Santa Barbara County Grand Jury questions sheriff's mandatory overtime policy, recruitment efforts

The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury on Wednesday released a report critical of the mandatory overtime policy within the sheriff's office.

Grand jury members found the policy, which has been in effect for years, is taking a toll on some of the staff, particularly custody deputies.

Employees in the sheriff's office are either part of the Custody Operations or Law Enforcement branches. Law enforcement includes patrol officers, detectives, court security, civil processes and records personnel. About 40 percent of the department's staff is assigned to this branch. Custody operations is comprised of employees who work in the jail and transportation units. It is these workers, the grand jury found, that shoulder a majority of the overtime hours due to a chronic staffing shortage.

Jury members reported they had a difficult time trying to determine the minimum staffing requirements for this group because the sheriff's office was still relying on guidelines from a staffing study conducted in 2002. However, earlier this year the office reported there were 216 funded custody deputy positions but 13 of them were vacant. The report highlighted what the sheriff's office terms a "structural staffing deficit," meaning the number of funded positions is less than what is required.

In fact, there were 30 fewer sworn law enforcement positions last year than there were in 2007. To fill the gap, those in custody operations have been under mandatory overtime orders for most of that time. Those staffers are required to sign up for about 30 overtime shifts each year. That comes out to one extra shift a week for each of them. While some employees volunteer for additional hours and pay, others do not like it. They say it creates problems with their health, family and other relationships.

Jury members say not enough is being done to address the problem. The report summary notes, "The Sheriff's Office has made no significant effort to understand the human toll of this policy on its personnel; and recruiting to fill vacancies that contribute to overtime requirements is a low priority."

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown takes issue with that assertion. He says he has only recently received the grand jury's report and will soon prepare a detailed response. But in a statement released Thursday afternoon, he writes, "... we strongly disagree with one of the Grand Jury's findings which indicates recruitment is a low priority for the Sheriff's Office. 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."

In the 14-page report, the grand jury indicates the sheriff's office attributes the staffing shortage to protracted budgetary constraints imposed by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. Because supervisors routinely approve the overtime budget requests, jury members say there is little incentive to fix the problem. 

The grand jury says, unless something is done soon to mitigate the staffing shortage, the county will run into serious problems when the Northern Branch Jail opens next year. The 376-bed facility is expected to open in Santa Maria in the spring.

The jury issued several findings and recommendations to the sheriff's office and supervisors. They include conducting a survey to gauge how affected employees feel about the overtime policies and the impact they have on morale and performance. Other recommendations include looking into and possibly fast-tracking a video arraignment system, hiring a firm to review recruiting practices, and moving people from one area to another to cover shifts.

Under California law, the sheriff's office has 60 days to respond to the grand jury's findings. Supervisors have 90 days.

The Santa Barbara Deputy Sheriffs Association issued the following response Friday in response to the Grand Jury report:

"After an initial review of the Grand Jury Report on Mandatory Overtime in the Sheriff's Office, the members and directors of the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriffs Association -- SBCDSA -- are elated to see a full exposure of the chronic understaffing of custody deputy and patrol deputy sheriff positions in the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office. 

As much as SBCDSA members greatly appreciate the detailed report from the Grand Jury, these are issues we have raised with the Sheriff for the last several years.   In fact, these very issues were presented to the Sheriff as part of the results of our membership surveys in 2016 and 2017.  Those results clearly showed custody deputies and patrol deputy sheriffs are increasingly concerned about the negative impact on the quality of public safety services as a result of chronic understaffing and the Sheriff's Office's failure to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of sworn personnel to deploy properly.

Despite our best efforts to sound the alarm on these important issues, the Sheriff never took substantive action to remedy the staffing shortages in the County's jail system or in patrol deployments.  The apparent solution to insufficient numbers of custody and patrol deputies was to rely almost entirely on excessive overtime, as indicated in the Grand Jury Report.

It is this concern for the Sheriff's apparent disregard for the quality of public safety services provided by our department that we have asked the voters of Santa Barbara County to choose new leadership for the Sheriff's Office."

May 10, 2018


By KSBY staff