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Tense times in San Joaquin County

Things are getting interesting in San Joaquin County. 

This week dozens of people showed up for work at the San Joaquin Courthouse in Downtown Stockton only to discover that the per diem bailiffs that assist with providing security for criminal justice proceedings had called in sick. 

All of them. At the same time. 

The move, which is presumed to be a shot across the bow of the county for not agreeing to the offer that the Deputy Sheriff’s Association made to end a nearly five-year long period without a contract, meant that the wheels of justice were slowed to the faintest crawl, and nearly all operations were rescheduled for the day. 

It’s just the latest in a series of escalating tensions between the county and the deputies sworn to protect it. 

And for everybody’s sake, I hope that this concludes quickly. 

When I saw that San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow had called a press conference a few weeks back to announce that he was suspending a number of popular programs because he needs as many deputies on patrol as possible after an exodus of sworn personnel to neighboring agencies, I was blown away. First by the fact that the sheriff has lost 10 deputies and could lost 26 more, and second by the fact that Withrow was essentially calling for the Board of Supervisors to act before it gets any worse. 

The county has since published a number of documents including a fact sheet on what happened this week at the courthouse. All of them detail the painstaking process that has led us to the current juncture – the dozens of meetings of multiple years and where things currently stand as the negotiations head to mediation. 

The deputies claim that they’re asking for a reasonable offer while the county is claiming that they made a good faith offer of their own that is fiscally responsible – coming in at only one percentage point below what the deputies are requesting but at roughly 30 percent of the total cost because the length of time in the contract is different. 

It’s apparently too much of a difference for both sides to close without outside entities resorting to drastic measures. First the sheriff effectively telling the Board of Supervisors that they’re on their own to provide security for their meetings because he was taking the deputies assigned to the county building back to put them on patrol, and now the retired law enforcement officials working as per diem bailiffs standing in solidarity with the sworn deputies by refusing to show up to work. 

I don’t know enough about the inner workings of this dynamic to render an opinion on whether one side is more just than the other, but for the sake of all of the residents of San Joaquin County – particularly those in the unincorporated areas that rely solely on the sheriff’s office to provide police protection – I hope that cooler heads prevail. 

For one thing, if the sheriff’s office were to lose more than two dozen other sworn deputies to higher paying jobs elsewhere, Withrow would have to start pulling deputies from specialty units in order to fill the gaps in patrol. That means specialized crime-fighting efforts tackling things like gangs and drugs and sex trafficking and auto theft would take a major hit – and that is something that affects all residents of San Joaquin County regardless of whether they live in a rural area or inside the boundaries of a city that has its own independent police department.

For another, having the courthouse shut down for a day must have created a logistical nightmare that will take quite some time to untangle – dockets that are now stacked up and need to be cleared – and the next shot across the bow would likely create similar fallout. 

To say nothing of the fact that these deputies have worked dutifully for going on five years without a contract in place, the longer this goes on the more the deputies feel disrespected, and the higher stakes for everybody involved. 

I’m typically not one for letting labor negotiation tactics trump common sense fiscal responsibility – it reminds me of some of the things that I remember hearing about during a law enforcement contract negotiation in Stockton some years back – but I do find it difficult to believe that with all of the development that the county has seen in the last five years that these are what anyone could consider “lean” times.

Time will tell where things go from here, but for everyone’s sake I hope that it’s a direction that ends in resolution soon. 

Is it that time of year again already?

So, nothing has been set in stone yet and technically we haven’t even settled the debts for last football season. 

But it’s my goal to bring back our weekly pigskin picks when the Valley Oak League season starts up again soon so that Mark Condit, Chris Teicheira, Eric Wohle, and myself – who has won the last two years in a row – can offer our take on Friday night football action for Manteca’s three high schools and a few more games sprinkled in for good measure. 

All of us are busy these days, but I have a feeling this little note will get around to the gentlemen of the thread in good time and the friendly banter will start up immediately. 

Plus, it’s been a long time since I’ve had good linguisa and since Teicheira owes all of us a feast of the Portuguese staple for what can only be described as deplorable lack of judgement (or an undying allegiance to his alma mater – it could go either way). 

I do have to admit that it’s a little bit strange to be heading in the third week of the non-league schedule when the first week of September hasn’t even passed yet – the week that I remember going back to school – but that means we’re also that much closer to picking games every week, which is something that I always look forward to. 

So, Gentlemen of the Thread, consider this me blowing the conch shell. 

Shall we do it all over again?

Let’s decide over linguisa.