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State of Yuba County justice system: Budget cuts feed Marysville crime
Marysville Police Department:
28 people employed, 17 sworn officers
Yuba County Sheriff's Department:
Yuba County Jail:
202 allocated positions, 69 sworn deputies, 20 vacancies
Wheatland Police Department:
6 people employed, all sworn, one vacancy
Yuba County District Attorney's Office:
18 allocated positions, 11 prosecutors, three investigators, three vacancies
Yuba County Probation Department:
112 allocated positions, 23 field probation officers, 11 vacancies
The outlook is grim at the Marysville Police Department, Chief Wally Fullerton said.
"I need more cops," Fullerton said. "At current staffing levels, it's basically impossible to do the job."
Staffing issues are so bad, Fullerton said, minor thefts and burglaries aren't even investigated.
"There's just no one here to work those cases," Fullerton noted, "and there's almost zero time for follow-up."
Since 2007, the department has cut seven officers from its staff, the result of significant cuts.
Major crime statistics rose in 2012. Three more rapes were reported in 2012 than in 2011. Robberies rose from 10 cases to 19; burglaries climbed from 142 to 176, thefts increased from 231 to 240 and vehicle thefts from 75 to 86, the chief said.
Overall in 2012, total crime rose by about 10 percent, Fullerton said.
A recent study showed the city would save only $30,000 in the first year if dispatching services were outsourced to the Yuba County Sheriff's Department and said costs would likely raise in subsequent years, the chief said.
"That would also mean we'd cut lobby hours by about 35 percent," Fullerton said.
Fullerton is concerned that his department has virtually no traffic program.
"We have 180,000 cars coming through here every day and not one person assigned to a traffic unit," Fullerton said.
The chief compared the situation in Marysville to putting a Band-Aid on bullet wounds.
"We need to spend more money on law enforcement," Fullerton said. "It's up to the politicians and the taxpayers to make more of a commitment to keeping the streets safe."
Sheriff shuffles department
Absorbing annual budget cuts without risking public safety is a major theme in recent years with most law enforcement agencies, including the Yuba County Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff Steve Durfor has endured budget cuts every year since 2008 and now has 20 open vacancies throughout his department.
"To date, since the economic downturn we've been able to deal with the cuts without laying off any employee, at least thus far," Durfor said.
Durfor has restructured the department, shuffled positions, increased workloads in many areas and been able to maintain all of the department's services, which range from mandated programs like the county jail, to the boat patrol, court security and narcotics task force participation.
Despite significant funding challenges, crime statistics in Yuba County have not seen dramatic increases. The most notable spike, however, was in homicides, which rose from three in 2011 to nine last year.
Durfor is happy with the department's "community policing" model of law enforcement. It involves more involvement from residents and a statistical approach to identifying problem areas and alternative methods of crime reduction.
Additionally, Durfor said, strong collaboration with other departments, like the prosecutor's office and the probation department, have kept costs to a minimum while dealing with implementation of the state's prison realignment program.
Life is good in Wheatland
Crime is falling and things are looking up in Wheatland, Chief Allyn Wightman reported.
"For a small agency, the work we've done this year is tremendous," Wightman said.
Major crimes fell from 74 reports in 2011 to 54 last year. Felony assaults dipped from 22 in 2011 to 17 last year.
There were no homicides and one forcible rape case in 2012.
"That was the most significant violent crime last year," Wightman said.
One area of concern was drunken driving, which climbed from 29 cases in 2011 to 37 arrests last year.
The department faced staffing issues and the chief hopes to fill the remaining patrol vacancy. However, even with just six officers, the department maintains 24-hour patrols.
"It's one of those things where if anybody gets sick or is out of town, someone has to fill in that position," the chief said. "It's imperative we get back to full staff."
Busy 2012 for homicide cases
In 2012, the Yuba County District Attorney's Office handled more death cases than it has in more than 30 years, District Attorney Pat McGrath said.
Homicide is a legal term that encompasses everything from murder to manslaughter and drunken-driving and industrial deaths, McGrath explained. At one point over the fall, Yuba County prosecutors were handling 16 open cases.
"I've been here 29 years, and I can't recall a time we ever had that many active defendants at the same time," McGrath said.
McGrath's office hasn't been immune to budget cuts in recent years, which created significant staffing challenges. McGrath pointed to the 2011 lay off of veteran prosecutor John Vacek as an example.
"He's handled over 200 murder cases; it was a huge loss of experience and talent," McGrath said.
However, McGrath is proud of his staff.
Last year, Yuba County prosecutors filed 2,682 total cases, 734 of which were felony cases.
McGrath said his office's overall felony conviction rate was about 90 percent. However, McGrath said, conviction-rate statistics are over-emphasized.
"It's not something we consider when we're looking at someone's fate in a criminal case," McGrath said. "Cases are determined based on the facts of the case and not what it will do to the office conviction rate."
Probation chief braces for cuts
Like most in public safety, Yuba County Probation Chief Jim Arnold hopes to avoid another round of significant budget cuts next year.
Nearly $2 million has been slashed from the department's budget over the last three years.
However, the state's realignment program, implemented in late 2011, may have saved the department from greater cuts last year, Arnold said.
"I think, for the most part, (realignment) saved the probation department by patching some holes that would've caused us to see more layoffs, otherwise," Arnold said.
The department received about $1.1 million from the state for realignment, which shifted some state prison inmates to local control.
Last year, officials supervised 650 people on probation and 120 people who would've been supervised by parole officers before realignment.
With health insurance and pension costs climbing at an "alarming rate," Arnold's department is bracing for more cuts. Arnold is confident the probation department would survive major reductions due to planning and additional revenues.
Other probation-related programs, however, may not be as fortunate.
Many forget the department includes the county's victim-witness program, the juvenile hall and the Camp Singer program.
The "worse-case scenario," Arnold said, would be losing Camp Singer, a six-month residential treatment program for juveniles that incorporates community service as part rehabilitation. Arnold said it would be a huge loss of vital services, if it happened.
However, Arnold emphasized, there is no such plan at the moment. It may become part of the discussion unless fortunes change in a hurry.
CONTACT Rob Parsons at email@example.com or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat