Despite need elsewhere, California pays for local police to do the same job as probation officers
When something isn’t working, do more of it.
That seems to be California’s $24 million solution to a problem of dubious dimensions: A new state-funded campaign is tasking Sacramento-area cops with doing a job that’s already being done by probation officers.
The funding represents a handout to city police agencies that were largely jilted when California enacted its prison-realignment plan in 2011. In return for their $1 million portion in new state money, six Sacramento County police departments will share a mission that’s surprisingly similar to the county probation department’s.
The departments are collaborating on a new “frontline intervention” team to monitor and closely supervise offenders with a high probability of recidivism, according to a city of Sacramento staff report from May. But the probation department already has the same mission—and supposedly state funding to accomplish the task.
Since realignment went into effect 21 months ago, probation has inherited 1,800 “post-release custody status” offenders from state prison institutions. Probation’s intensive-supervision units monitor 67 percent of this new population—the ones deemed moderate-to-high risk of committing new crimes—with other programs and services covering the rest.
Additionally, Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale said his officers already work with the Sacramento Police Department to monitor low-level prison inmates released to local supervision rather than state parole.
“I can’t say that we have it covered—there’s always more that we’d like to do,” Seale told SN&R. “But I do think that there is a significant need for supervision and treatment for the ’nonrealigned’ population of traditional probationers.”
By “nonrealigned,” Seale means the approximately 25,000 probationers in Sacramento County who were sentenced to local institutions or programs for their crimes.
While realignment legislation provides resources to monitor those redirected from the state, probation has steadily lost funding since 2008. It currently supervises only 12 percent of nonrealigned offenders.
“I certainly would like to see more resources directed to serving the approximately 25,000 probationers in the community, especially those who are high risk and have unmet treatment needs,” Seale said.
But instead of helping supervise the vast majority of probationers, the new state-funded task forces are charged with monitoring a group that’s already being monitored—even as research data points out the shortcomings of “traditional, intensive supervision programs.”
In March, a Sacramento State University research proposal to study rehabilitation efforts locally stated that supervision programs “may even increase recidivism” when applied exclusively.
So, why is the state giving police departments money to perform a redundant, arguably counterproductive job?
Local police officials can only say how they’re planning to administer their new charge. Citrus Heights Police Department’s Lt. Gina L. Anderson said the multi-agency squad will “basically augment” probation’s efforts to keep a new population of convicted felons in line.
The Sacramento Police Department, which is receiving more than half of the $1 million grant, will dedicate a sergeant and three officers to the task force. “It will be run with the intention of making sure these [post-custody] folks are in compliance,” said Officer Doug Morse, a Sacramento police spokesman.
Anderson’s agency will hold the grant-money purse strings. Citrus Heights got the job because its police chief, Christopher Boyd, worked on realignment as the vice president of the California Police Chiefs Association. His fellow chiefs in Sacramento, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt and Rancho Cordova “essentially” voted him in, Anderson told SN&R.
The task force could end up being similar to a “parole intervention team” Sacramento police operated before budget cuts hit in 2008. It was a highly active squad that functioned as a liaison between cops and parole officers. “The PIT team of old worked with parole agents, hand in hand,” Morse said. “This seems very similar.”
It was also a highly coveted assignment for police officers.
The task force was expected to be ready by July 1, though some departments might take longer to assign someone, Anderson said.
Meanwhile, probation is figuring out how to juggle the underserved population that was always here with the new, realigned offenders receiving double coverage.
In budget materials and presentations, the department acknowledged that supervision alone isn’t effective without programs and services both during and after incarceration.
Seale actually pitched a drug-treatment plan for high-risk drug offenders to the board of supervisors last month. But rather than granting the budget request, the board instead gave $750,000 of Seale’s realignment money to the sheriff’s department for personnel costs.
Sacramento County’s haul from realignment will surpass $77 million this fiscal year, all of which has been steered to local agencies, primarily the sheriff’s department, which runs the county jails. No community treatment programs have received direct funding.
In Sacramento, people under supervision were twice as likely to be arrested for simple drug possession than violent or property crimes, according to a January study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Probationers and those still under state parole make up 30 percent of all local arrests. That figure is higher than the three other California cities looked at in the report: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Redlands.