North County getting more deputies after complaints of slow response times

Police car on the street at night
Police car on the street at night Getty Images/iStockphoto

By year-end, two new sheriff deputies could be patrolling the North County, where residents have experienced slow response times to life-threatening calls, officials said.

San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved spending $340,000 out of the county’s contingency fund Monday to pay for the two positions after Supervisor John Peschong urged his colleagues to do so, noting that response times in the rural areas can be 45 minutes to an hour. The average response time last year was 16 minutes and 15 seconds, according to office records. The vote was 3-2.

The money will pay for two deputy salaries of $71,700 and benefits of $46,400 each, a vehicle for $45,250, plus the cost of training, radios, a computer and camera for the vehicle and fuel.

The new deputies will focus on Shandon and San Miguel and will be based in the sheriff’s Templeton office, which covers some of the most remote areas of the county — 2,105 square miles from Santa Margarita to Monterey and Kern counties, including California Valley. Currently the office has one commander, two sergeants, four senior deputies and 22 patrol deputies.

Last year, it took a patrol deputy more than 15 minutes to get to 32 percent of life-threatening calls in the North County, according to reports by the Sheriff’s Office. The goal in the upcoming year is for 70 percent to get there in less than 15 minutes.

Moreover, calls for service in the area increased over the last two years, and both Shandon and San Miguel are “our challenge area with gangs,” Sheriff Ian Parkinson told the Board of Supervisors during Monday’s budget hearing.

The request for new deputies in North County was not the highest budget priority for Parkinson, who put requests for a field supervisor and legal clerk at the top of his list.

In addition to Peschong, supervisors Lynn Compton and Debbie Arnold voted yes, while Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill voted no.

It’s unlikely that residents will notice a change soon. Parkinson said it could take up to six months to fill the positions.

Two positions created last year for additional nighttime deputies to serve the areas north of Los Osos and in Oceano have yet to be filled. Parkinson said that’s because a large number of deputies retired in the past year, requiring the department to fill multiple positions. Law enforcement agencies across the state have struggled with recruitment and retention.

That’s one reason Supervisor Bruce Gibson cited for voting against the proposal. He said he would like to see recruitment efforts increase. He also said other priorities remain unfunded, such as more correctional deputies in the jail.

Supervisor Adam Hill agreed with Gibson, alleging that Peschong’s choice to fund new deputies over the sheriff’s priority requests was motivated by politics. “I think priorities are clearly being established on a political basis by the board’s majority rather than anything else,” Hill said.