On Friday, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office welcomed five of its newest members into its ranks.

Out of about 1,000 applicants, these were the only five who survived the rigorous background checking and training procedures required to become a deputy sheriff.

As the recruits took their place, along with 16 other police recruits destined for other agencies, smiles, clapping and congratulations abounded at a graduation ceremony that took place at Frontier High School.

For some, the ceremony was the final piece of a lifelong dream to become a law enforcement officer. But the newest members of the Sheriff’s Office face an uncertain future within the department.

Due to relatively low salaries, retention rates for deputies are dangerously low, and recruitment of new employees cannot keep up with the flow of deputies outside the county.

The situation has gone on for years and could be at a breaking point. With empty substations, deputies stretched thin throughout the county, and detectives overwhelmed with large caseloads, many within the department, including Sheriff Donny Youngblood, are calling the situation a “crisis.”

And without any solutions on the horizon, the drain on the department is likely to last for years as more deputies leave to seek better pay and few recruits are found to replace them.

“Right now there is no fix,” Youngblood said. “The truth is, as competitive as this market is for deputy sheriffs, if you’re not going to pay the same as everyone else, you’re going to have difficulty retaining this generation of employees.”

BURNOUT

Over the last five years, more than 150 deputies have transferred to other agencies, with zero coming into the county through transfers. Even some sergeants with more than 10 years of experience have left, taking entry-level positions elsewhere that pay as well as their Kern County salaries, with the added bonus that they get to live someplace “better.”

In addition, the Sheriff’s Office is holding 79 positions vacant in order to meet the budget set by the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

The transfers and vacancies have hollowed out the department, increasing response times to all but the most critical calls, and placing a heavy burden on deputies patrolling the streets.

“Most of my guys work through their lunches. Very rarely do we have breaks anymore,” said Kern Law Enforcement Association President Richard Anderson. “It’s not like the old days where Sunday mornings would be super-quiet.”

The deputies who patrol metro Bakersfield have been hit the heaviest by the low staffing levels. At times, the call logs pile up, and deputies are forced to drive from call to call without time to do what is called “proactive policing,” deterring criminal activity by showing a police presence in a certain area.

Patrol numbers in metro Bakersfield can range from about 25 deputies to as low as eight to nine at a time.

At times when few deputies are on duty, a critical call like a report of a homicide can draw every deputy in metro Bakersfield to one area of town, leaving the rest of metro Bakersfield areas patrolled by deputies wide open.

Youngblood said the situation was a big change from previous decades. In 1991, he said, 81 deputies were assigned to metro Bakersfield while today, about 50 to 55 are assigned.

“It impacts everything we do,” he said. “It impacts the ability to catch the bad guy. If you have one guy respond to a scene and it takes five minutes for the other two or three deputies that he needs to get there, the bad guy is gone.”

For deputies who patrol the open areas of Kern County, backup can be 20 minutes away.

Sgt. Jeff Harbour said some rural residents have begun not reporting crimes because they feel sorry for the heavy workloads of the deputies.

“We’re being told a lot of victims of major thefts are not calling us as much, because they say, ‘We know you’re hurting,’” said Harbour, who works in rural areas of the county. “Which is obviously troubling.”

Staffing is so low that some substations cannot afford to lose a single deputy.

“If a guy calls in sick in Taft, Taft doesn’t have a deputy,” Anderson said. “These things didn’t happen 20 years ago, 15 years ago.”

LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS

Last November, Kern County voters roundly rejected a ballot measure that would have raised the sales tax in unincorporated county areas by 1 percent. The additional funds could have addressed many of the issues deputies say are plaguing the department.

Youngblood, who proposed the measure as a way to stanch the flow of deputies out of the department, said he still believed a sales tax increase could help, especially if the tax was specifically designated for public safety.

But he doesn’t think he is the right man to lead the push.

“You need a new face,” he said. "You need a new charge of people, not the sheriff saying there is a shortage, but people that really experience this like the deputies’ union and the fire department’s union. Those people are the ones that really feel the impact. Citizens in our community, they’re the ones that feel the impact. They need to step up and carry that ball, and I’ll support them all the way.”

