No matter who voters choose in June's election to lead the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, the winning candidate will have to do more with less as looming budget cuts threaten to reduce staff and jail space.
Incumbent Sheriff Adam Christianson and challenger Turlock police Capt. Rob Jackson agree they will have to get the job done with fewer resources. They spoke with The Bee last week to outline their thoughts on key public safety issues:
Q: How can the Sheriff's Department better serve unincorporated communities and cities that hire the department for law enforcement services?
Christianson: "There's always more we can do. I would rather focus on what we have done." The department showed its concerns for these communities, he said, with its decentralization plan, which based area commands and more staff in contract cities. He said decentralization has created a higher visible presence for the department. The department also has created sting operations, where investigators use GPS devices to track down stolen farming equipment.
Jackson: "I think the biggest thing is understanding partnerships ... having an approach that we understand that crime doesn't have boundaries as far as city limits or general areas. Crime that occurs in Hickman also occurs in Waterford." He said it's important for the department to maintain honest communication with those communities and have deputies work beyond jurisdictions.
Q: What do you see as the biggest public safety threat in the next few years?
Christianson: "Reductions in services and staffing puts the community at risk. We have made tremendous success in the last four years with our crime rates. We live in a safer community today than we did in 2006, despite our ongoing challenges with gangs and methamphetamine." He said he understands the economic meltdown has affected everyone, but "releasing inmates and laying off deputy sheriffs places the community at risk."
Jackson: "I'm concerned with the amount of gang violence we have in our area. They've really taken a stranglehold on some of the communities." Along with enforcement, he proposes creating a sheriff-run gang intervention and prevention program that pulls youths out of the violent lifestyle. "What we will find is investing on the front end, we're going to save money on the back end."
Q: How will you handle a large jail population with budget cuts threatening to reduce the number of beds at the county's Honor Farm and the number of custodial deputies in the department?
Christianson: "We're going to be forced to protect the community with the resources we have, and our two primary missions will be answering calls for service and keeping the worst of the worst in custody." The department will be forced to release some lower-risk inmates. He's working on a partnership with the Probation Department to provide released inmates services they would get while in jail, such as education, vocational training and counseling.
Jackson: "The cuts are solely at the discretion of the sheriff. The sheriff is the one who decides what he does with the budgeted money that he has." He said he will keep the budget cuts from shrinking jail space for inmates. Releasing inmates because of budget cuts and placing them in alternative work programs is not the answer, he said. "We have to be careful, because we're putting very dangerous people in programs which they probably shouldn't be in." He said vocational programs in the jail can help reduce recidivism and the jail population.
Q: How can you tackle public safety threats such as methamphetamine-driven crime, rural thefts and gang activity with budget cuts reducing the number of patrol deputies?
Christianson: "You simply have to get the job done with the resources you have. We don't want to create public fear; that's not our job." He said they will emphasize partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and strengthen community awareness, and continue suppression efforts against drugs, thefts and gangs. "We're certainly not going to use the economy or our budgets as an excuse for not getting the job done."
Jackson: "It's all about prioritizing your services. We need to maximize the use of resources we have -- the deputies we have on the street." He said there needs to be a plan on how to provide public safety services with fewer resources. "That's not being done right now. What's being done is just kind of go out and do your own thing."
Q: What else can the Sheriff's Department do to suppress gang violence not only in the Modesto area, but other areas in the county?
Christianson: "I can tell you we will still have a STING (Special Team Investigating Narcotics and Gangs) team after budget cuts, because we made that a priority." He said another way to suppress gang activity is by continuing to work with the Central Valley Gang Impact Taskforce and the district attorney's office in enforcing south Modesto's gang injunction.
Jackson: Along with enforcement, he said intervention and prevention can be effective. "It's not as glamorous as the big drug raids or gang raids. We have resources out there that we can do it with; it's just we don't have anybody in place right now who is coordinating all those efforts."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.