Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson: Retaining deputies, other staff a critical problem

Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson told supervisors Tuesday that last week's decision to close one floor of the jail had to be done to avoid an even worse alternative.

Johnson called it a business decision and in the best interest of the community for now.

"It's not in the best interest in our community ever to release people into the community. But if you look at the bigger picture and down the road, and we're having to end up shutting down two floors, or the entire jail because we have no staff, that is not the greater good," he said.

The lack of staffing at the jail has reached a critical stage, Johnson said, as he struggles to hire and then retain employees.

The county in January started giving incentives to new hires, and Johnson said it helped as he was able to hire eight patrol deputies and 10 correctional deputies. Unfortunately, 15 of the 18 new hires have since left the department, he said.

“The problem is when we were making those hires, they were going into the jail for the training program and these trainees were seeing that people don’t get time off. They’re working six or seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. … So we were having people quit right off the training program because they’re saying, ‘No way I will do this.’"

Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson addresses the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson addresses the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Moreover, a recent survey of jail employees revealed they are burned out, morale is low, “conditions are dire, tempers and attitudes are running short,” Johnson said.

“So, it became a situation where we were going to have roughly 10 more leave if we didn’t do something because they were not going to continue to work and not get time off. That’s why the decision was made kind of quickly and suddenly,” he added.

Supervisor Patrick Jones, who represents the county’s fourth district, said things need to change. “We have to do something different than what we are doing today," Jones said.

“The community is upset. I’m upset. I don’t like reading in the paper that we shut down a portion of our jail,” the supervisor added.

Johnson told Jones and the four other supervisors that he is working on bringing a package of pay increases and bonuses to offer jail employees to help with retention, which the sheriff believes is the biggest challenge facing the jail.

“I think we got a good proposal coming to you and hopefully you are going to see that in a week or two,” Johnson said.

The closure took away 120 inmate beds at the Redding jail, and there will be 80 fewer inmates, Johnson said.

Johnson had hoped to transfer some inmates to facilities in other counties or to other states.

He told supervisors that county counsel advised him that he can’t transfer the inmates to other states.

Johnson also contacted the 57 other counties in California about taking some of the displaced prisoners.

“Only two said they would think about it,” he said.

This all comes as the county is moving forward with plans to build a new jail and rehabilitation center.

Some have wondered the value of more jail beds if the sheriff’s department doesn’t have the manpower to staff a larger facility.

School resource officers

In late May, Supervisor Jones asked Sheriff Johnson to work with the schools and find a way to get more resource officers on rural campuses.

The request came in the wake of the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers.

On Tuesday, Johnson told supervisors that he does not have the deputies to fill the role of school resource officers.

“I don’t think it’s a good use of our resources because we need patrol deputies … before we need school resource officers,” Johnson said.

Shasta County Supervisor Patrick Jones attends the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb . 8.
Shasta County Supervisor Patrick Jones attends the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb . 8.

Too, the county probation department will staff school resource officers with armed probation officers. Not every rural school will have a resource officer, but Johnson said, “It’s proven to be very effective.”

Johnson said probation officers have a better ability than his deputies to address the needs of students.

Still, Johnson believes there’s a more effective way to keep students safe on campus.

“I wish the schools would each identify a campus employee, more realistically probably a teacher, that is willing to be armed at school and trained professionally,” Johnson said.

He said he did not know the details of putting together a program like that and acknowledged that schools and their employees would have to agree to arming staff.

Supervisors were open to the idea and want to discuss it more at a later meeting, maybe bringing in school superintendents and the probation department.

Supervisor Mary Rickert said for schools in her district, like Fall River High School or Burney High School, it could be at least an hour before a deputy could respond in the event of a campus shooting.

“I could see a disaster happening if there wasn’t somebody there to protect the students on campus,” she said.

Rickert told the Record Searchlight after the meeting that ultimately the decision to arm a teacher other school employee would be up to the school board.

“I don’t want to overreach,” Rickert said.

Shasta County Supervisor Mary Rickert speaks during the Board of Supervisors meeting on March 1.
Shasta County Supervisor Mary Rickert speaks during the Board of Supervisors meeting on March 1.

David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly "Buzz on the Street" column. He’s part of a team of dedicated reporters that investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Reach him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-338-8323. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Retaining staff a critical problem, Shasta County sheriff says