Recently, KLEA gave a presentation to the Board of Supervisors, requesting some action be taken to address the issues in the Sheriff’s Office.

“We need hope,” Anderson said at the meeting. “We don’t have much of it right now.”

But without a readily available funding source, supervisors could not address the low salaries and unfunded positions in the department, meaning the problems are likely to continue.

For some, that isn’t good enough.

“There are a large number of people here in this department that have one foot out the door,” Harbour said. “With no way to replace them in a quick way, the staffing is going to get worse.”

Sam Morgen can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @smorgenTBC.

(17) comments

mrdwm1

This area sorely needs some kind of Department of Public Safety, to take over all emergency and first-responder type functions, run by proven professional managers, and to get rid of all the little generals who run around with all those stars on their collars, whining about not having enough room for all their staffs.

Johnny Avocados

Harvard accepts 5.9% of applicants. t KCSO accepted .005%. That sounds ridiculously low to me at a time when other agencies do not have trouble filings vacancies and retaining employees. Is it possible that this agency has set its standards just a bit high? Why would anybody even try to get this job? I believe the BOS will finally be satisfied when as few deputies as possible are working every minute available for the lowest conceivable wage, with the lowest level of benefits attainable. The BOS will only be satisfied with this because there will never have a Sheriff's Office staffed with Deputies who will pay to work here for nothing. Year after year the assignment of blame rolls through, each administrator pointing at the next but when a sports franchise has a few losing seasons the GM and coaches often get the boot. The same thing happens in many career fields, just not government. It seems apparent that neither the BOS or the KCSO can figure this out, so maybe we should give some others a shot. Just remember it will cost more to fix than it would have to maintain it in the first place.

REMUDA

In reading the comments, it seems obvious many know the "inside". ---- On a separate note, my DMV renewals include a "County/District Fees" of $23 this year, up from a buck two decades ago, a 'car tax' recall (thx Guvernator . . . NOT!), and back to . . . the same old 'square one' >>> Gavin . . . (?) ----- I've asked state legislators, BOS mems and others for an explanation. ---- Some wondered . . . no further . . . one said "abandoned cars"(?) --- Others sent big packs of docs with cover letters--"Look it up yourself. . . " ----- And . . . so now, Donny, here we are . . . meanwhile . . . the "Tweeters and Tweekers" rule . . . (?) ---- Semper Fortis . . . !

Bodysnatcher

“Burnout” is not what deputies are feeling. It’s real name is “ Moral Injury”. It’s real and it has shaken the sheriff’s department to its core. The BOS say they support law enforcement, but their lack of action speaks louder than any of their words. They just don’t care. Until a tragedy occurs where, please God forbid, a deputy dies on duty from a lack of back-up, then they will do something. It shouldn’t be this way, but unfortunately that’s the reality of it all. Speaking of firemen. Why are there more county firemen on duty, at any given time, compared to the number of deputies on duty at any given time? Not bashing firemen, but look at the number of calls for service in each department, then ask yourself why there are more firemen on duty? Mind boggling.

GetReal2

Their lack of action speaks louder than their words. Are you deaf? Obviously you didn't pay attention during Six Sigma training. The Board could have invested the money in raises, but cutting that fat would not have occurred. Get with the program. It's all about Ball Bearings what don't you understand @ Fletch

REMUDA

And yet, as seasonal, our very motivated Wildland Crews must look for jobs elsewhere to advance . . . or just 'maintain' during 'off-season' . . . ! https://www.bakersfield.com/kern-county-firefighters-in-ventura/image_c5c174ae-e4ff-11e7-90d9-bfb41158b8cc.html

