The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved funding Tuesday to expand the Santa Maria Branch Jail’s hours after law enforcement agencies detailed the hardships of transporting all arrestees to Santa Barbara.
Hours were cut for the 29-bed facility in 2011 due to budget issues, so if North County agencies arrest someone outside the hours of 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., they have to make the long trip to the Main Jail at 4436 Calle Real.
Sheriff Bill Brown presented an interim solution to cut down on travel time until the new Santa Maria Jail is operational, expected in 2018.
The supervisors approved his plan and authorized $272,000 for the 2013-14 year, which funds a transportation team of two deputies until next June and then returns the jail to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule. When it was open full-time, this location accounted for a third of the county's total bookings, according to the Sheriff's Department website.
No additional staff will be hired for the first phase, which will pay deputies overtime, but three custody deputies need to be hired in March for the second phase, Brown said.
There will be a net loss of 21 beds in an already overcrowded custody system as well. Reopening the Santa Maria branch will bring back 29 beds, but in order to pay for the change, Brown proposed closing a unit of the Main Jail and reassigning those custody deputies.
Law enforcement agencies are struggling with the extra transportation time, which means more officers are taken off the streets, Brown said.
Supervisors were frustrated that Brown didn’t bring the issue forward in June during budget discussions, but he said county staff had made it very clear there was no money for additional services, only a status quo budget.
Supervisor Peter Adam said the consequences should have been anticipated when the jail’s hours were cut in the first place. He wanted Brown to find the money within the Sheriff’s Department budget, but the board voted to use contingency reserves instead.
Law enforcement representatives urged the board to reopen the Santa Maria Branch Jail.
Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino said the city’s residents pay twice as much property tax to the county as the city and even passed Measure U for more public safety and core service support. With officers on the road transporting arrestees to the Main Jail in Santa Barbara, she said residents aren’t getting the services they’re paying for.
Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin said the city has transported 1,817 arrestees to the Main Jail since the facility reduced its hours in 2011. The SMPD isn’t in the transportation and detention business — the Sheriff’s Department is, City Manager Rick Haydon said.
The department has driven 160,000 miles since the Santa Maria Branch Jail’s hours were cut, he said. To put that in perspective, the Earth’s circumference is just under 25,000 miles, he noted.
“We drive six times around the Earth just to transport prisoners from the North County to the South County,” Haydon said.
Guadalupe Police Chief Gary Hoving said the trip takes three to four hours. Recently a woman was arrested for driving under the influence of prescription drugs and the department couldn’t spare an officer to transport her, he said.
“We handcuffed her to a bench for four hours,” Hoving said.
Guadalupe Mayor Frances Romero emphasized the need to have two officers on duty for each shift. The city’s 10-person department is put in danger when officers are on the streets without backup, which happens when one has to transport someone to jail, she said.
The California Highway Patrol has the same problem and has to schedule its shifts around the Santa Maria Branch Jail operating hours in addition to traffic peak hours and other factors, Lt. Alex Carrillo said.
Wesley Maroney, police chief for Allan Hancock College’s two locations, said his officers have to cite and release felony suspects because they can’t leave the campus unattended.
The county has received state funding for a new North County Jail, which is expected to be constructed and finished by 2018, so the full-time staffing of the Santa Maria Branch Jail is seen as an interim measure.