County cuts expected to reduce police presence | April 24, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - April 24, 2009

County cuts expected to reduce police presence

Sheriff, DA departments feeling the pinch

by Geoff Gillette

As the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors continues to grapple with funding woes and massive budget issues, cuts that have been made are expected to have a serious impact on county law enforcement.

Sheriff Warren Rupf said Tuesday that the most recent round of cuts by the board will mean his department will be cutting 93 positions. Many of the jobs are currently unfilled, but 22 are sheriff's deputies and eight are recruits at the academy that Rupf will be unable to employ once they graduate.

The losses are part of the ongoing budget trimming occurring at the county level. At their March 31 meeting, supervisors were forced to eliminate another $50 million from their budget, which resulted in the loss of more than 200 funded positions.

Last year the Sheriff's Department received $60 million from the county; this year that has been cut down to $55 million. Rupf said that even though they are moving people around, they are expecting the impact to be felt at the street level.

"We're in the process of negotiating with the Deputy Sheriff's Association for some schedule changes that will allow some changes to the amount of service, the frequency of service, increase the response time to some emergencies, and eliminate the response time to others," he explained.

As a means of dealing with the reduced staffing level, the department instituted online crime reporting, where residents can report misdemeanor and property crimes for which it is not necessary to send a deputy.

"That was an intended strategy that we really rushed to get online, to fill an anticipated void," Rupf said. He then added, "We believe that if someone calls and wants to talk to a deputy sheriff they get to talk to a deputy sheriff. We know that oftentimes it's just a matter of filling out a report, frequently for insurance purposes."

Rupf is not the only one to be feeling the crunch. District Attorney Robert Kochly was forced to reduce his workforce as well, losing six assistant district attorneys in the past weeks, with nearly a dozen more to follow. Kochly has announced that due to the decreased staffing his office will no longer be prosecuting misdemeanor crimes.

Crimes affected by this decision include vandalism, theft and drug crimes where the amount of drugs is less than one gram.

Kochly's decision has ramifications that echo down through the law enforcement channels to all areas of police work. Rupf said that many of the smaller arrests they make lead to bigger arrests with more extensive charges. He said that while he agrees with Kochly's decision to inform area law enforcement entities of the change in policy, he is concerned about how it will be viewed among those with criminal intent.

"The District Attorney had to prepare people for limited expectations. Otherwise an arrest might be made and a victim is waiting for the case to come up in court only to find that it's not being prosecuted," he stated.

Rupf added that this policy will affect their service level as well.

"The same thing is going to happen in our piece of the business," he said. "We need to educate our customers that their expectations have to be lowered with regards to the level of service while at the same time prevent offering a road map to the thugs and ne'er-do-wells to avoid detection if and when they're going to commit a crime."

While he said that his department will continue to do everything in their power to maintain service levels as best they can, Rupf suggested that the public can be an ally to the police and assist in maintaining safe neighborhoods.

"The folks that first notice a change in staffing levels are the ones who have a problem. What we're trying to do is educate folks that there's a new reality and reinforce good personal security strategies that are more important than they've ever been. Watching out for you and yours. Neighborhoods, schools, your entire community," he said.