Nevermind

Although I agree that the pension deals given were very beneficial to county employees, and not a forward thinking decision by Supervisors, let's remember some things. One, it was not the idea or demands by employees to get those pensions. To supervisors it was a way to avoid giving raises for vastly underpaid employees. Although the Fox Lawson study did get raises to employees to try to catch up to the rest of the state, many positions remained the lowest pay of any County in the State. Unlike the Board, many employees were forward thinking by realizing that although they were being stiffed now, they might actually prefer the security of a good pension later, than fair pay now. The result is a period of time where the pension load is high. However, every day more of those beneficiaries are dying decreasing that liability. I would guess that liability is quickly diminishing and in ten years will he down dramatically. The pension plan was changed years ago, and I can tell you, it's not very good now. What might keep good employees in place before is gone, and the incentive to be a Civil Servant has waned. If I was young again, I wouldn't consider working for the County, and why would anyone going into Law Enforcement consider a job with the Kern County Sheriffs. If you're going to put your life on the line daily, you'd like to get paid for it. The average pay for a California Sheriff's deputy is about 80 grand. When you take consideration of housing costs in Bakersfield compared to the rest of the State, it is not unreasonable for Kern Sheriffs to expect to be below the average. But bullets don't really care about the cost of living in areas, if you get blown up, you get blown up. Therefore, paying Kern County Sheriffs 1/3rd less than California's average is a slap in the face to our guys. And if you are against paying them, using whatever means it takes including a tax, then the next time you have a complaint about how quickly they get to you, you need a giant cup of STHU.

scottybob

Proud of those who went through and graduated from the academy! May God protect you all. That sales tax increase should have been 3%, not 1%, and should also have passed resoundingly, instead of failing. If we don't give Sheriff Youngblood the tools needed, we dare not expect a safe county. Could be a good reason that so many in the county have attained the CCW permits, and thanks to the Sheriff for that, too.

RefereeB

No one wants to hear the fire fighters cry for more money. They are the problem, not the solution. The pensions are draining all the cash and there isn’t anything left to pay current staffing.

GetReal2

Firefighters who earn pensions are definitely the problem. Or do you mean firefighter pensions are the problem? Or pensions are the problem and firefighters just happen sometimes to get them? Either way, the Community is With You.

Nathan

Correct. Decisions made in 1999 by the state, then City of Bakersfield council and County of Kern supervisors in 2000 and 2001 is pretty much the entire reason for this funding gap. Paying retired fire captains $120k per year and county administrative officers about $200k per year does inevitably leave less money for current salaries. Even the current sheriff draws a huge pension. It's just math. Oh, and I'm sure the KLEA supported those decisions to enhance pensions back almost 20 years ago.

Lilyrose

Six Sigma... The solution is to clean up . Filth, disease, ugliness increases crime and creates a town that has to beg people to come to it. No artificial morale boosters will change the reality of this county. Make a choice, pollution/high crime or blue skies and mountains. Want families then give them a healthy environment. Otherwise only people who are desperate and indifferent will move here. And the ones wise enough will flee.

BanditIvy

Maybe if the idiot Supervisors would stop funding ridiculous things like illegal criminals/aliens that would free up some money for the deputies.

GetReal2

Exactly, the people who pick your fruit and clean hotel rooms, after fleeing from gang infested favela, already probably mostly earn close to minimum wage. At least, for the time being, deputies can paste In God We Trust script decals on Patrol Cars. Should cut the crime rate 50%, minimum.

Meeshka

Banditivy you're correct. What you mentioned is the huge elephant in the room. It produces a deficit in terms of costs far overriding any benefit. Yet no one's allowed to talk about the poor bleeding elephant that affects everyone. Dysfunctional, insane, madness.

GetReal2

Cost of living is much less in Bakersfield than the Bay Area. Solution is more Lean Six Sigma training until morale and retention improve.

awol

Lean Six Sigma is one of the more major causes for the current crisis along with no salary increases in 10 plus years. Six Sigma is not the fix. There is no more waste to find and eliminate when jails and substations are already closed. That's beyond "lean". But here's to continued hoping that a fix from County HQ will fix the issues in a department they know very little about first hand. Increasing salaries to competitive levels will hopefully begin the process of raising morale and retention rates, not more six sigma. And comparing Bako to the Bay area is a red herring as Kern County safety salaries are behind Fresno, Stockton, Sacramento, Tulare, and all the other valley communities. As with anything else, you can't fix what you don't consider broken. Good luck continuing your stubborn policies when there won't be any employees left to follow them.

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