Calif. sheriff’s office receives $35M more in budget for increasing salaries, equipment
The Sacramento County sheriff said the department needs equipment, which he said included body-worn cameras, a mobile command bus and drones
By Ariane Lange
The Sacramento Bee
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the recommended $8.4 billion county budget Wednesday with few amendments after one day of proposal hearings from several departments.
The budget — which will be finalized in September to account for fluctuations in county revenues and state coffers — contains an increase of more than $35 million in appropriations for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, the largest budget increase for any unit. The county plans to direct about $34 million toward efforts to reduce the population of the two jails; both are under a federal consent decree related to poor conditions for inmates.
Only two people made public comments at the meeting that set the financial direction of the county for the coming year. Sacramento Community Police Review Commission Vice Chair Keyan Bliss was one. He criticized the board for what he called an unserious proceeding.
“This hearing really just seems like all of you have already made your decision weeks in advance,” Bliss said. “You all weren’t capable enough to ask the critical questions.”
Where the money goes
The total appropriations to the Sheriff’s Office in the 2023-2024 fiscal year are currently set at $695.3 million while the District Attorney’s Office will get over $123 million with the amendments made Wednesday. Total appropriations to the Public Defender’s Office were set at $61 million, while the new Homeless Services and Housing Department would get $51 million.
Homelessness, according to a survey the board conducted, was intended to be one of the main priorities for new services in this budget, along with fixing roads.
Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper, District Attorney Thien Ho, Deputy County Executive Eric Jones, Health Services Director Timothy Lutz and Homeless Services and Housing Director Emily Halcon spoke about their respective budget requests.
Jones focused on the Mays Consent Decree, a 2019 settlement that compels the county to improve health care and conditions for people incarcerated in county jails. The county is still out of compliance with the agreement.
While Jones, Lutz, Halcon and Ho detailed how money would be spent in their departments, Cooper gave a more impressionistic account of the state of affairs in his department.
During his presentation, Cooper told the supervisors, “I realize what’s going on with the county, there’s not a lot of money: That’s why we’re not asking for a lot of money.”
Cooper pointed out that despite his department’s budget increase, staffing levels, including the number of detectives on staff, have gone down since 2008.
In his presentation, Cooper mentioned equipment needs, which he said included body-worn cameras, a mobile command bus and drones; the department already has an extensive amount of equipment.
The Sheriff’s Office also asked for new staff for the property warehouse, which “is currently over capacity for storage and new laws for Hi-Tech and sexual assault evidence storage have made it difficult to find space,” according to the Sheriff’s Office’s budget proposal documents.
A significant portion of the Sheriff’s Office’s budget increase would go toward salary and benefit increases. Around $3.6 million would go toward attempting to bring the county into compliance with the Mays Consent Decree. That 2019 settlement came out of a lawsuit that said the jails overused solitary confinement and did not provide adequate medical and mental health care to incarcerated people, among other concerns.
With the budget approved, the Sheriff’s Office plans to spend some of the new funds on a $20,000-a-year social media management software subscription to manage posts across platforms and monitor trending topics. The department will also spend $1.2 million on a cellphone tracking device — the Octasic Nyxcell system — and a vehicle to transport it.
Sheriff on enforcement challenges
At the hearing, Cooper spoke for several minutes about sex work and sex trafficking in the county, though he never tied this to his budget request. He repeatedly criticized the Legislature’s decision to decriminalize sex work by minors — state law now considers “child prostitution” a crime against the child rather than a crime committed by a child.
The sheriff said the law made it harder to rescue trafficking victims.
“While it’s not a crime, there’s not much we can do,” he said, referring to three teenage girls he said were sex trafficked in the county over the past several months. He told one story about a 16-year-old girl who ran away from her parents in Phoenix and ended up with a trafficker in Sacramento County. “The parents filed a missing persons report; that allowed us to go get her. So think about that: She can go out and be pimped and trafficked, and she’s being trafficked by a trafficker, because we can’t say pimp, because that’s not good in the law, so you gotta say trafficker, but they’re really pimps.
“And we went down and got her in the Bay Area, we rescued her last week. Brought her back. The only reason is because of that missing person’s report.”
He explained later in the presentation that he objected to decriminalizing underage sex work because law enforcement could no longer compel minor sex trafficking victims into giving evidence against their traffickers by offering to drop criminal prostitution charges or expunge a criminal prostitution record.
Cooper said the department received “thousands of tips in every day” about child sexual abuse images — often referred to as child pornography — but that they couldn’t investigate everything because “we don’t have the bodies.”
The department, he said, is “doing more with less.”
Homelessness spending explained
During her presentation, Halcon gave the supervisors a breakdown of how much money the county was spending to address homelessness across all county departments: $178 million in the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Of that, she said, about $80 million — by far the largest chunk of funding — went toward temporary shelter and housing. The smallest chunk — less than $5 million — went to homelessness prevention. At the May 23 board meeting, Halcon told the supervisors that for every one person who exits homelessness in the county, 3.2 people become homeless.
After hearing all presentations, the supervisors made a small handful of amendments to the budget proposal. Only one was related to homelessness, with more money going toward cleaning up encampments on the American River Parkway.
The supervisors asked staff to add a total of $7.65 million in funding. Of the new funds:
▪ $300,000 was slated to go toward flood protection in south county; $5 million will go toward fixing roads
▪ $1.7 million would go toward enhanced American River Parkway cleanup efforts, including new vehicles and new staff
▪ $168,000 would go toward making CalFresh benefits available at farmers markets so low-income people receiving those benefits can more easily buy fresh produce
▪ An additional $463,000 went to the District Attorney’s Office to fund two new full-time attorney positions.
County staff recommended making up most of the difference by reducing contributions to the general reserve fund by $6.7 million.
The board had blocked out Thursday and Friday for additional hearings, but canceled them after they wrapped up before 5 p.m. Wednesday. Supervisors Sue Frost, Phil Serna, Pat Hume and Board Chair Rich Desmond voted to approve the budget proposal. Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, who represents south Sacramento, was absent Wednesday.
Toward the beginning of the hearing, Serna had addressed his colleagues and the public about the responsibility of the office.
“We have two opportunities each year to really put not just our mouth but our intent as local policymakers and local elected representatives, to place resources where we place our values here in Sacramento County,” Serna said, referring to both the preliminary budget deliberations this month and the finalization in September.
“This is our budget, this is the five of ours,” he continued. “Ultimately, when we are approached in our communities about what we did and did not do, what we funded and did not fund, or how we funded it, the buck stops with us.”