Shortage of deputies compels Youngblood to redeploy school resource officers, who mentor as much as they protect

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood can always ask for more money, but he can’t just ask for more deputies — not overnight. Not from the Board of Supervisors.

He won’t be able to add deputies unless and until they come and apply — and that has not been happening.

So Youngblood has had to address his growing shortage of deputies by redeploying where he can. And the least painful set of redeployments he figures he can make is reassigning school resource officers — individual deputies assigned to six school districts outside Bakersfield.

“We’re past money,” Youngblood said Monday. “Ten years ago I was preaching that we needed money, we needed to hire, and now we’re past that. … For two years we’ve offered a $25,000 signing bonus. We’ve got zero takers in two years.”

When might local schools get their resource officers back? Youngblood can’t say.

“Hopefully we can rebound from this in the next few years and start filling those positions again,” he said, “because they are a mentorship. The relationship between our children and law enforcement is extremely important to us. But when it comes to responding to a 911 call or having a school resource officer, you go with the 911 call.”

Edison, Greenfield and Standard are among the affected school districts. Standard Superintendent Paul Meyers says the school resource officer, or SRO, has been as much a mentor and figure of trust to students as he has been a campus cop.

“We’re sad to see the loss of our SROs,” he said. “We’ve had a relationship with Kern County sheriffs for decades and we’ve had an SRO here for many years. I think our community, our school board, our teachers, find great value in having an SRO on campus.”

In the early 1990s, Youngblood says, the Sheriff’s Department had 91 metro patrol deputies. Now the department has 48 to handle a bigger population and more sophisticated challenges. 

Youngblood is constitutionally barred from pulling depaties out of the courts or the jails, so he is forced to pull them out of schools — and out of the department’s Special Enforcement Division, which deals with things like gangs and narcotics. That division, which once had about 30 deputies a few years ago now has single digits, Youngblood said.

Sheriff’s deputies will of course respond to school campuses when necessary, Youngblood said. But the affected school districts won’t have the luxury that others have, like the Kern High School District, which has its own police force.

These are the types of hard decisions a staff-strapped Sheriff’s Department just has to make.

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