Sheriff cites continuing challenges in public safety

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Sheriff cites continuing challenges in public safety“Last time I was here, I was discussing the closure of the Ridgecrest jail,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told members and guests of the Ridge-crest Republic Women, Federated, last week.

“This was a real sore spot for the people of Ridgecrest, and I totally understood that. But what I said at the time was, ‘If you think it’s bad now, just wait a while.’”

Youngblood said that the county is seeing his prediction played out as it enters into its third year of fiscal crisis.

The foundation of Kern’s economic stability was shaken when oil prices plummeted from $100 a barrel to $35 a barrel. Although that price has recovered somewhat, the revenue losses relating to production, jobs and property values have left Kern with an austere recovery plan that incorporates use of reserves and deep cuts across all departments.

Youngblood said that in addition to ongoing financial constraints, his department continues to deal with challenges in recruitment and what he characterized as an agenda to undermine law-enforcement officials.

“We are in some really tough times in law enforcement.” He said the former presidential administration empowered antagonists of those who enforce public safety.

“Quite frankly, we were on the verge of anarchy.” However, he said that trend has reversed somewhat. “In the last week I’ve seen more support than we got in the previous eight years.”

Youngblood addressed the de-partment’s scrutiny regarding allegations of excessive force exercised by the county and the Bakersfield Police Department.

“All use of force is ugly,” said Youngblood. “We train officers in baton, taser and pepper spray, and sometimes they have to use them.”

But in the vast majority of instances, the subjects who are resisting officers are under the influence of methamphetamines or PCP, “Which mans your body does not know when to quit.”

He said the instances of death and serious injury are not the result of inappropriate use of force, but the fact that “this is what happens when you fight until your heart stops.”

Compounding these challenges are hundreds of vacant positions that have yet to be filled.

“What happens to us, because we are one of the lowest-paid counties in the state, is that deputies will work in Kern County then leave after a year,” he said.

“In the last 18 months, we have lost 42 deputy sheriffs to other agencies. This creates a real struggle to provide coverage.”

The Kern County Board of Supervisors granted Youngblood the authority to hire 53 new deputies, but it’s not enough to fill the vacancies, he said.

“It sounds good, until you consider that this is a 16-month process. So we started with 1,000 applicants. Only 150 of those passed the written examination. Of that, only 90 passed the physical. The background checks will eliminate even more candidates.

“Even if we are fortunate enough to have 53 candidates, only 40 of those will graduate. Then by the time we finish, we will have lost even more deputies in the process.

Youngblood, who has been with the department for more than 30 years, recalled that in his early days as a newly promoted officer, he was assigned to Boron — where he was required to live.

“It’s a totally different environment than when I came up in,” he said. Younger deputies are not loyal to the profession or their agency and cannot be compelled to live where they serve.

At last week’s State of the County Address (see related story, this edition), 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner noted that no department could be spared in the process of budget cuts.

“The sheriff’s department uses the most general fund dollars, but you can only cut for so long before it becomes counterproductive,” he said.

Story First Published: 2017-02-03