Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office: the price of public safety

Sheriff Gary Kuntz

What is the purpose of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office?

As the chief law enforcement officer of Calaveras County, the sheriff is responsible to: preserve the peace and prevent crime; investigate public offenses that have been committed; arrest persons who attempt to commit or who have committed a public offense; attend to the courts and act as the court crier; obey the lawful orders and directions of the courts held within the county; take charge of the county jail and the prisoners in it; and serve all process and notices in the manner prescribed by law.

The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office employs the Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving philosophy to accomplish its mission. Through the development of police and community partnerships, Neighborhood Watch and proactive problem-solving strategies, the office addresses the causes of crime as well as community concerns. The COPS philosophy has a history of reducing violent crime in areas dedicated to this practice.

What is the sheriff’s authority?

The Sheriff’s Office has a long and noble history. It dates back more than 1,000 years and originated in England. The sheriff is the only elected law enforcement official in America and has ultimate law enforcement authority within his or her jurisdiction. A sheriff serves as the last line of defense for his or her citizens. He or she is the guardian of liberty and the protector of rights. Sheriffs take a solemn oath to “uphold and defend” the U.S. Constitution and to protect and defend their citizens from all enemies, both “foreign and domestic.”

When the United States was founded, the framers spent countless hours devising a Constitution that would protect future generations from tyranny and government criminality. A system of checks and balances was established to keep all government, especially at the federal level, from becoming too powerful and abusive. At the county level, a sheriff was established to uphold the laws of the land and to keep the peace. The framers recognized that without this authority, lawlessness and insurrection would prevail.

All 58 California county sheriffs are empowered to uphold the law. As the top cop in the county, the sheriff has the power to usurp an individual’s freedom and hold them for trial. This is a very important authority as no other county elected official has the power to incarcerate people against their will until tried for an alleged crime.

How is the Sheriff’s Office funded?

The Sheriff’s Office is a General Fund department within the county and is therefore funded by the county taxpayers who contribute property taxes, use taxes, permit fees and sales taxes. In the fiscal year 2013-2014 General Fund Proposed Budget of $36.9 million, the Calaveras County administrative officer recommended funding public safety at $16.9 million or 46 percent of proposed General Fund spending. This is an increase of $223,000 or 1.3 percent over last year’s budget that represents the highest priority spending as established by the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors.

The Sheriff’s Office also receives revenues from a variety of state and federal grants for specific law enforcement purposes, and for charges for services to other agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers (New Hogan Reservoir), the U.S. Forest Service and Marine Safety to pay for patrolling New Melones and Camanche reservoirs.

Does the sheriff operate the county jail?  

Operation and staffing requirement for the county jail is the sheriff’s second-largest budgetary responsibility. The fiscal year 2013-2014 recommended budget for the new jail is $2.75 million and includes the addition of four new correctional officers to properly staff the new facility. Even with the addition of the new correctional officers, the jail will only operate at 50 percent capacity, which can only be achieved by reducing the budget for supplies and services to house inmates. In either case, the new jail will be in a state of noncompliance with Title 15 standards for lawful incarceration of inmates.

What other departments are under the sheriff’s authority?

Other departments under the sheriff’s authority include Marine Safety; the Narcotics Enforcement Unit, Special Weapons and Tactics, court security; dispatch calls; Office of Emergency Services; Search and Rescue; and AB 109 Implementation.

Is public safety the highest priority for funding in the General Fund?

Most people agree that law and order is the highest function of government. Individuals can’t protect themselves from incursion from abroad and from lawlessness within the community. While many functions of government may be essential to a free society, there is no more indispensable service than the protection of our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” A stable, well-funded Sheriff’s Office provides this invaluable protection.

Paul Stein is a freelance writer and former Calaveras County supervisor. Contact him at pstein@volcano.net.

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