We have a number of priorities as a County. But public safety is at the top of the list. You need that basic sense of security before we can strive for our many other worthy goals.
Many departments and programs play a part in that. I want to take a minute to recognize the most visible members of our public safety efforts: the men and women of our Sheriff’s Department.
Between the unincorporated area and the nine cities they contract with, the department provides law enforcement for nearly a million residents. It operates seven jails, managing a population of around five thousand people at any given time. And it provides security and other services for the Superior Court at the various court buildings, including the new downtown courthouse.
The duties in that outline are tough enough. Then add to that a series of challenges the department has risen to in recent years. Realignment, the County’s shifted focus to reentry, the expansion of mental health services in our jails, body-worn cameras, and so on. The department – from recently re-elected Sheriff Bill Gore to deputies on the streets – has proven itself capable of adapting to meet new demands.
When we opened the Waterfront Park, we envisioned it as “San Diego’s front porch.” It’s inviting and high-profile by design, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it’s become a go-to gathering spot for various protests and rallies. The crowds themselves have been peaceful, but our Sheriff’s Department has helped ensure that these events go smoothly.
Likewise, we relied on the department when President Trump’s visit to border wall prototypes crossed a stretch of County property. It went without incident, but an enormous amount of effort went into contingency planning for such an emotionally charged event.
Our Sheriff’s Department also plays a role in keeping County employees safe in their workplaces. After the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, we launched a review of security at County facilities. Sheriff’s Department staff have done assessments on more than 200 sites or departments. In the recently passed County budget, we set aside several million dollars to work on a variety of safety improvements based on those assessments. And we’ve set in place a schedule to repeat and update those site checks in the future.
As part of that same security initiative, the Sheriff’s Department has trained thousands of employees on what to do in an active shooter situation. One County employee found the lessons valuable when he wound up near the concert shooting in Las Vegas last year. I hope you’ll never have to put this training into practice, but we should all be thankful we have the guidance of these law enforcement professionals.
I also want to thank deputies for providing not just physical security but adding to the County’s fiscal stability in our latest labor contract. Just last week, the board gave final approval to a new five-year agreement with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Negotiations are always a balancing act. We want employees compensated fairly for the tremendous work they do while also making sure we’re responsible with taxpayer dollars. The deal we reached satisfies both those demands for the years ahead.
Crime-fighting is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Sheriff’s Department, but there’s so much more they do. The Take Me Home program helps locate people with Alzheimer’s or other disabilities. Deputies carry out evacuations during wildfires. They teach new drivers about risks and responsibilities. They collect prescription drugs to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. The RESPECT youth mentoring program steers kids away from trouble.
As is true with every part of our organization, the department faces challenges. But as you can see in the examples I gave, it doesn’t shy away from change.
Even though they may feel like a separate agency sometimes, Sheriff’s employees are part of our County family. I hope you share both my pride in calling them colleagues and my appreciation for their work providing the security that’s the foundation for so much of what we do.