Wednesday, June 21, 2017
[Monterey County] Civil grand jury: More jail staffing means patrol shortage
Increased staffing at the Monterey County Jail has resulted in fewer deputies on patrol while an overall shortage of deputies has meant millions of dollars spent covering overtime costs, according to a recently released report from the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury.
The civil grand jury created an ad-hoc committee to look into staffing issues at the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. The committee conducted interviews with MCSO staff, toured the jail, requested data and performed additional research.
In 2013, a $4.8 million class-action lawsuit was filed against the county on behalf of inmates and former inmates who claimed dangerous and illegal jail conditions. In May 2015, a settlement was reached, and the Monterey County Jail agreed to institute procedural and staffing changes as required in the settlement.
Complying with the settlement by increasing the number of deputies at the jail created the unintended consequence of a severe shortage of patrol deputies, according to the civil grand jury report.
Although 118 deputy positions are authorized for patrol, only 101 deputies exist who are available for patrol. To comply with the settlement, 35 of those deputies have been transferred from patrol to the jail, leaving just 66 available for patrol, according to the report. In contrast, 144 deputy positions are authorized for the jail.
Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal swore in 26 new deputies and deputy recruits at a ceremony in Salinas. (Photo: Jay Dunn/The Salinas Californian)
Between March 2016 and March 2017, overtime for deputies totaled $6.2 million, averaging $23,790 per deputy with some collecting much more than that average, according to the report. Starting annual salary upon graduation is $75,396.
The civil grand jury report argues that the $6 million in overtime could have funded more than 40 additional deputies at an annual salary plus benefits of roughly $125,000 per person and still have $1 million left over to cover unavoidable overtime.
Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal said that the redirection of staffing from patrol into the jail is partially a result of the settlement but also due to substantial changes in the jail’s population and responsibilities as a result of Assembly Bill 109, also known as Realignment, which redirected certain inmates to serve their sentence in county jail instead of state prison.
“We’ve already rotated more deputies back on the street, but we’re still a long way from being staffed the way we should be,” he said.
As their numbers have been cut, Bernal praised the work of the deputies who have been trying to keep response times down despite having fewer deputies on patrol.
In the 2001-2002 fiscal year, there were 490 employees at the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. By 2011-2012 fiscal year, there were just over 400 employees, Bernal said. The number of sworn personnel has dropped by 40 in that time as well.
The sheriff’s office has maintained nearly 30 vacancies for years but has made significant gains in hiring as well, he said. Twenty-one recruits are in the academy now, and after a four-month training program, all of them will likely be ready for work by February or March next year.
The civil grand jury’s report also contends that the sheriff’s office policy of having academy graduates directly assigned to work in the jail for the first two years is counter-productive to morale and retention.
Some academy graduates prefer to work patrol rather than in the jail and may go to other agencies that offer the chance to go directly to patrol.
“While in the jail, the patrol skills go unused and the deputy, when finally reassigned to patrol, will need retraining on the job,” according to the report.
The civil grand jury encourages the sheriff’s office to recognize that deputies working the jail handle significantly different tasks than those handled by deputies on patrol and should thereby have two separate job classifications.
However, some believe this policy allows deputies to become familiar with gang members and learn how to interact with them before going out into the community, according to the report.
Bernal said the policy of having deputies start in the jail goes back to the 90s. While the department does occasionally lose an academy graduate to other agencies, most stay to work at the sheriff’s office after seeing the various division and assignments such as the dive team that are offered, he said.
“As far as morale and wanting to get out of the jail, that’s always going to be there,” Bernal said. “Most deputy sheriffs who come to the sheriff’s office want to work the street.”
Having deputies at the jail proves useful in times of large fires, floods and special community events when they can be pulled out of the jail to help with staffing, he added.
To ease the shortage of deputies at the jail over the years, MCSO created the positions of correction specialist and correction specialist supervisor. Those filling these positions can’t perform many tasks assigned to sworn deputies, their pay is less, and the position serves as a pipeline for those who want to apply to be deputies, according to the report.
The civil grand jury reports advocates for jail duties potentially to be performed by corrections specialists and corrections officers, which would allow deputies to return to patrol.
Bernal said that while his office is still in the process of reviewing the civil grand jury report, correctional officers go through a different training program than sheriff’s deputies do.
A sheriff’s deputy goes through a six-month training academy whereas a correctional officer goes through a six-week training program, Bernal said. In comparison, correctional officers at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation go through a four-month training program.
The jail inmate population presents a much different dynamic than state prison inmates, who are already sentenced, he noted, and jail staff must regularly handle fresh intakes, generate search warrants out of the jail, work with a majority felon population and more, Bernal continued.
“My number one concern is the safety of the county and the deputies and inmates at the county jail … If we were to convert over to correctional (officers,) it would be a six-week, compared to a six-month, training program,“ he said.
The civil grand jury’s report writes that any reduction in MCSO’s budget would also mean a reduction in deputies for patrol and the jail, inability to comply with the settlement, continued severe lack of adequate patrol and the cost of millions in overtime.
Among suggestions, the civil grand jury advocates for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to budget for additional deputies, hire an outside personnel consulting firm to conduct a job analysis for the two assignments of jail and patrol and investigate the use of corrections officers at the jail. It also encourages MCSO to hire directly for patrol and the jail, distinguishing between two promotional paths.
Bernal said he committed to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors that he would not ask for authorization for more positions until MCSO can fill the vacant spots it had, which it has nearly completed this year.
“We’re finally just about fully staffed…To try and fill 30 positions in the last year, they’ve done an amazing job,” he said.
The next fiscal year appears “status quo,” Bernal said, but he hopes to see improvement in the next few years to increase staffing. In addition to patrol deputies facing a shortage, the records division has also been cut by more than 25 percent in the last ten years, he explained.
The sheriff’s office has 60 days to respond formally to the civil grand jury’s report.
The civil grand jury has also been investigating issues related to the number of inmates and incarcerated youth with mental health issues. That topic is covered in a separate report that has not yet been released.
June 20, 2017
The Salinas Californian
By Chelcey Adami