Book him, Danno—then send ’em the bill.
At last Tuesday’s meeting of the Butte County Board of Supervisors, the board recognized a report calling for the fees to double but compromised with the chiefs in attendance by raising the fees by only 50 percent this year, at the end of which another hike will be negotiated.
At issue are the “booking fees” that police departments pay to the Sheriff’s Office when arrestees are brought to the county jail. According to a report by Maximus consulting group, the cost incurred by the routine processing of jail inmates ($109 per booking) is roughly double what the Sheriff’s Office has been collecting from police ($54 per booking). That means the office spent about $215,000 booking inmates but only took in about $96,000.
The county has been lax in updating its fee schedules. The last time it determined how much it costs to book prisoners was in 1992, when the state mandated that local government should take over those costs. Prior to that, the state had paid the entire bill. The state now gives part of that money back to local police departments, but even that reimbursement might be cut from the impending state budget.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the problem was exacerbated by a number of glitches in the sheriff’s billing and booking process. Computer software installed in January 2002 that was supposed to make the process easier has actually cost the Sheriff’s Office thousands of dollars. For reasons known only to the computer gods, the software was “capturing” only about 50 percent of bookings. Sheriff Perry Reniff said he thinks the problem is fixed, but he will have to bill the departments retroactively, which didn’t sit well with some chiefs.
“We must respectfully submit our protest,” Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty told the board. “This is a big deal for the cities. We’ll go from paying $50,000 or $60,000 a year, and that may double or even triple. There’s no money in my budget for this. There are no cookies in the jar.”
Oroville Police Chief Mitch Brown was even more upset about the fees, saying that his department takes up a lot of slack from the “understaffed” Sheriff’s Department, and that it should at least be exempt from paying booking fees when police are responding to incidents within county jurisdiction.
“My arrest rate is three times any other city [Oroville’s] size,” he said. “I have to hire extra personnel to take care of county problems. I don’t want it to become so that I’m looking across the street at a crime, but I don’t do anything because I’ll be punished for doing it.”
Another aspect of the booking fiasco was revealed when Reniff declared that, because of yet another glitch, this time in the billing process, the city of Paradise hasn’t paid a booking fee in three years. That problem has also been corrected, the sheriff said, adding that his office will now bill departments directly instead of through the county Auditor’s Office, as it had been doing.