Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, Nov. 10 @ 12:55 p.m.
Del Norte Sheriff Says Collaboration Is Necessary To Keep Staff, Fix 'Imminent Issues' At The Jail
Sheriff Garrett Scott envisioned a Del Norte County with only one deputy on patrol if he and county supervisors don’t come up with a way to keep staff.
Employee retention is a problem every rural sheriff in California faces, Scott told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. He said he’s at the point of shutting down shifts, which will affect every district in Del Norte County since the sheriff also functions as the coroner.
“Last year we had 248 deaths in Del Norte County,” Scott said. “Our deputies went to those coroner cases. If we don’t have a deputy on duty, who goes to those? And the crimes that are out there — your districts are not going to have law enforcement. They’re just not.”
Four supervisors approved creating the ad-hoc committee Scott says is necessary to combat competition from other law enforcement agencies and to address a jail that is outdated and in disrepair. District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard, who was attending the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting in Southern California, was absent.
Former sheriff and District 5 Supervisor Dean Wilson and his colleague, District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey, will be on the committee.
The Board’s decision came after they tabled the issue at their Oct. 24 meeting. Howard had argued that since the community approved Measure R — the 2020 sales tax initiative that was supposed to allocate more money toward public safety — they should have a say in how those dollars are spent.
On Tuesday, Scott said because of California’s Ralph M. Brown Act he “can’t just sit down with all five of you guys in a private meeting and throw ideas around.” He said he wanted to get the ad-hoc group together to come up with constructive ideas and bring them back to the entire Board.
Scott also mentioned the Del Norte County Grand Jury Report, released in July, which raised “imminent issues” at the jail.
The Grand Jury toured the jail in April and interviewed the sheriff and staff members prior to releasing its report. At that time, the jail was short-staffed and the sheriff’s office had six vacancies, which included two correctional officers and three deputies.
Noting that the facility consists of two wings, one built in the 1960s and another in the 1990s, the Grand Jury report says both sides of the jail are outdated and in need of repair.
The Grand Jury found an overall lack in maintenance at the jail, according to the report. While the Del Norte County Building and Maintenance Department stationed two staff members at the jail at the beginning of 2023, by April there was only one maintenance employee assigned to the facility, according to the report.
The report lists concerns raised by the county Environmental Health Division including mold, broken or missing tiles in restrooms and living areas, peeling paint and rust. Environmental Health had recommended jail staff inspect the holding tanks to ensure those issues were rectified. But while staff told the Grand Jury that they did those inspections and they submitted “help tickets” to the maintenance department, they did not provide logbooks or reports by the time the report was published.
“During the tour, we noted multiple examples of the findings by the Environmental Health Division, (including) damaged or missing floor tiles as well as cracked and broken windows. Peeling paint and missing ceiling tiles,” the Grand Jury Report states. “High-traffic areas on the floor appeared worn through and are no longer sealed from contaminants.”
According to the Grand Jury Report, DNSO staff told jury members that County Maintenance cannibalized HVAC units for parts to keep two functional units working.
“This means that currently, the county jail’s HVAC system is circulating 33% of the air that is designed to move throughout the facility causing heightened levels of humidity,” the report states. “Staff stated that the jail is ‘comfortable’ three months out of the year.”
Other issues include jail inmates being able to see monitor screens, which Grand Jury views as a security threat, as well as “as many as six cameras” being inoperable.
The Grand Jury also raised concerns that the jail’s “lack of competitive compensation and difficult working conditions” makes it difficult for the sheriff’s office to hire new staff members and retain existing ones.
“Measure R has provided the Sheriff’s office with additional funding for staff, which has been helpful in mitigating staff shortages,” the Grand Jury Report states. “But it was reported that many staff members gain experience at the Jail then seek higher-paying positions with similar duties elsewhere. Failed background checks from applicants are also a cause for a lower hiring pool.”
In its report, the Grand Jury recommended “diversifying recruiting strategies” to fill vacancies and for the Sheriff’s Office to hire its own maintenance staff and outside contractors if maintenance can’t keep up repairs.
On Tuesday, Scott cited the Environmental Health Division inspection reports as an imminent issue that involves his office and the Board of Supervisors.
“I think we need to team up on some of these imminent issues and have discussions with our auditor and our admin team and different groups and figure out, can our building maintenance division, can they fix those right now because they’re imminent,” Scott said, “Or do we need to bring that to the Board and vote on it and send some money to get those (issues) fixed.”
Scott also pointed out that the Building Maintenance Department isn’t large and neither is its budget. He said the ad-hoc group can sit down with Allen Winogradov, parks and building maintenance director, to ask if his department can afford to rectify those jail issues.
“Maybe he doesn’t,” Scott said. “Maybe we can come up with different ideas and bring that to the Board.”
On Oct. 26, Scott told the Wild Rivers Outpost that the county plans to use $3.1 million in Community Funded Project dollars from the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein to rehabilitate the older section of the jail.
Initially, DNSO and county officials thought replacing the entire facility would be needed, which would cost more than $35 million. However, an engineering analysis of the building found that the structural integrity is still sound, according to Scott, but more money is needed for further rehabilitation.
Wilson, Scott’s predecessor by about eight years, told Howard last month that Scott reached out for help, though many of the DNSO’s challenges are “purely internal.”
On Tuesday, Wilson said that many of the concerns at the Del Norte County Jail are long-term.
“Some of these fixes are not going to be instantaneous or even within a year,” he said. “But we have to have a strategic plan on how we’re going to address some of these. Some of these are safety issues, but we’re also facing potential jail sanctions if many of these are not met.”