The new sheriff, who took office in January, is on a hiring spree to make up for what he describes as his predecessor’s failings

By Jeff Horseman | jhorseman@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise
Published: March 4, 2019 at 6:00 am | Updated: March 4, 2019 at 6:00 am

For years, Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff said shrinking budgets imposed on him by the Board of Supervisors made it hard to put as many deputies on the street as he would have liked, particularly in unincorporated communities.

But those budget woes were overblown, Sniff’s successor, Sheriff Chad Bianco, said in a recent interview. Sniff, in Bianco’s view, misled the public about his department’s budget and sat on money that could have been – and still can be used – to bolster public safety.

“The misinformation that … the former sheriff has fed the county about his hands being tied and his budget cut and (that) every bit of his woe was because of the Board of Supervisors (is) completely false,” said Bianco, who took office less than two months ago after unseating Sniff in November.

Sniff still disagrees. In an emailed statement, the former sheriff said Bianco’s comments “smack of continued campaign rhetoric nonsense, and not based in fact, reality or the record, and seems to betray a confusion and a lack of understanding of the department’s budget, the record, and the county’s budget process basics.”

Now, with the long-delayed Indio jail expansion set to open as soon as August and with what he believes is a pressing manpower shortage, Bianco is in hiring mode. He says he’s looking to bring on 400 correctional deputies and 256 regular deputies as quickly as he can.

“I have to have … 650 by June. It’s impossible,” he said. “But what I found out is over the last three, four years, we have just completely failed to maintain our staffing where we should have been.

“We have 119 deputies assigned to unincorporated areas of Riverside (County)… We’re supposed to have 375.

“That’s what we have the money for and we’ve always had the money for it.”

Sniff, who became sheriff in 2007, doesn’t think it’ll happen.

“He does not have the funds to support 650 new hires, not remotely,” the former sheriff said.

Still a problem?

Bianco said the Sheriff’s Department’s budget – $710 million for the current fiscal year, according to county documents – was his biggest concern as he started his four-year term.

“I quickly learned that we don’t have a budget problem. And we’ve never had a budget problem,” Bianco said. “Honestly, we’ve had a sheriff problem.

“My biggest concern right now is, how can I hire the amount of people that we have in our budget that we should have employed?” he added. “How can I hire them as fast as I can hire them?”

Sniff, in an in-person interview on Friday, suggested Bianco doesn’t yet know what he’s talking about.

“The reality is, he still does have a budget problem.”

Sniff noted that in past years, budget hearings took place in late May or early June for the fiscal year that begins July 1, complicating his ability to get reliable budget numbers and hire accordingly.

Sniff thinks it’s possible Bianco believes he has money to hire because he’s considering restricted funds set aside for specific purposes that can’t be spent elsewhere. But those “sub-funds,” he said, come with legal restrictions and “are already earmarked for upcoming real needs.”

One problem that both men agree is real is a need to beef up patrols in unincorporated parts of Riverside County.
Former Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff (File photo).

Unlike cities that have contracts with the Sheriff’s Department to pay for a specific level of service, deputy patrols in the unincorporated areas – where close to 400,000 people live – depend solely on county funding.

To read expanded article, click here.