Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff’s plan to eliminate up to 800 positions to meet the Board of Supervisors’ budget target for the next fiscal year would be “devastating” to sheriff’s operations and seriously undermine public safety in the county, the president of the deputies’ union said Friday.
Pat McNamara, head of the 3,500-member Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, told City News Service that the personnel cuts on the table would be unprecedented.
“This is history in the making, and it’s not the kind of history elected officials would want their names associated with,” McNamara said.
The possibility of significant layoffs was the subject of a memo distributed to sheriff’s employees today. In it, Sniff reiterated the financial burdens on the sheriff’s department stemming from planned spending cuts in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
After the memo was floated to the public, Sniff released a follow-up statement explaining that the proposed 800 layoffs reflect how cuts in general fund support would directly impact the sheriff’s department budget.
The figure is more than twice what Sniff estimated during a budget hearing on April 4.
The sheriff’s department consumes the largest share of general fund appropriations. Sniff’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, is between $40 million and $60 million beyond the threshold established by the Executive Office.
“We will await the decision of the board on what funding they ultimately approve next year for our department, and we will vigorously execute their decision as part of the county team,” Sniff said. “We will professionally make the best of whatever outcome occurs, but we all understand that the budget reflects the public’s priority on how their taxpayer dollars are allocated and spent.”
McNamara, a sworn peace officer, worried that layoffs on the scale described by Sniff might have irreversible consequences.
“If any significant layoffs take place, it’s going to be devastating,” McNamara told City News Service. “Any amount of cuts in the law enforcement force is going to degrade public safety. Four hundred layoffs would be devastating, in our estimation, to sheriff’s operations.”
All county agencies are absorbing cuts, some as high as 25 percent, to comply with the board’s deficit reduction plans, which call for an end to depleting reserves to balance the county’s budget every year.
According to Sniff, if the board does not backfill his budget to make up the shortfall, 500 pink slips will got out on July 1. The first round of layoffs will be completed by July 13, with 100 patrol and correctional deputies dropped from the county payroll.
Sniff said the layoffs will be concentrated in the jails and patrol operations in the unincorporated communities. Cities that contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement services would only see reductions if they elected to decrease their public safety personnel to save funds.
According to Sniff, several stations may have to be closed and some jail pods deactivated, taking the county’s jail beds down from 3,900 to 3,100, hence increasing the pressure on already-overcrowded detention facilities.
Under a federal court decree, if the sheriff cannot supply each detainee with a bed, inmates must be released to make space.
According to McNamara, the state’s realignment plans, which include shifting responsibility for adult parole supervision and juvenile offender detention from the state to counties, makes having a strong law enforcement presence vital.
“Laying off cops at the same time criminals are coming back … almost sounds like a bad movie script,” McNamara said.
McNamara said the union would not stage protests or otherwise try to influence Sniff’s policy decisions.
“We just hope there’s enough left to do the job when all is said and done,” McNamara said.
Updated: 9 p.m. May 13. Update provided by City News Service