Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 8:05 am | Overcast 61º


Local News

Supervisors Get Update on Staffing Issues, Northern Branch Jail Plan from Sheriff’s Department

Budget workshops set stage for final 2018-19 funding decisions at June hearings

Undersheriff Barney Melekian gives a budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors during Friday’s meeting. Click to view larger
Undersheriff Barney Melekian gives a budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors during Friday’s meeting. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Undersheriff Barney Melekian talked about reducing overtime costs and making plans for the new Northern Branch Jail during Friday’s Board of Supervisors budget workshop, two major staffing initiatives for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

The supervisors will make final funding decisions and adopt a 2018-19 budget in June.

The 376-bed Northern Branch Jail is on schedule to open next summer and be fully occupied in September 2019, after construction delays, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

The department is working to reduce its daily in-custody population, increase the use of electronic monitoring, and make a renovation plan for the Main Jail facility at 4436 Calle Real near Santa Barbara.

The new jail, at 2301 Black Road near Santa Maria, will have a 32-bed medical and mental-health unit, and medium- and minimum-security sections with preference for inmates who live or are facing charges in the North County, Sheriff’s Department staff said at the budget workshop.

The department has been pre-hiring deputies to staff the new jail, and Melekian also floated a three-year plan to hire 24 more deputies in an effort to reduce the huge overtime costs.

He said he would come back with an implementation plan, with more details, in June. It is based on the success of the “Santa Maria experiment,” in which the department moved eight deputies to the Santa Maria substation this year and saw reduced overtime, lost time, and workers compensation cases, he said.

The Sheriff’s Department overtime costs have been an average $7.5 million per year over the last five years – about $4.7 million over budget each time, he said.

There is a 6-percent vacancy rate in positions — with an “exodus” of retirements in February and March — and the goal is to reduce it to 3 percent, Melekian said.

Sheriff Bill Brown addresses the Board of Supervisors Friday. Click to view larger
A crisis intervention training program has been around for just over a year, and every Sheriff’s Department employee has been through an eight-hour training course, Sheriff Bill Brown said. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Efforts to improve recruitment have “only barely kept pace with the people who are retiring,” he said.

Chronic understaffing and mandatory overtime shifts have become central issues in the race for Sheriff-Coroner, in which incumbent Bill Brown is being challenged by Lt. Eddie Hsueh and Lt. Brian Olmstead.

Several members of the public spoke during the workshop to ask the Board of Supervisors to restore some Isla Vista Foot Patrol deputy positions, which are proposed cuts, and fund a full-time crisis-intervention training coordinator.

Click here for 2018-19 preliminary budget documents, including department-specific information.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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