Concerns about gangs, drugs and response times topped the list of questions lobbed by Nipomo residents at county Sheriff Ian Parkinson during a town hall-style event Tuesday.
About 40 residents attended the forum at Nipomo High School, the first of 10 that Parkinson will attend across San Luis Obispo County through mid-June.
“My only concern is response times,” said Mike Eisner, a Nipomo resident and South County Advisory Council member who recently participated in the department’s Citizen Academy. “I think the Sheriff’s Department is very capable of handling a situation — once they arrive.”
Parkinson said at the meeting the average response time to a call is about 20 minutes; in the 2009-10 fiscal year, the department reported an 11-minute response average in the South County to life-threatening calls. The target response time was 10 minutes.
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Parkinson said one of his main goals is to try to put more deputies on the street — but “it’s not going to happen when the budget is grim,” he added.
Instead, he’s looking toward other solutions, such as switching around schedules to add patrol units without additional cost, and upgrading computer systems in patrol cars so deputies can file reports without returning to an office.
One forum attendee questioned Parkinson’s stance on issuing concealed weapons permits — an issue that came up several times at forums and events last year when Parkinson ran against former Pismo Beach police Chief Joe Cortez for sheriff.
Parkinson said he has to evaluate each application for a concealed firearm permit to determine whether “good cause” exists to issue one. More than 200 people in the county have such permits; Parkinson said he approves about two-thirds of the applications he receives, and the majority are renewals.
Another person asked about ongoing crime trends in the area.
Cmdr. Ken Conway, who heads up the department’s south substation in Oceano, said vehicle burglaries have spiked in Nipomo in the past few weeks. Deputies have also noticed that while methamphetamine is still a “drug of choice,” heroin is making a comeback.
“A lot of our business in South County is people under the influence” or selling drugs, Conway said.
Gang activity in the county has remained steady, said a sheriff’s deputy who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons. There are 1,200 to 1,400 documented gang members in the county, he said.