Jail pink slips should send up a public safety S.O.S

February 14, 2010

Joe Cortez


San Luis Obispo Sheriff Pat Hedges recently had the unfortunate task of notifying 11 valued employees that they may soon be out of a job due to potential budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. The loss of even one job in an economy such as this is troubling, but the repercussions of these particular cuts may have a far-reaching, long lasting and costly effect on the health and safety of our communities.

The 11 employees that may be laid off all happen to work in the county jail; 10 are correctional officers, and one is a jail technician. These potential job losses are due to a deficit in the sheriff’s budget that may be as high as $2 million in the coming year. Should these cuts occur, it will leave Sheriff Hedges with little choice but to close an inmate housing unit due to a lack of available correctional staff.

A jail housing unit typically contains 50 to 60 beds, meaning the cuts would translate into 50 to 60 inmates being released before they’ve fully paid their debt to society. Some people may argue that it is only low risk inmates who will be released, but the reality is that with all the various programs in place to divert convicted offenders away from incarceration there are fewer and fewer “low risk” inmates behind bars.

Consider that a substantial number of convictions in our courts occur as a result of plea bargains, dismissal of a felony charge upon a guilty plea to a misdemeanor such as a burglary charge being reduced to trespassing. As a result, the sentences being served by inmates often bear little semblance to the severity of the original crime. It is entirely possible for inmates with violent histories to be released early only because their current sentence was considered low risk. Take for example the case of Alberto Alvarez  who was recently convicted of murdering former Lompoc Police Officer Richard May. It just so happens that when Alvarez murdered officer May he was on the streets after being released early from prison for marijuana for sale, a non violent, low-level offense.

Previous cuts to the sheriff’s budget have primarily resulted in cutbacks to patrol staffing. Reduced patrols have been felt by residents living in our unincorporated communities and the outlying areas. The new cuts and resultant early release of 50 to 60 inmates will have a cost that will be borne by us all whether we live in cities or unincorporated towns. These inmates, many of whom are undereducated and short on job skills, are being released into a hard-hit economy where even college grads are having difficulty finding meaningful work. Add in California’s notoriously high recidivism rate and it seems like a sure recipe for increased crime victimization in our communities. These cuts are in addition to state budget cuts resulting in thousands of additional state prison inmates set for early release.

Former President Bill Clinton said, “Law and order is the first responsibility of government.” With tourism being our number one industry at over $1 billion per year, it is imperative that we maintain safe and healthy communities to attract tourists, create local jobs and maintain a quality of life we all can enjoy.

I have no doubt Sheriff Hedges will be a strong and effective advocate for additional funding to maintain necessary jail staffing. Our county supervisors have a long history of supporting public safety, and I ask that you join me in contacting your local supervisor to ensure safe communities are their number one priority during the upcoming budget preparations.

Joe Cortez is the former Chief of Police for the City of Pismo Beach, and a 30-year law enforcement veteran who has served 15 years as a chief of police. He is currently a candidate for Sheriff of San Luis Obispo County.

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July 4, 2004 was the last time a good friend of mine went to Beach fire works display. He has had wife and 2 year old daughter with him. He entered at the time when there was not road blocking or sign posting prohibiting parking lot annex the beach. He briefly set up his wife and child with a blanket and went back to his car to get baby necessities and saw that his vehicle was gone and other cars were being towed. All he had was his wallet and keys and was bare footed. He approached an officer, told him the circumstance, the officer said there was a sign at the entrance which was now blocked off. The officer told him he would have to go the Police department and get a release. He walked a half mile bare footed to the agency, got a release and was told he had to get his car 3 miles away at Central Coast Towing in Oceano. There was no public transportation operating that day. He walked in the hot asphalt till his foot was hurting. He approached a CHP officer on the road talking with a Sheriff unit and told them what happened, and that he has marooned his 2 year old baby at the beach for almost 2.5 hours with no supplies and could not walk anymore. The CHP officer believed him and gave him a ride to the tow yard which had just closed, there was still somebody inside and an extra fee was charged to release the vehicle after hours. My friend showed me the PBPD Veh Impound Release #000473 / Central Coast Towing receipt # 0334 (I copied it for Cortez to view). Jason stated to me that his daughter is now 9 years old, the worst thing that has ever happened to his daughter was under the management of Joe Cortez whose only qualification would be in Corrections or in a Cattle Ranch but not as Sheriff. Jason believes that Cortez did not respond back to him because he might have felt he would not appreciate the scale of crowd management. Jason’s response (a Retired public employee with management and legal experience) said all other Forth of July events in other cites handled by other agencies were well organized and managed since then! This man only have a want to be Sheriff but not the capacity to be! Jason added, there were other families who had their car towed without adequate notice “who also had children with them!”

Mr Cortez,

Yove done a a good job of pointing out a fairly obvious dilemma. NOt very well written but thats ok you want to be Sheriff not poet laurette. Unfortunatley what you havent done is point out any solutions or offered any alternatives. Im afraid this might indicate that you have a rather shallow approach to management. Though my mind is open Id have to say that on the basis of this article there is no way I would ever vote for you.

not a big fan of this guy…he is just trying to get your vote…Ian is a way better guy…HALF OF PISMO PD didn’t vote to recomend him for Sheriff and that is HIS old DEPT!!…That is a BIG CLUE

Okay you don’t need to be a fan of Cortez or of any of the other candidates running for the position, but tell us why Ian is the guy to be our next Sheriff. He has a High School diploma, or GED depending on who you talk to. And he was moved up in the ranks of SLOPD to his current title of Captain because the chief lowered the education qualifications so he could become eligible. I could go on, but I think even you, once you get away from Ian being a nice guy, and if you were willing to really study the candidates qualifications, may come to the conclusion Ian isn’t ready to take command of the largest law enforcement agency in our county, not just yet.

Quickpick is on to something. Parkinson is coming across like another good ol boy who will keep things operating as they always have. We need an educated Sheriff with personal ethics and the business sense to run a fairly large budet. Parkinson simply doesn’t have the experience to handle the financial and personnel issues facing the department. However, he would be great on a swat event, but that is not what we need from our elected official.

Cortez missed the mark when it comes to saving the 11 jobs in the jail. As a hotel operator, I would have a set number of staff regardless of the number of rooms rented. Staff are assigned positions that oversee certain areas of the hotel, which applies to the jail. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if each officer is wathcing over 50 or 75 inmates, they can still do their job just fine. Stating that the ONLY choice is to release inmates if the positions are lost is inaccurate and uninformed. This is an attempt to get the vote of the correctional officers and really does not have to impact public safety as he is leading us to believe.

Pismo was the worst, in the old days except for good old “Smitty” don’t know his last name but if he’s still alive, he would be the man for the job. Intergrity , compasision and a willingness to let the population police themselves, he always taught us moderation. Hell maybe they made him the janitor and my wish will come true from my last blog on the double dipping article. And to Bob from SLO, who writes,”I have heard that the Sheriff’s department is running at the same number of patrol Deputies has they had in the early 80’s.” kudoes, . More neighborhood watch, more citizens on patrols, these are all things that can make up the difference, and of course no more two or three scoups, fat ice cream eaters. And if you think that’s a personal attack, it’s not it’s a fact.

The proposed San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department Budget for 2010 EXCEEDS $57 MILLION DOLLARS!

And evidently that’s NOT enough money that they have to let convicted criminals out of jail early!

And if they are letting inmates out because of budget cuts then that must mean that the jail is FULL!

And then it would be logical that for every new conviction that gets sentenced to incareration would dictate they would have to let somebody out early to jail a new inmate!