Hoping to identify possible sources of funds to build new jails, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors instead heard numerous law-enforcement officers argue Tuesday that their various programs' budgets should not be cut to finance new detention facilities.
At a hearing designed to help the supervisors decide where to look for money needed to relieve the county's serious jail overcrowding, Sheriff John Duffy and more than two dozen other speakers told the board only where not to look--namely, their own favored programs.
Duffy Protects His Turf
"Absolutely not!" Duffy roared when asked whether any of the six Sheriff's Department programs or staffing policies under scrutiny for possible budget cuts could be scaled back to help build jails.
Supervisor Susan Golding, however, succinctly framed the dilemma facing the supervisors when she noted that there are "no easy (budget) cuts left" to provide the millions of dollars needed for jails.
"The programs we're looking at are ones that this board would like to fund," Golding said. "The problem is whether or not we can continue to fund them and build jails . . . at the same time. All of these programs are worthwhile. But if we have got to find additional funding for jails, it has to come from somewhere."
Programs totaling nearly $16 million were reviewed by the supervisors, including the CAL-ID program, an automated fingerprint identification network that assists in the apprehension of criminals statewide; a countywide computerized investigative system called ARJIS; the sheriff's street gang unit; the department's ASTREA helicopters, used for rescues and arrests, and the department's public affairs and crime prevention unit.
Old Idea Discussed Again
In addition, the oft-discussed question of whether the county's personnel costs could be cut by staffing jails with correctional officers rather than higher-paid deputy sheriffs was again debated. The budgets of the Probation Department and county Marshal's Office were also analyzed for possible cuts.
San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender bolstered Duffy's bid to deflect possible budget cuts by describing the CAL-ID program, which costs the county $1.3 million annually, as "the most advanced technological (development) in law enforcement since the car and radio."
Superior Court Judge Richard Haden added that the program dramatically speeds the identification of dangerous criminals whose past records might otherwise not be known before they are released on bail, as well as helps to quickly clear up cases of mistaken identity that results in individuals being wrongfully held in jail.
Similar comments were made by other speakers defending each of the other programs against possible budget cuts. For example, the supervisors were warned that cutbacks in the sheriff's gang squad would lead to an increase in gang violence, and that reductions in the sheriff's crime prevention office would have a harmful impact on the establishment and maintenance of Neighborhood Watch programs.
ASTREA Is Supported
Coronado Police Chief Gerald Boyd, meanwhile, urged the supervisors not to reduce funding for the sheriff's ASTREA helicopters, saying "its life and property-saving roles are legendary."
Though the helicopters are used primarily for law-enforcement purposes, they also are used to fight fires and for medical rescues and evacuations.
"What is a life worth?" asked Larry Beveridge, whose 9-year-old son died of hypothermia on a mountain in 1981.
Golding responded: "No one can put a price on life. But we're faced with having to do something similar to that. And it's not an easy choice."
There were some testy exchanges between Duffy and the supervisors, several of whom expressed frustration with the sheriff's adamant attitude that his department should be spared budget cuts to help fund jail construction.
"I do not believe that we're talking about a trade-off between CAL-ID, ASTREA, ARJIS . . . and jails," Duffy said. "The idea of cutting any of these before there would be cuts in a lot of other areas of San Diego County (government) would be vigorously opposed by me."
The reason why the sheriff's programs are under review, Supervisor Brian Bilbray explained, is that they are classified as discretionary county services, in contrast to the large number of state-mandated programs "that we're told continually . . . we can't cut."
"That's a bunch of baloney, too!" Duffy replied.
Later this year, the supervisors plan to widen their search for jail funds to a wide range of social, community, health and general government programs. However, the supervisors realize that officials involved with those programs, following the lead of Tuesday's speakers, are unlikely to react passively to the prospect of budget cuts in their respective areas.