SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Santa Barbara County is currently facing a significant budget gap. It's a shortfall that exceeds over $34 million and is forcing the Board of Supervisors to potentially make painful cuts.
Among the county departments facing a drastic reduction in funding is the Sheriff's Office, which could be required to trim $5.5 million.
Sheriff Bill Brown said at Monday's budget hearing in Santa Barbara, the proposed cuts are worse than the ones that were absorbed by the department during the Great Recession about 10 years ago.
As the Sheriff's Office has had less money to operate over the last several years, it has received financial support from the Sheriff's Benevolent Posse.
"The Sheriff's Benevolent Posse is made up of volunteer men and women, none of whom are in law enforcement, that give up their time and effort and their money to help support the Sheriff's Office, so it's totally independent," said Posse president Richard Kline. "It's citizen driven and it's really relies on the volunteers to give us time and of their efforts."
Through the years, the Posse has provided a number of value equipment and resources to the department.
"We recently built a new headquarters barn for the Mounted Enforcement Unit," said Kline. "We've provided specialized vests for the officers. We provide a helicopter and basically just materials that are urgently needed by the Sheriff's Office."
Most recently, the Posse purchased a new laptop and carrying case for Rural Crime Investigator John McCarthy.
The new computer equipment, valued at more that $2,000, replaces an older laptop that McCarthy said was woefully out-of-date.
"Our Sheriff's Department IT department weren't even able to upgrade it anymore, so it was pretty much worthless," McCarthy said.
With his new computer, McCarthy is now able to work in the field, which provides greater efficiency.
"I've got the ability to write my notes, write my reports, write my warrants, especially with search warrants when I could be at an active scene," said McCarthy. "I can take my thumb drive right from the scene to the courthouse and have the D.A. approve it, have the judge approve it and we're good to go on and save in some cases hours."
According to Kline, the new laptop is the latest example of how the Posse is bridging the financial gap that exists in light of ongoing budget cuts.
"The equipment and the materials that they have in many cases are dire need of replacement," said Kline. "The Posse has taken upon itself to help fund as many of those items as we possibly can."
Kline says it's incumbent for county leaders to provide the necessary funds to support the Sheriff's Office.
"The men and women of the Sheriff's Office are putting their lives on the line every single day," Kline said. "There's an extraordinary need in the Sheriff's Office for greater advance technology equipment, for greater resources that help fight crime and help protect us everyday. It's really vital that the County does everything possible to help fund those needs."
Now, the department is facing the prospect of even more cuts. It's a situation that would cause for an even bigger gap for the Posse to fill.
"We're doing our utmost to fill those needs," said Kline. "In fact, we're looking to help acquire a new bomb sniffing dog, a new narcotics sniffing dog, both of which are very much required for law enforcement within our county. We're looking to add to the advance technology equipment that should exist within the Sheriff's Office. We're looking fund equipment such as vehicles that are for specialized units of the Sheriff's Office that simply aren't being funded by the County."
For those who work for the Sheriff's Office, such as McCarthy, they're grateful for the support they receive.
"With our budget cuts, any piece of equipment that we need to replace, it's difficult, so with the Sheriff's Benevolent Posse filling that gap, we couldn't do it without them," said McCarthy.