Lawmakers Partially Lift Hiring Freeze for Calif. Sheriff's Office

Jan. 31, 2024
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office was given a hiring freeze exemption by county supervisors to fill 25 positions, although the agency had asked to fill 35 openings.

On Tuesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors exempted the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office from the county-wide hiring freeze, but not to the full extent requested.

The board voted four to one — with 5th District Supervisor Steve Madrone dissenting — to lift the hiring freeze for 25 positions, mostly consisting of correctional deputy positions, but including a lateral deputy sheriff hire and a dispatcher. Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal — speaking in the context of the county's roughly $17.7 million fiscal deficit, sparking the hiring freeze across all departments — initially asked for the freeze to lift on 35 positions, which he said were already funded by the county.

"I'm still having angst about the blanket approval, but I will say that with correctional deputies, because that is a mandated service, I feel comfortable with those moving forward. And you (Honsal) being able to recruit as many of those as you can," 4th District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo said.

Arroyo's suggested reducing the requested hiring thaw and was supported by 3rd District Supervisor Mike Wilson. She noted the compromise diminished her fear of eventual layoffs. In an initial motion seconded by 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn, 2nd District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell wanted to issue blanket approval lifting the freeze, but without support from the majority of the board, she amended it to Arroyo's suggestion.

Due to staffing shortages at the sheriff's office, Honsal said deputies work 12-hour shifts for five or six days per week, contributing toward high turnover rates.

"We are experiencing burnout at an astronomical rate, that people are quitting. We had someone last week say 'I'm gonna go drive a logging truck because it's more stable, I can have at least two days off' ... it may pay more money, but they at least have some time off every night, and they have time off on the weekends with their family," Honsal said.

Regarding the county jail, deputies are currently working at 75% of their full staffing capacity, said Captain Duane Christiansen. While the board greenlit 19 vacancies for hiring — plus four correctional deputies for immediate hiring, the lateral hire and the dispatcher — the jail actually has 29 vacancies, but Christiansen said his office agreed to leave 10 of them unfilled to reduce the county budgetary deficit.

Honsal noted that, given the county's hiring process, his office would likely not fill their full staffing request within the next four months, but he sought blanket approval to avoid asking the board again to fill positions once qualified candidates apply.

While lifting the hiring freeze was mostly aimed at correctional deputies, Bohn pointed out the outsize impact staffing shortages have on rural communities in Humboldt County without their own police forces.

"The rural area will take the beating, we don't have a resident deputy anyone right now ... we used to have five, we just don't have them anymore," Bohn said.

When Wilson said he supported Arroyo's suggestion, he added that he would like to avoid a scenario where every department head in the county asks for a hiring thaw given other essential services provided, such as road maintenance and fire district support.

Madrone did not support the partial hiring thaw because of the county's deficit.

"We've got to tighten our belts across the board and I recognize that the sheriff and the deputies provide an important role in public safety for the community, but so do roads, so do fire and the rest. All the departments have really pulled together to try and cut costs wherever they can and I would appreciate the sheriff's department doing the same. I know it's difficult, but given our current budget crisis, I think we need to hold our ground on the hiring freeze," Madrone said.

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