Tehama County sheriff’s staff shortage letter causes major stir

Tehama County Sheriff Dave Hencratt.

 

A letter sent by Tehama County Sheriff Dave Hencratt to “friends and supporters” concerning “notification of a significant change to services provided” to the community due to staffing shortages at the sheriff’s department, was the catalyst to the county’s administration recommending the sheriff meet with them to discuss the issue.

During public comment of the Tehama County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, retired sheriff’s detective, Charles (Chad) Dada, told the board he was disappointed in Tehama County Chief Administration Officer Bill Goodwin’s comment in a television news broadcast stating he was “blindsided” by the letter and wished the sheriff had come to him personally with the problem instead of issuing the letter.

“This has been an issue in the sheriff’s office for 10 years. Your comment was incredibly dishonest. The deputies in the department are underpaid by 14 percent and you even went so far as to try and make that 17 percent,” Dada said.

In recent contract negotiations with the Tehama County Deputy Sheriff’s Association the county asked for a 3 percent reduction in pay due to the shortfall in the 2020-21 county budget. That request was taken off the table this week when the county received $3.3 million in CARES ACT funding from the state, with an additional $3.3 million anticipated in the future.

Hencratt’s letter issued Aug. 18, says the changes to sheriff’s department services mainly effect the department’s patrol division. 

Hencratt said the decision to suspend the following list of services “is necessary so we can continue to provide staffing for moderate and high priority calls for service.”

The list of public services the sheriff said his deputies will no longer respond to includes child custody court order violations, non-violent incorrigible juveniles, extra patrols, found property valued at less than $250 unless dangerous or containing personal identification, civil advice on non-criminal matters, civil standbys without threat of violence, alarm calls without responsible party or repeated alarms, response to care-homes without violence, not-in-progress thefts or burglaries without leads, shoplifting calls, vandalism, public nuisance complaints/such as barking dogs or loud music, annoying or harassing phone calls, trespassing calls without entry and stray dog pickups unless dog is aggressive.

Residents can document many of the above listed complaints or situations with a “Citizen Report Form” available at http://tehamaso.org/report-a-crime. Those who file a report form will be given an incident number for historical documentation.

“Once our staffing levels return to normal, we will revisit how we address the above list,” states the letter.

According to Hencratt, the total number of employees allocated to the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office is 127. As of Aug. 16, the office had 24 vacant positions, of those vacancies seven are in patrol, three in major crimes, and two in marijuana investigations. 

“For the past four years, your Sheriff’s Office has experienced a large employee turnover,” Hencratt stated in the letter. “We have lost numerous, very well-trained law enforcement professionals to surrounding state and local law enforcement agencies. Our people are simply going to work for counties and cities that pay more.”

He went on to say potential law enforcement applicants are going elsewhere because of better pay and benefits.

Tehama County Assist. Sheriff Phil Johnston said during public comment on Tuesday the sheriff’s department had been discussing response to low-risk calls since 2017 due to a shortage in patrol staff.

“We had to find a way to free up deputies to respond to high-risk calls,” he said. “I too heard Mr. Goodwin’s comment about being blindsided by the letter. If you say you were blindsided, you just haven’t been listening and are remiss in your duties.”

Johnston went on to say he hopes the board and administration sees the light of the department’s situation.

Hencratt, who is serving his third four-year term as Tehama County sheriff, elected originally in 2010 and then again in 2014 and 2018, states in the letter his “emaciated” department will continue to be proactive, visible and aggressive in its efforts in crime response and prevention.

Chief Administrator Bill Goodwin said at Tuesday’s meeting he would make his comments regarding the sheriff’s letter during that report. However, the request for the report has since been withdrawn, Goodwin said Thursday.

“Administration has discussed the request for recruitment statistics further with Mr. Garton,” Goodwin said. “He has withdrawn his request at this time to allow the sheriff an opportunity to meet with administration to discuss ways to work together to improve future recruitment outcomes.”

In the letter, Hencratt said, “It is with great concern and sadness that I am writing you for notification of a significant change to services provided to you and our good citizens. For now, the changes mainly effect our patrol division.”

Following his election in 2010, Hencratt restructured the office by redistributing responsibilities for administration and mid-level management that allowed for increasing the number of deputies on patrol.

Over the last four years, the department has experienced a large turnover, losing many well-trained professionals to state and local agencies. The reason is not increased danger to personal safety or poor opinion of law enforcement as the academy remains full, Hencratt said.

“Applicants are simply applying elsewhere because of better pay and benefits,” Hencratt said. “Why would a potential applicant apply in Tehama County when they can travel 15-30 minutes in any direction to another agency which pays more and has better benefits?”

The sheriff’s department has 127 positions allocated, but as of Aug. 16 had 24 vacant. Of the 24 positions for patrol and investigations and major crimes, 12 are empty.

The current level of service has been maintained for the last four years by “(implementing) the rob Peter to pay Paul process,” Hencratt said.

Hencratt said “at this time we are at the point where no temporary process or method can be implemented to fill vacant shifts and the safety and well-being of our staff is in jeopardy.”

Hencratt said the department will continue efforts to be proactive in preventing crime and will be revisiting the list once staffing levels have returned to normal.

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