Tehama County Sheriff's Department struggles to fill positions

The undersheriff and county leaders point to the rising cost of pensions as the reason why it's hard to get employees to come to the Tehama County Sheriff's Department.

Posted: Jun 11, 2019 4:51 PM
Updated: Jun 12, 2019 9:55 AM

TEHAMA COUNTY, Calif. - “Through here we’re coming to various disturbance, domestic, juvenile calls, narcotic sales from this trailer park as well,” said Zachary Backus President of the Tehama County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

Deputy Backus has a lot on his plate.

“We take calls from Bowman at Highway 36 to all the way down in Capay near the county line,” Backus said.

That’s 3600 square miles across Tehama County.

If one of the few number oof overnight deputies is patrolling the Red Bluff area and a call comes out on the other side of the county it could take about 30 minutes for them to respond.

People who live in problem areas say they can tell that the sheriff’s department is understaffed.

“It’s running them thin," one Red Bluff man said. "I understand they can’t be where they need to be when there is something serious going on… you wish and hope for them to be there quicker but they can’t be.”

In fact, 20% of the patrol deputies positions are vacant.

TCSD employees are paid 13% below the state average.

Between that and a not-so-enticing pension plan, the undersheriff says a few employees have left.

And they’re not getting many new candidates.

“We have lost our competitive edge. The county needs to recognize that our employees are valuable,” said Undersheriff Phil Johnston.

Right now, it’s impacting morale. As for public safety?

“It’s going to become an issue. We think we have a handle on it, but it’s like controlled chaos; you have that one person that can leave and it’s a tough thing for us to fill,” said Johnston.

The county says the state pension system CalPERS is to blame.

To offset rising costs, new sheriff’s department hires pay in 13% toward retirement, and older employees put in 9%.

But that’s still not enough to cover the cost of unfunded liabilities.

“At this point it’s going to have to be current employees that cover that cost and make sure that the program is well funded so when they retire the funds will be available for their retirement,” said Tehama County CAO Bill Goodwin.

The county is considering a sales tax measure to offset rising costs it just can't meet.

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