Monday, July 20, 2009
Recently I tuned in to a rerun of the July 14 Board of Supervisors meeting wherein Sheriff McGinness and chorus offered some well-rehearsed propaganda designed to save some deputies' jobs. Apparently somehow someone in the Sheriff's department had miscalculated, and the budget allocation decided in June meant that the Sheriff would have to lay off 70 more deputies than originally believed. So Agenda Item 64 was McGinness, back to ask for more money for these deputies.
McGinness presented an explanation that I found confusing, in part because I understand numbers much much better when they are written down. But after reading his staff report later on, I still felt at least as unclear as most of the supervisors seemed to. Although professing trust and confidence in the Sheriff, this substantial error clearly disturbed them. Several supervisors expressed concern about having incomplete financial information pertaining to this proposed change.
Personally, I would have thought that information about current crime rates and trends would also be relevant, but apparently no one else missed it.
McGinness also stressed that public safety deserves more money because everyone benefits from deputies' work, unlike those special interests like social services that only benefit some people. (But I thought that deputies only patrolled the unincorporated areas, whereas health and welfare spending is county-wide. Go figure.)
In any event, after McGinness had finished his handwaving, the supervisors heard comments from many members of the public who had been assembled and apparently briefed by the Sheriff's PR department, to "give the public a voice." We heard from a number of deputies, past, present and future, as well as their friends and families, who all described a variety of terrible things that would doubtless happen if the extra 70 layoffs were to occur.
Property values will "plummet," all the "monsters" out there, such as sex offenders, parolees, and tent-city "transients" will be preying on Sacramento's most vulnerable citizens. People will buy guns to protect themselves. These layoffs will make the force less representative of the community because young ethnic deputies will go first. More deputies will die because they will be spread too thin. More citizens will die because deputies will be spread too thin and emergency response times will be compromised. Search and rescue operations for lost old folks with Alzheimer's will be gone. Business investment in the community will be diverted to Nevada and Sacramento will be irreparably blighted. Many of these themes were echoed by multiple speakers.
Enthusiastic applause followed each touching expression of concern, despite Chairwoman Susan Peters' request to the audience to refrain, as applause takes time and was also causing some audio feedback. Although such esprit de corps may be good for morale, disrespect towards local leadership calls into question their respect for others who have no authority.
Deputies claimed no special interest of their own, only that they want to protect and serve. They are heartbroken that some of the comrades will fall by the wayside, but down by the budget ax. One guy even compared their pain to the death march on Bataan in World War II. Who knew cops were so emo?
Several solutions were also suggested by many commenters, such as diverting money from the golf course or the airport construction. Unfortunately, none of the suggestions were feasible, as County Executive Terry Schutten explained at Chairwoman Peters' request. Nonetheless, subsequent commenters failed to edit these ideas out of their scripts. After almost two hours, all those who had signed up to speak were heard and applauded.
The bottom line? Be afraid. Be very afraid. That is their message.
After a short discussion, the supervisors asked Schutten to review the June version of the budget and report back on July 28 at 3:30 pm as to what it would take to find another $10 million for these 70 at-risk deputies.
As soon as supervisors seemed to be coming around, McGinness started emphasizing his department's ability to "do a great deal with minimal resources." Still, Supervisor Dickinson did caution him that basic human needs like adequate food are also be defined as safety bysome members of the public, and that the state may yet again raid local funds.
Mulling over all the emoting I heard, and the facts I didn't hear, I can't help wondering about the quality of their criminal investigations. Mysteries and crimes are far more likely to be resolved through dispassionate rational analysis than through the kind of self-serving sentimentality I saw. And if they can't even keep track of their own personnel budget, how well are they keeping track of evidence and other minor details?
Anyway, if you would like to "have a voice" and share your opinion about the balance between public health and public safety with the supervisors, you have until July 28.