Sheriff reflects on failure of Measure I

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Sheriff reflects on  failure of Measure IWith the voter rejection of Measure I, which proposed a 1-cent sales tax on unincorporated areas of Kern County that would generate an estimated $20 million annually for public safety, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood discussed funding options moving forward.

“Yeah, I’d love to hear what your options are,” he said in a telephone interview this week. “I know I’m being facetious, but there are no great options.”

Youngblood noted that while the county’s fiscal emergency, which started in 2015, has impacted his ability to train and hire new deputies, the chronically low morale of the department goes deeper than the current crisis.

“When you haven’t had a raise in 10 years, and you’re the lowest paid law enforcement official in the Central Valley, it’s not longer just about the money,” he said. “You feel like you are undervalued.”

When the price of oil plummeted, the county lost tens of millions in revenue, which triggered cuts across the county. Youngblood put a freeze on hiring, leaving posts countywide — particularly those in outlying areas — understaffed.

With the support of the Board of Supervisors, Youngblood has been funding back-to-back academies to train new officers. However, only 25 out of approximately 1,000 applicants make it through the process. Then many of those are hired by other agencies who offer more competitive pay.

“We have to stop the bleeding of deputies who are leaving our department. Otherwise, we are just spinning our wheels. We cannot train deputies as fast as we are losing them.”

Youngblood presented the sales tax increase to the board earlier this year as a means of supplementing public safety funding. Although the board approved adding the measure to the ballot, “We didn’t have a great campaign. We didn’t have anyone who stepped up to support it.

“People are apathetic when it comes to raising taxes — especially in Kern County,” he said.

“So now we have to move forward with what we’ve got. And the reality is we are not going to be able to respond to all calls for service. We have fewer people, and we have to regroup and reprioritize.”

Youngblood noted that the department is now in a position where if he loses a deputy at one of the substations — including the one in Ridgecrest — he has no one to replace that departing person with.

“I’m hoping we don’t lose the next 25 academy graduates to other agencies. But they get a really nice pay raise just by going to work for the Bakersfield Police Department, so I’m not sure how that is going to work.”

Youngblood announced during his campaign this year that he wanted to re-open the Ridgecrest jail.

“I haven’t given up on that,” he said.

If not, the loss of the jail will continue to put a financial burden on the Ridgecrest Police Department, said Chief Jed McLaughlin.

“It ties up our community service officers, it puts a lot of wear and tear on our vehicles, and if we don’t have a CSO available, it means we have to pull a patrol officer off the street to transport someone to Bakersfield.”

He said that in about 13 months, the two new CSO vehicles used for transport have racked up more than 127,000 miles during transport.

“At this point we’ve adapted to the closure of the jail,” said McLaughlin.

“We have a plan for how we could use our CSOs for other things if the jail reopens, which would be great for our department.

“We’ll have to see how it goes.”

Story First Published: 2018-11-16