Thursday, August 30, 2018

Growing shortage of rural law enforcement in California endangers public and officers; what about your state?

Number of rural deputies per 100 square miles
(McClatchy map, click here to view the interactive version.)
A McClatchy Newspapers investigation found that California's rural counties face a growing shortage of law-enforcement officers that endangers the public -- and the officers. "Similar results would likely be found in many other states," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

 Four McClatchy reporters compared crime rates and law-enforcement staffing in 25 rural counties (as defined by the California Communities Program) and compared them with the state's urban counties. They interviewed residents, sheriffs and deputies in 20 counties.

"Departments in multiple jurisdictions are operating with skeleton staffs . . . pushing response times into hours, or sometimes leaving residents without a response at all," Anita Chabria, Ryan Sabalow, Dale Kasler and Phillip Reese report. "When law enforcement does arrive in many outlying places, it’s often a single officer cut off from backup and, in some cases, communication with her or his department."

These rural counties account for 41 percent of the state's land but only 4 percent of the population, meaning a dwindling number of deputies have to cover hundreds of miles alone. "Data analysis showed the number of sworn deputies in these rural California counties has dropped by 8 percent in the last decade, when sheriff’s department staffing in urban counties declined by only 2 percent," McClatchy reports. "In 2008, 1,758 sworn deputies worked in rural counties, according to the California Department of Justice. By 2017, that number had dropped to 1,610. The decrease may not sound drastic, but the loss of those deputies has pushed some already overworked departments to a tipping point in service, sheriffs and others said."

The summary offered by Sheriff Mike Poindexter of Modoc County, in the state's northeastern corner, exemplified more than a dozen rural sheriffs McClatchy interviewed: "We have no money. We have no people . . . We don't have near enough people. We just don't."

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