Saying Merced County sheriff’s deputies are too slow to respond to routine calls, Livingston’s mayor earlier this week suggested the city’s police should take over cases beyond the city limit.
Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza’s idea was met with skepticism from other City Council members and it died before he could put it up for a vote. The mayor argued that Livingston police would do a better job fielding calls to nearby farms than deputies.
“The Sheriff’s Department has a bad reputation of not responding to calls right away,” he said. “They’ll show up three hours later, or four hours later, or tomorrow. That’s what we hear all the time.”
The Sheriff’s Department has a bad reputation of not responding to calls right away. They’ll show up three hours later, or four hours later, or tomorrow.
Livingston Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza
Farmers outside the city contribute to the community through donations and by spending money in the city, he said. “They feel like they’re part of Livingston,” Espinoza said.
He floated the idea that Livingston police could respond to routine calls from county residents who live within a half mile of the city.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke scoffed at the idea.
“I fully believe that the city of Livingston has enough to do within the city limits, to not take away from their folks in the city, that they shouldn’t be worried about what’s going on in the county unless it’s an absolute emergency,” he said Wednesday.
The Sheriff’s Department and police departments around the county ask each other for mutual aid almost daily, he said, and have a relationship that works well.
Warnke said it’s an “urban legend” that deputies don’t respond to calls in a timely manner. He said crimes in progress do get priority over other calls.
Warnke said the mayor’s comments were likely political posturing for a future campaign for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors.
“There is no doubt in my mind that (Espinoza) is trying to align himself with these big farmers,” Warnke said. “I honestly believe that he’s trying to take a stab at the supervisor’s position.”
There is no doubt in my mind that (Espinoza) is trying to align himself with these big farmers. I honestly believe that he’s trying to take a stab at the supervisor’s position.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke
Espinoza did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
During the meeting, Councilman Alex McCabe said that except in a life-and-death situation, he would not support a policy to send Livingston officers out of the city.
“I would think that would be a waste of our resources,” he said. “They don’t pay into our city taxes.”
The Sheriff’s Department has funding for more than 90 deputy positions, according to the county’s budget. It also has an investigations unit made up of more than a dozen detectives, making that unit nearly as large as the entire Livingston police force. The detectives division also has one investigator dedicated specifically to agricultural crime.
Livingston has 17 sworn officers, who include the chief and other department administrators. Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez said the number of officers on patrol varies from two to four.
The Police Department is operating with fewer officers since layoffs in 2012.
Chavez advised the council not to spread the force too thin, and not to tread into the county jurisdiction. “As the department head, I want to make sure we limit our exposure to liability,” he said.