Serving as a county sheriff is a tough job anywhere in California, and Merced County with its high crime rate and challenging finances certainly is no exception. Squaring dwindling resources with substantial need is a daunting task that requires strong leadership and political skills.
This newspaper always has been a supporter of Sheriff Mark Pazin. He's proven time and again to be up to these tough tasks during the decade-plus he's been in office. This is why we were shocked with how Pazin so stunningly fumbled the ball last week with his rollout of a policy that turns away parole violators from being booked into the jails he runs.
Pazin's directive was a major policy change one that should by its nature require advance notice to every law enforcement agency in the county. But that notice apparently wasn't provided, and city police chiefs understandably were upset.
At the minimum, Pazin needed to convene an emergency meeting of the chiefs to make sure all agencies were suitably informed and prepared for the changes. Instead, some chiefs learned of the policy shift through a reporter's phone call.
Equally troubling was Pazin's Thursday press conference, at which he attempted to justify his quick actions by saying his directive was to the state parole office not local law enforcement agencies.
Regardless, all of the local police chiefs deserved advance notice of a change in policy, particularly because officers on the street will ultimately be affected. While we understand the problem of jail crowding, the poor rollout of this policy rests squarely on the sheriff's shoulders and nowhere else.
Additionally, Pazin's reference to parole violators as "two-legged dogs" was unacceptable, given that it came from the person who is charged with overseeing their welfare while in custody.
As president of the state Sheriff's Association from December 2010 until April of this year, Pazin traveled the state as one of the key proponents of Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment that shifted state prison inmates to county jails to comply with a court- ordered reduction in the state prison population.
We recognize that any changes to the jail and prison systems are complicated. But Pazin needs to do a better job of reassuring this community that he is making sure the most violent criminals are not walking the streets.
Communication is key. And it's clear it didn't happen in this case.