I crimes, including robberies and aggravated assaults, declined by double-digit percentages in 2013. However, the data also showed a corresponding increase in the number of murders and rapes.
On the budget front, Sniff has been able to return millions to the county general fund over the last two fiscal years, despite beginning each year projecting a sizable deficit. The sheriff's department was expected to end the current fiscal year close to $10 million in the hole, but the Board of Supervisors appropriated funds last month to fill the gap.
Budget excesses have largely been driven by board-directed recruiting efforts that seek to make up for a draw-down in unincorporated patrols that began five years ago as the county implemented austerity cuts to control spending.
The patrol deputy-to-residents staffing ratio bottomed out at 0.75 per 1,000 in 2012. The goal is to bring it back to 1.2 per 1,000 within four years by adding 500 deputies.
``We have a lot of growth ahead and issues to confront,'' Sniff told CNS. ``But things are on the upswing.''
Bianco, 46, said the sheriff's ideology is steeped in having a ``reactive'' as opposed to a ``proactive'' law enforcement organization, which would require deputies to become more integrated in the communities they serve, partnering with businesses, educators and faith-based groups to combat crime.
Bianco assailed how the sheriff's hierarchy handles inmate releases. According to sheriff's figures, as a result of overcrowding, more than 16,200 jail detainees were put back on the street before finishing their sentences or having their cases adjudicated in 2012 and 2013.
So-called public safety realignment has been blamed for the ``kickouts.'' Under realignment, many convicts previously sent to prison are now allowed to serve their time in local detention facilities, taking up already scarce correctional space.
Bianco advocated increased monitoring of inmates who qualify for early release and said the county needs a sheriff who will be aggressive in pushing for wider use of ``work-release'' programs that keep inmates busy while providing a public benefit.