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State of Law Enforcement in Sutter County: Less funds to protect and serve
Sutter County Sheriff's Department:
Budget: $19.4 million
Sutter County District Attorney's Office:
Budget: $3.4 million
Yuba City Police Department:
Budget: $12.9 million
Sutter County Probation Department:
Budget: $5.4 million
Despite several consecutive years of budget cuts at the Sutter County Sheriff's Department, crimes statistics fell last year in every major category, except burglaries, Sheriff J. Paul Parker reported.
"I'm never satisfied," Parker said. "I'm always looking for improvements, but, overall, I think we're doing a decent job."
Burglaries in rural Sutter County rose from 208 in 2011 to 258 last year. Homicides, rapes, robberies, larcenies and vehicle thefts declined in 2012.
Parker said his department has taken a 30 percent cut to its budget since 2008, but through attrition and a reshuffling of administrative responsibilities, the department has avoided both layoffs and cuts to patrols.
"We've tried to maintain patrol staff as much as possible and cut supervisors," Parker explained. "Through attrition, we've removed eight positions from the middle and upper ranks."
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the department has been dealing with fallout from the 2011 Public Safety Realignment Act. Realignment transferred responsibility for so-called "lower-level" felons from state prison to the county jails.
Since late 2011, county jails have been dealing with inmates serving much longer sentences. In Sutter County, some inmates are serving up to five years behind bars locally, instead of prison.
"County jails have never been set up for long terms," Parker noted. "It's much more difficult to house people for a long time."
Parker said the average daily jail population hovered around 225 inmates before the Realignment Act became law. Now, the sheriff said, Sutter County's inmate population averages more 300 people every day.
"We're always looking for ways to cut costs and keep the population (numbers) down," Parker said, "but we don't get to control the (numbers) that come into the jail."
Parker said his department is experimenting with placing nonviolent offenders on home-monitoring programs and looking for other ways to decrease the daily jail population without sacrificing public safety.
The Sutter County District Attorney's Office has restructured how it does business in an effort to handle increased caseloads amid several years of budget cuts.
District Attorney Carl Adams said his office has lost six positions in the last five years, including prosecutors, investigators, secretaries and Victim-Witness Advocates.
"We've made a number of changes in our process and taken some shortcuts to make due," Adams said. "Though we've never gotten to the point where we've had to drop any important cases, I'm not sure that it didn't affect the quality of our work across the board."
Adams is not anticipating more budget cuts in the coming year.
"Though if there are cuts, they will be the kind of cuts we'd agree with and it would be just a matter of reshuffling again," Adams said.
The prosecutor's office has been using volunteers to fill in for some Victim-Witness positions and used money for the Public Safety Realignment to fund others.
While financial challenges have created significant obstacles, Adams said the critical work is still getting done.
"We're not doing everything that we'd like to do," Adams acknowledged, "but we've done everything that needs to be done."
Adams is upbeat about the future.
"I think we're coming out of the economic slump, and the budget should begin to have some room to grow a bit and allows to do the things that we'd like," Adams said.
Adams said he would like his prosecutors to be able to devote more time to individual cases, more time to meet with witnesses and to work directly with victims of crime.
"Community protection is the most important thing that local government does," Adams said. "That's where we ought to put our focus."
One of the most significant challenges the District Attorney's Office has faced over the last three years is an increase in homicide cases. Adams credited the increased workload to the Yuba City Police Department solving numerous older homicides dating back several years.
Major crimes up 9 percent in Yuba City
Sutter County prosecutors have been handling more homicide cases over the last three years because the Yuba City Police Department made arrests in numerous murder cases that had been previously unsolved.
"We've had more homicide case in the last three years than at any time in the last three decades," District Attorney Carl Adams said. "It's because Yuba City police solved several old murder cases from several years ago."
Adams said there has been no increase in Sutter County's homicide rate.
Police Chief Rob Landon did not return phone calls seeking comment this week.
The casework from the Yuba City Police Department has come despite recent spikes in crime, especially property and vehicle thefts.
Overall, major crime statistics in Yuba City rose by about 9 percent from 2011 to 2012, police spokeswoman Shawna Pavey said.
During a recent interview, Landon said the Public Safety Realignment Act was "possibly" a contributing factor in the spike in property crimes, but was careful not to saddle the whole problem on the state.
"Yes, there are fewer people in prison and we are seeing people who are not doing the same amount of time that they would've done (before realignment)," Landon said earlier. "But we're seeing a nationwide increase in property crimes, so it can't all be directly related to that."
One major area of concern recently has been an abrupt and dramatic spike in vehicle thefts.
In 2012, Yuba City police took 184 stolen vehicle reports. Less than two months into 2013, they have taken about 50 reports.
The car theft trend has not been limited to Yuba City. Thefts have skyrocketed in Marysville and rural parts of both Sutter and Yuba counties.
Deep cuts in Probation Department
Financial challenges have also affected the Sutter County Probation Department.
In the last three years, the department has cut a deputy probation officer assigned to the county's street gang task force, a deputy probation officer assigned to work in schools and one aide position.
Interim Probation Chief Chris Odom said all three positions were done away with through attrition. Other probation officers have been forced to pick up the slack.
"The loss of the gang officer leaves one probation gang task force officer, who also carries a caseload of gang offenders," Odom explained.
Odom said losing the school officer was "a critical loss" for Sutter County schools, but the gap has been partially addressed through the Gang Resistance Education and Training program offered to younger students.
Odom said new money from the Public Safety Realignment fund has allowed her department to add several officer positions, which allowed others to reduce some of their caseload.
In turn, those additions are helping the department implement new programs and expand others that are designed to reduce repeat offenders.
"These additions have been core elements of the county's efforts to build a solid foundation of resources to better address the entire criminal justice population and to reduce recidivism," Odom said.
In 2012, the Probation Department supervised an additional 159 offenders who would have been supervised by state parole officers before realignment was implemented.
Looking ahead, Odom expressed concern over proposed cuts to the state Community Correction Performance Incentive Funds. Odom said the proposed 74 percent reduction would have a major impact on adult probation services.
CONTACT Rob Parsons at email@example.com or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat