Sheriff Ahern is asking county for $255 million to hire 370 new employees

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern.

When state Sen. Nancy Skinner raised the possibility of an audit on the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office last year it energized progressives in the East Bay, who have grown to loath the department and its leader for, what they believe, is a lack of transparency at the department amid mounting deaths at the Santa Rita Jail and misconduct by his deputies. But the move also hardened those who have long supported Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern.

Alameda County beatThe audit, if ever performed, would conversely highlight the sheriff’s department need for expanding its ranks, Ahern’s supporters have said. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty has pushed this narrative since last year with the aim of hiring more deputies. A supervisorial candidate in the March primary also articulated the same talking points.

And just last week, when the sheriff’s department’s responses to the coronavirus at the Santa Rita Jail was discussed at a Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Nate Miley said the potential crisis at the jail is another reason why the sheriff needs more deputies.

Ahern may get is wish on Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors is scheduled debate a request to allocate $85 million for the next three years to hire 216 sworn officers and 47 non-sworn officers. Furthermore, another 107 employees is proposed to be hired by the Alameda County Health Services Agency to assist at the jail.

The expenditure is proposed to be included in the upcoming fiscal year budget, the sheriff’s department said.

Both county departments have been conferring with consultants over the issue of staffing at the jail, the sheriff’s department said. “All of the independent staffing experts agree that the Santa Rita Jail is severely understaffed in all areas,” a county staff report said.

The additional staffing, the sheriff’s department said, will allow it to expand programs at the jail, additional “out-of-cell” time for inmates, and increased observation for suicide prevention.

The sheriff’s office, however, acknowledges finding such a large number of new employees, at least, sworn officers, may be difficult in a time when many local law enforcement agencies are struggling to finding new recruits. Eighteen of the proposed new positions will deal with recruitment of new deputies, the county staff report said.

The sheriff’s budget request comes shortly after roughly 400 inmates were released prior to the end of their sentences from Santa Rita Jail this month. The move was made to hopefully lessen any outbreaks of the coronavirus that could occur at the facility. A nurse at the facility is reported to have tested positive for the virus last week.

Roughly 2,200 inmates are currently confined at the jail. But its population has steadily dropped while funding for the jail has increased over the year. In a letter from Skinner to the Board of Supervisors in February 2019 asking for an audit of the sheriff’s department she noted the disparity.

“In its fiscal oversight role, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors has an important responsibility to ensure that the ASCO is spending public funds wisely, particularly in the wake of several in-custody death and costly lawsuits, along with allegations of abuse and mistreatment of women,” Skinner wrote.

The sheriff’s budget item was added late to last week’s Board of Supervisors on Mar. 24 before later being pulled from the agenda. Notably, a federal lawsuit pertaining to allegations of civil rights allegations at Santa Rita Jail was heard in closed session last Tuesday and is again listed on Tuesday morning’s agenda.

UPDATE: