California Sheriff Says Public Safety at Risk Amidst Staffing Shortage

fsHH / Pixabay

California's soft-on-crime policies and contempt for the Second Amendment are creating a perfect storm for criminals, especially in more rural parts of the state. 

Many jurisdictions are dealing with an exodus of police officers and sheriff deputies; some choosing to head to cities like Los Angeles or Alameda, which are offering huge sign-on bonuses in an attempt to get veteran officers to transfer, while others are moving to friendlier environments like Texas, Arizona, and Florida. 

The impact can be felt statewide, but the problems are most acute in rural counties, where there were never a lot of police to begin with. 

In Merced County, which stretches from the Sierra Nevada foothills west across vast acres of orchards and farmland, Sheriff Vern Warnke increasingly finds himself the only law enforcement officer available to answer a call for help.

Most recently, the department received a call from a woman regarding a domestic dispute, saying her husband had a gun. With no deputies in close range, Warnke reported to the scene, wearing his signature cowboy hat and his badge hung around his neck. He found a man pacing with a loaded gun tucked into his waistband and managed to deescalate the situation.

“We had nobody to send, and I, as the sheriff, I'm still a cop, I still love what I do,” said Warnke. “But we're at that point when the sheriff and administration are having to take calls.”

Warnke has worked for the Merced sheriff's office for 45 years and has been sheriff for the last decade. So it's with heavy heart, he said, that he's watched deputy vacancies climb to the point where he believes residents are at risk. In February, Warnke posted a video that amounted to a plea for help, warning residents that the staffing shortage was now so severe calls for service could go unheeded.

“I'm fighting for the sheriff's office’s life right now,” Warnke says in the video. “That means I'm fighting for your public safety. So folks, it's bad."

All the more reason why Californians should be getting their concealed carry permits. Warnke has been a vocal proponent of lawful carry, even before the staffing levels at the sheriff's office reached a critical stage, but now there's a very good chance that when seconds count, deputies will be many miles and precious minutes away from being able to respond. 

At this point, just four deputies patrol the county’s nearly 2,000 square miles during daytime shifts. A lieutenant and two sergeants are covering dispatch shifts. If someone calls in sick, colleagues are asked to work beyond their 12-hour shifts. One dispatcher clocked more than 700 hours of overtime over the course of a year.

“Our correctional bureaus are understaffed and overworked. Our patrol deputies are understaffed and overworked. Our communication center with the dispatchers — it could be to the point when you dial 911, we have nobody who can answer it,” Warnke said in the video. “And that's not a joke. It's not a threat. It's a fact.”

It's not just Merced County. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, police staffing levels are the lowest the state has seen in over 30 years. 

We've already seen how law enforcement agencies like the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department have used these staffing shortfalls as an excuse for lengthy delays in processing concealed carry requests. If they don't have the staff to manage these requests, they argue, delays are inevitable... even when it takes more than a year to issue a carry permit. 

This would be the same Alameda County, by the way, that one anti-violence activist recently called the "wild, wild West" because it's "full of guns". As it turns out, despite all of California's gun control laws, it's still much easier to illegally obtain and carry a firearm in California than it is to go through the proper channels before exercising your Second Amendment rights.  

A right delayed is a right denied, even in the best of circumstances, but the delays that many Californians are facing are putting them at risk at a time when police agencies are struggling to put officers on the street. The problem is compounded by California's post-Bruen carry laws, which ban lawful carry in almost every publicly accessible space and allow for localities to charge an absurd amount of money to obtain a carry permit. 

Californians can't depend on the police to protect them, and the state's Democratic majority is making it as hard as possible to protect yourself. Something has to give here... and it should be the state's draconian carry laws that buckle under the weight of the Constitution and common sense.