Since the design of the department today has been molded by the loss of 19 positions in the past two years, Ben Hall said employees should be recruited to create a new strategic plan to determine whether staffing changes should be made to guide the department’s direction.
Hall, 57, a patrol division commander who joined the department in 1975, stressed a need to focus on crime issues, including gangs, drugs — particularly methamphetamine — and financial abuse of elders.
To eliminate gang-related problems, Hall said officials need to work with social groups and schools to target would-be gang members with early intervention programs.
He suggested eliminating the undersheriff position – the current salary is $170,476 – and possibly using the money to fund two more deputies or start looking into what he says are much-needed substations in Cambria and Nipomo.
Hall filed paperwork to run against Hedges in 2001, but withdrew after meeting with the sheriff to discuss some of his concerns with the department.
If elected, Hall said, “I will be on talk radio shows and let people hear the questions and answers. They want to hear from the sheriff himself. I think that’s a step in the direction (of) transparency and accountability.”
Q&A: Four questions for Ben Hall
Q. There have been some high-profile examples in recent years of problems within the Sheriff’s Department that have caused image problems and led the public to question the leadership of the department. How would you restore public confidence in the department? How would you change the culture within the department?
A. I understand how many would question the leadership of the department. Certain events have created an image problem for many of our county residents. I believe that more accountability and transparency on the part of the department, with time, will restore the public trust. Part of my six-point plan is increased transparency, giving the public a closer look at the workings of the Sheriff’s Department by establishing town hall meetings, a willingness to talk with community clubs and radio talk shows, posting the department budget online and adding an “Ask Sheriff Hall” link to the department website.
Q. What do you view as the top crime issue facing the unincorporated areas of the county and how would you address it?
A. The top crime problems facing us today are property crimes, drugs, and burglaries. Drugs are the heart of the problem, destroying families and leading people to steal to pay for their addictions. Gangs are the biggest threat to the overall quality of life in our community. Surrounded on three sides of this county are communities with major gang problems. We must continue to control our current gang problem with tactics focused on suppression and use of gang injunctions, but we must also have a communitywide strategy aimed at preventing the recruitment of new gang members.
Q. If asked to cut 10 percent of your budget, how would you do that while still maintaining current levels of service?
A. A 10 percent cut to the Sheriff's Department budget would be $5.7 million. I would reduce every employee’s regular work hours by four hours a week. This would immediately reduce the department payroll by 10 percent and would not require any layoffs or the expensive process of rehiring and training new employees. The elimination of the undersheriff position would save an additional $200,000 a year.
Q. If elected, how would you establish a relationship with other elected leaders, especially the Board of Supervisors? What specifically would you do to improve relations with the board?
A. Establishing a positive and productive working relationship with elected leaders and members of the Board of Supervisors is very important to me. I have found the energy invested in improving relationships is always worth the time, whether the focus is on a business or a personal relationship. Developing an awareness and understanding of each person’s position and needs is one of the first steps in establishing good relationships. With time, trust and effort each party can come to appreciate each other’s views. The transparency and accountability I bring with me will strengthen these relationships and allow us to work together.