Sheriff’s captain: Reports of cite & release ‘blown out of proportion’

Responding to questions from county supervisors about the effects of public safety realignment, the Sheriff Office’s corrections captain has described anecdotal reports as being “blown out of proportion.”

The impacts of realignment dominated discussion following a Sheriff’s Office presentation at a June 10 Board of Supervisors budget hearing. The county jail is operating under a matrix system that releases offenders when a capacity of 391 inmates is reached or neared and Supervisor Rex Bohn asked about “frequent flyers” who are “just hitting the revolving door.”

It’s a situation that supervisors are hearing a lot about from residents of their districts – repeat offenders are said to be arrested for crimes like car theft and burglary and only cited and released due to the jail’s recently-infused population of non-violent felony offenders.

“Most of those have been blown out of proportion, just to let you know,” said Corrections Captain Ed Wilkinson. A specific cite and release situation that Supervisor Virginia Bass had brought to the attention of the Sheriff’s Office was “definitely blown out of proportion,” he added, acknowledging the situation as “an issue” nevertheless.

Wilkinson told supervisors that “the way the matrix was developed is that we use the same criteria that the state used when they pushed these inmates back to us,” with non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual felony offenders serving sentences and parole in the county system instead of the state’s.

“The loophole there is some of those minor property-type crimes that come in and when we’re in those stages, those are the ones we won’t accept because we’re overcrowded or our numbers are up high,” Wilkinson continued.

There are plans afoot to deal with it.  Wilkinson said his department is collaborating with the county court system on “putting something in place to tell us, ‘Hey this individual has had so many failures to appear’ and once we reach that trigger, we will try to keep them.”

The questions followed a presentation by Sheriff Mike Downey, who singled out the jail system impacts as “something I need to address.” The rehabilitation programs that Chief Probation Officer Bill Damiano had described at a budget hearing the week before are “truly one of the major tenets of AB109,” Downey said, referring to realignment legislation.

But the jail dynamics are in the Sheriff’s Office’s realm and Downey said that at a recent conference in Sacramento where 30 county sheriffs met with Governor Jerry Brown, “I don’t think I found one sheriff that’s overjoyed with the way jail realignment is going … we’re seeing a whole different population in our county jails that we’ve never seen before.”

A “large amount” of felony offenders who were dealt with out of the county prior to realignment are now handled locally, Downey continued, pressuring jail and law enforcement resources.

“It’s depicted as a crime spree – that things are going wrong,” he said. “You can attribute that to realignment, I truly believe, based upon the statistics we have.”

He added, “It’s also a sign of the times, a sign of the fact that we’ve had a very tough economy in the last few years.”

Supervisor Mark Lovelace reminded that realignment is happening because the state’s overcrowded prison system violated constitutional protections against cruel and inhuman punishment. Funding for counties to handle the new offender populations is part of AB109 and the passage of Proposition 30 permanently secures it, he said.

Downey had said that realignment’s challenges are more daunting with the presence of 16 frozen corrections officer positions and 13 frozen deputy sheriff positions. But the county won’t be able to thaw the sheriff’s budget – there’s a $2.9 million deficit in the county’s General Fund and supplemental budget funding is all but unavailable.

Supervisors were still able to fund certification of the Blue Lake Levee, stormwater monitoring in Shelter Cove and continued participation in the Klamath dam removal process by carving a modest amount of money from the budget’s contingency fund. Reducing a social services contribution by about $18,000 allowed the funding for a part-time secretary position for the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Responding to the crime trend concerns, supervisors also directed staff to search for revenue to support the formation of neighborhood watch groups.