Grand jury gives police one strike

July 3, 2013 

cpride@losbanosenterprise.com

Members of the 2012-13 Merced County civil grand jury noted that the Los Banos Police Department is largely in compliance with state regulations and referred a complaint against the school district to next year's panel.

Grand jurors released their annual report last week. In addition to required annual reports on the county's jail system, jurors visited area police departments and looked into a variety of complaints.

Jurors found faults in some areas within county services, including recommending changes to food inspections, concealed weapons permits and the emergency communication system.

In Los Banos, the police department was shown to be largely in compliance. On March 25 the civil grand jury conducted a site visit to the jail facility. The jail has passed all required inspections, including those of the health department, fire department and juvenile justice agencies, according to the jury report. All personnel working in the jail had completed required training as of February.

The civil grand jury found one discrepancy. Only minors 14 and older who present a serious security risk can be placed in custody for specific offenses described by Welfare and Institutions Code. Police Department detention records show a 13-year-old was held for 47 minutes. The department sent memos to its staff addressing the issue.

The civil grand jury report also mentions a complaint filed against the Los Banos Unified School District. The report said the jury did not have enough time to investigate. The matter was referred to the 2013-14 civil grand jury.

Elsewhere in county

Jurors found major problems with the way the Department of Environmental Health handles inspections of food handlers, noting that "inspectors are behind on their inspections an average of 40 percent," and that facilities in some areas of the county only get a look if someone complains about them.

The grand jury recommends the department bring in temporary or volunteer staff to handle paperwork and other duties to free inspectors to get to more sites, and require inspectors to write reports in the field on laptop computers.

Grand jurors looked at the county's emergency notification system, noting that Merced got a reverse notification system with $350,000 in federal grant money in 2007, but the system has never worked. A current reverse notification system — in which automated calls go out to affected residents — requires people to register their phone numbers, and only a fraction of the county's residents have done so.

The grand jury recommends the county put money toward a new system that doesn't require people to register for it. The roughly $2,000 a year it would cost for upkeep could come from money the county spends advertising the system to encourage people to register.

The grand jury declined to investigate several complaints, mainly because of a lack of information provided or because the agency did not come under jurors' purview.

Members investigated a complaint about the way the Merced County Sheriff's Department issues permits to people seeking the right to carry concealed weapons. During a nine-month period reviewed by the grand jury, the department received 81 applications. Of those, 29 were approved.

Grand jurors found "inconsistencies with regard to which applications were approved, and which were denied."

Though it found the successful applicants were typically citizens with good moral character and with good cause, some of them had experienced minor brushes with the law and several people who were denied seemed to be deserving.

The grand jury recommended the Sheriff's Department review its policies for granting concealed weapons permits and take a second look at the denied applications for possible changes.

The Merced Sun-Star contributed to this article.

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