By JASON CAMPBELL
Since taking the oath of office last year, San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow has watched 10 of his deputies leave the department for higher-paying jobs in nearby communities.
And with 26 more that are mulling their options as negotiations between the bargaining unit representing them and the county sit at impasse, Withrow made an impassioned plea on Friday for the Board of Supervisors to get involved in the process so that the bleeding of personnel can stop.
During a press conference on Friday from the Sheriff’s Office in French Camp, Withrow outlined how he has had to make some hard decisions recently including suspending the Sheriff’s community car program in order to put more deputies back out onto patrol to fill the vacancies. He called on the elected officials representing San Joaquin County to “do the right thing” and offer the deputies a fair contract.
“We’re going through a tough time here right now – we’re very short handed on the street and we’re having a difficult time recruiting new folks to come and work for us,” Withrow said. “The reason we’re having a difficult time recruiting new people to come and work for us is because our Deputy Sheriff’s Association and our deputies that work the street and throughout our department have been without a contract for four-and-a-half years.
“Now, that sounds like a tremendous amount of time to be without a contract but unfortunately it isn’t an unusual thing.”
In order to make the numbers work and maintain a level of safety and security for both his deputies and the general public, Withrow said during the press conference that he’s going to have to suspend the community car program and bring those eight officers back onto patrol, as well as recall three officers who were transferred from patrol into the coroner’s division. An officer that was assigned to the Human Services Agency building in Downtown Stockton is also being recalled, and a contract with the County of San Joaquin that posts three deputies at San Joaquin General Hospital to help provide security for inmates receiving medical treatment has also been suspended.
Two deputies assigned to the San Joaquin County Superior Court will also be placed back onto patrol, and those positions will be filled with per diem workers – likely retired law enforcement personnel.
Without making those moves, Withrow said he only had 66 people to patrol around the clock in San Joaquin County, and noted that other changes may need to be made in order to maintain the safety of officers and the public – including ending Sheriff’s Office flights from the Stockton Metropolitan Airport because the deputy assigned may end up being needed back out on the street.
With the cost of sending a new hire through the academy and providing the training necessary to equip a new officer for patrol at more than $300,000, Withrow said it’s not financially prudent to recruit people who are going to get the experience they need just to move onto neighboring agencies that can pay significantly more than the county. The Sheriff said he doesn’t hold any grudges against those that have left – they have “do what is best for their families” – but noted that some of his officers can move just down the street to the City of Manteca where they’ll immediately starting making $2,500 more every month.
Withrow said that he has met individually with every member of the Board of Supervisors to try and spur good faith negotiations that will allow him to retain more of his deputies, and called on residents to try and do the same to ensure that the hemorrhaging of officers does not continue.
“I’m asking the public to please reach out to their supervisor and tell them to give your deputies a fair contract so the sheriff can hire good, quality employees to come out and protect us – especially in the world that we live in today,” Withrow said. “As soon as we can get those bodies back up to the level where my officers and citizens are safe, then we’ll be able to reinstate the community car program and some of the other programs that we have had to suspend.
“Right now we have 26 deputies that are ready to pull the trigger and head to other departments – they can walk right next door, but they reach out to tell me that they’re holding on because they love working here and doing what it is that they get to do. But, eventually, they’re going to have to put their families first. If I lose 26 more guys, I don’t know what is going to happen.”