Thursday, June 29, 2017
[Monterey County] Sheriff's office overtime raises concerns
Blog note: this article references a 2017 grand jury report.
As the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office received a more than $1 million increase in appropriations Tuesday, public officials and community groups asked for more information as to how it totaled more than $6 million in overtime last year.
In considering the increase, Monterey County Board Supervisor Jane Parker stated that she feels the board and public deserve a presentation to explain how the costs got so far out of control and how it will be avoided next year.
In Tuesday’s board of supervisor’s meeting, the sheriff’s administration and enforcement operations received a $160,000 increase in appropriations, to be funded by the sheriff’s asset forfeiture fund, as well as a $850,000 appropriations increase funded by the “termination assignment, balance sheet account.” The board also approved the transfer of $850,000 between bureaus within the sheriff’s office.
The $1.1 appropriations shortage, added to a $1.9 million shortfall in projected revenues, a total estimated $3 million shortage for MCSO’s general fund contribution this year.
Reasons for these shortages include excessive overtime due to mandatory shift coverage; escorting and providing security for jail contractors addressing issues identified in the jail conditions litigation; staffing for disasters such as the large Soberanes and Chimney fires as well as winter storms; overtime at hospitals for high-risk in-custody inmates; unbudgeted termination payoffs; maintenance and repair costs for old and deteriorating facilities; various contracts related to recruitment efforts; uniforms and safety equipment costs; police academy tuitions; increased inmate medical bills and more, according to the agenda backup information.
In responding to Parker’s concerns, Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal said a lot of the overtime stemmed from increased staffing at the jail as required by a 2013 lawsuit.
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.
To address staffing needs, the sheriff’s office currently has 32 recruits in the academy, Bernal said.
“Once we are fully staffed, we will see a noticeable difference in our overtime standing at the jail,” Bernal told the board Tuesday.
Also, instead of sending the academy graduates to a mandatory jail operations course, which takes up a lot of time, the sheriff’s office now offers the course in-house at the sheriff’s office. Bernal believes by doing so, it will cut down on costs of training.
“So barring any natural disasters or acts beyond our control … with all our positions covered this next fiscal year, we’re going to have better control over our overtime issues next year,” Bernal said.
Parker responded that while she appreciates the efforts to fill the positions, as well as staffing challenges caused by fires or flooding, she remains concerned that the issue wasn’t brought up sooner.
“It’s not that these things aren’t going to happen but there didn’t appear to be any control of it or bringing it to the attention of the county in a timely manner,” Parker said.
“The budget staff is very adept at helping department work through these kinds of challenges. They do happen, but to have it kind of dumped on us at the last minute is not reassuring in terms of budget management, and that’s part of the concern as well.”
The Monterey County Civil Grand Jury noted in its 2016-2017 final report that an unintended consequence of the jail lawsuit settlement’s staffing requirement was a shortage of deputies on patrol as well as overtime costs.
Shortly after the civil grand jury released its report, community groups Building Healthy Communities, Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA) and the Central Coast Community Reinvestment Coalition alleged mismanagement of funds and called for an audit of the Monterey County Jail.
“It doesn’t make sense for there to be so much overtime paid to Deputies who have been hired to go on patrol duty but who are being placed in the jail especially when the Sheriff is constantly going back to the board to ask for more money,” Rene Casas of MILPA wrote in a press statement. “I know that accruing significant overtime is often an indication of poor management, especially if the overtime is around a third of the salary of a new person.”
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 civil grand jury report. Starting annual salary upon graduation is $75,396.
The community organizations also point to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California that projects $3 million in savings for the Monterey County Jail as a result of Prop 47 and a decrease in inmates held on Prop-47 eligible offenses.
“As a county’s jail population decreases, the Sheriff’s Department’s costs for staffing the jails, providing food and clothing, and providing medical and mental health services and programming for inmates should decrease,” the Institute’s report reads. “When jail populations are reduced below certain thresholds, the population of people in jail may be consolidated into fewer jail housing units, providing opportunities for dramatic county costs savings of no longer operating certain jail housing units or entire facilities.”
The Institute further states that even with the local impacts of Assembly Bill 109, or realignment, there are savings “likely found in reductions in county patrol and bookings, county jail housing, and county probation supervision” with largest costs are those of operating the county jail.
MCSO spends about $97 to house each person per day at the Monterey County Jail, according to Fiscal Year 2010-2011 data cited in the report, equating to $35,405 per person per year.
Based on that data compared with a reduction of 87 people in the jail population, the Institute argues that Monterey County could reallocate at least $3 million away from jail operations into prevention and other community-based interventions.
However, MCSO Cmdr. Thornburg said that while the inmate population is slightly smaller, no part of the jail has been entirely shut down and those areas still require staffing and maintenance. The Prop 47 savings have not yet materialized, he said, despite how it looks on paper.
He also cited rising inmate medical costs associated with Assembly Bill 109, which required the jail to take on inmates formerly housed at a prison and serving much longer sentences than jails are historically accustomed to accommodating.
“There’s no mismanagement going on,” Thornburg said. “There’s more long-term inmates, staffing down, and other (issues) going on.”
The civil grand jury’s report advocates against any reduction in MCSO’s budget, stating that it 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 urges 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.
Representatives from the community groups intend to formally ask the board of supervisors to conduct the audit. Casas said that representatives of MILPA and BHS began asking the board and the sheriff’s office to provide a report on local Prop 47 savings last October but have received no response so far.
“We need to look into this,” said Israel Villa, also of MILPA. “I’m not comfortable with just ‘I believe you.’ That’s when we’ll be able to see if there’s savings, and if there’s savings, then that’s what I want to invest into the community.”
Casas said he would like to have a representative from the Public Policy Institute of California provide information to the board about how they calculated the projected savings as part of a Prop 47 informational session.
MILPA contends that the local savings could be best reinvested into mental health services, job training and other programs that support successful reentry for inmates released into the community.
“Just locking them up in our jail is doing nothing for them because they’re not afforded rehabilitation,” Villa said. “By providing job training for reentry, we’re addressing root causes, issues people might have and working on rehabilitation and helping our community.”
June 27, 2017
The Salinas Californian
By Chelcey Adami