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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 16th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 11

Sheriff election heats up following grand jury report

By SPENCER COLE

The race for Santa Barbara County sheriff-coroner reached a boiling point after the release of a 2017-18 Santa Barbara County grand jury report stating the Sheriff’s Office mandatory overtime had “become a de facto element” in its personnel and budget management practices, costing the office and county millions of dollars and affecting recruitment efforts.

“Substantial, sustained overtime requirements, including a mandatory overtime policy for custody deputies for most of the past 15 years, raise important questions about the Sheriff’s Office priorities, commitment to personnel, and management of resources,” the jury stated following the report’s release on May 9.


WORKING OVERTIME
A recently released grand jury report found that the practice of mandatory overtime hours for the Sheriff’s Office’s custody staff has been an issue for years, confirming the accounts of critics. At a candidates forum event on April 26, candidate Lt. Brian Olmstead’s (pictured right) main criticism of Sheriff Bill Brown’s (pictured left) leadership of the Sheriff’s Office was the overtime policy at the County Jail.
FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

According to the report, the jury found no evidence that the office had made averting mandatory overtime a priority.

“The Sheriff’s Office has only recently received the grand jury report concerning mandatory overtime in the jail,” Sheriff Bill Brown stated to the Sun. “We are reviewing this report and will prepare a detailed response.”

Brown finds himself batting barbs from the public and from within the Sheriff’s Office, as Lt. Brian Olmstead and Lt. Eddie Hsueh are challenging him in the upcoming June 5 election, in part due issues highlighted by the report. His office has repeatedly faced criticism in recent months, especially from his two lieutenants as the three-man race heads into the final stretch.

Olmstead told the Sun the information found by the grand jury had been known by deputies within the office for years.

“It’s unfortunate we haven’t addressed this issue,” Olmstead said, “but the report is validating.”

The week of March 20, the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association voted at a special meeting to endorse Olmstead with about 70 percent in favor. The association makes up the majority of the lower level staff in the Sheriff’s Office. It represents the collective bargaining interests of more than 400 custody deputies, deputy sheriffs, district attorney investigators, and emergency dispatchers working in the county.

“Our county leadership has not addressed the long-standing problems of vacant deputy sheriff positions and the chronic understaffing that results from carrying so many vacant positions,” Deputy Sheriffs’ Association President Neil Gowing said in a statement at the time. “Our ranks are demoralized from years of staffing shortages that have caused excessive overtime. Fatigue from too much overtime set in years ago. Our members are very concerned about the quality of public safety services we can provide under these deteriorating conditions.”

Hsueh and Olmstead have not minced their words while on the campaign trail. Both have questioned Brown’s management practices, the mandatory overtime, and staffing levels affected by those hours due to minimal investment in recruitment or retaining current employees.

“I think it’s obvious, and everyone within the department has been saying this, from the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association to myself and my campaign, that we need to work harder on retaining our employees but also recruiting new employees,” Olmstead said. “Because we have to get out of this mandatory overtime in the [county] jail and the off-and-on [overtime] on the law enforcement side, and the department really hasn’t looked at the long-term effects of doing this kind of overtime.”

In a commentary sent to the Sun (page 14), Hsueh wrote that a Sheriff’s Office HR report in 2016 found 74 percent of deputies who left the office joined other agencies. In 2017, the number was 72 percent, and Hsueh said that 2018 is “poised for even higher.”

According to Hseuh, the office currently has 50 unfilled positions, which is contributing to overtime hours and fatigue among employees.

“Losing valued personnel increases our recruiting and training costs, increases overtime expenses, and causes stress on personnel,” he wrote. “It robs us of valuable experience vital to keeping the public safe.”

The grand jury report found that out of a budget of $136 million, the Sheriff’s Office allocated just $7,200 for recruiting, the majority of which is used to administer tests. The jury also noted the office had not conducted market surveys to “determine competitiveness of its wages and benefits.” Ultimately, the report stated that recruiting was a low priority for the Sheriff’s Office.

The recruiting is one finding that Brown specifically chafed at when asked about the report.

“We strongly disagree with one of the grand jury’s findings, which indicates recruitment is a low priority for the Sheriff’s Office,” he stated. “On the contrary, recruitment is one of our highest priorities and will remain so. Also, independent of the grand jury’s report, we have developed and implemented a number of strategies in regards to our recruitment. We have already taken steps that are in alignment with the grand jury’s recommendations. While this is a challenging time for law enforcement recruitment, we are up to the task.”

Given the coming election, the timing of the report’s release was brought into question by some in the law enforcement and political community.

Olmstead conceded the jury could have been listening to his campaign messages, but also pointed to years of testimony by deputies in front of the county Board of Supervisors alleging the same issues.

“I don’t think it [the report] was timed for anything special,” Olmstead said. “It just happened to come out now.”

The grand jury’s findings also come to light when the county is just about a year short of opening its Northern Branch Jail in Santa Maria. The jury said the impact of that jail opening on existing overtime requirements is unknown.

If anything, Olmstead added, the revelations found in the report are emblematic of issues currently plaguing the Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s frustrating, and a lot of the employees are frustrated because it doesn’t seem like the department has addressed these problems or concentrated on them,” he said. “We don’t have a plan right now.

“We run from crisis to crisis unfortunately, and we are not solving problems.”




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