Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes is making some major changes to his department, including restructuring executive positions within his staff and implementing new COVID-19 restrictions to reduce potential exposure for deputies and the public.
The restructuring of the department was discussed and approved at the county Board of Supervisors meeting Dec. 8 in Santa Ana, California, where Barnes spoke about why he decided to make changes on the executive level.
“I believe this was the right thing to do for many reasons, including the budget challenges that you and I face in trying to manage our respective budgets,” Barnes told the supervisors.
“And looking forward to the shortfalls that are forthcoming, I assure you that my agency is still looking at other areas in which we can consolidate, become more efficient, and especially focus on additional cost savings.”
The restructuring will eliminate three positions, or 27 percent of the department’s executive command, and will save county taxpayers $1.2 million. The savings will preserve critical frontline positions.
Barnes said he made the decision based on an opportunity that presented itself, including several upcoming retirements within the department in the next few months.
“That allowed me the opportunity to restructure my organization in a way that will make it both more efficient, more effective, and balance out the organization on span of control, and make it a little flatter for accountability and for oversight,” he said.
Sgt. Dennis Breckner, the department’s public information officer, told The Epoch Times that the sheriff was able to eliminate certain positions by shifting responsibilities among the command staff, thus improving efficiency.
“There are some divisions that are very similar in duty and responsibility, and they already commingle anyway,” Breckner said. These divisions will be consolidated under the supervision of one assistant sheriff where previously there had been multiple personnel, he said.
The new executive command team will include the sheriff, an undersheriff, five assistant sheriffs, and one executive director.
New Measures to Limit COVID-19
The Sheriff’s Department is also implementing new proactive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, as case numbers skyrocket throughout Orange County.
Deputies have been directed to use discretion in responding to certain types of calls that require social contact, and instead will take reports over the phone whenever possible.
Breckner said deputies would no longer respond in person to reports that don’t require the gathering of evidence.
“Obviously, on a home with forced entry or something similar [we would respond,] but if you have a stolen bicycle to report, and there’s no need for us to be there, or lost property or something like that, that’s something that we can handle over the phone,” he said.
Sometimes people will call in to report crimes such as identity theft, where there is no physical evidence, he said. Instead of a deputy going to the victim’s home, they can get all of the information they need over the phone.
Deputies will also not respond to non-injury traffic collisions, unless vehicles are disabled in the roadway causing a hazard or there is a criminal matter involved.
“We’re talking fender benders. If somebody rear-ends a person in an intersection, and everybody pulls over and it’s a non-injury traffic collision, they can exchange information,” said Breckner.
“In general, we go and help facilitate the exchange of information, and at times, we might file a report for a collision, but in most cases those kinds of collisions are handled by insurance companies.”
That policy is already in place at many local police departments, including Santa Ana’s, he said. If an accident involved a criminal matter, such as driving without a license, then a deputy would respond.
Other changes include the postponement of tours and civilian ride-alongs, the suspension of volunteer programs, and the closure to the public of the front lobby of all Sheriff’s Department buildings.