Kochly told the County Board of Supervisors that the recent resignations of three assistant district attorneys receiving benefits will free up nearly enough funds to prevent the need to lay off, for now, six contracted assistant DAs who do not receive benefits. Kochly also agreed to take a 10-percent pay cut.
As a result, he rescinded a plan that was to go into effect on Monday to no longer prosecute felony possession of small amounts of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin as well as misdemeanor drug crimes of all kinds. He also had planned to no longer prosecute traffic offenses, property crimes, simple assault or battery, trespassing, loitering cases and a variety of other misdemeanor crimes.
That plan, which Kochly announced in an April 20 memo to police chiefs in the county’s cities, produced outrage among East County officials and residents after it was leaked to the public.
“The message we have today is for the Board of Supervisors to work with the district attorney’s office to restore the budget and allow them to continue doing the job that they have in the past,” said Antioch Mayor Jim Davis last Friday at the Pittsburg Courthouse in a press conference he held with Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor and Oakley Mayor Carol Rios.
“This is not the time to be cutting back the budget; this is the time to increase the budget. With the economic situation that this country is in, we all know that crime is going to increase. We need to continue prosecuting the crimes as they have been doing in our communities.”
Hans Ho, chairman of the Antioch Crime Prevention Commission, said, “When I received word that we are not going to prosecute some of the crimes, I was in shock. I thought we might as well write out an invitation to the criminals: ‘If you want to commit a crime, please come to Contra Costa County. We won’t prosecute you; we welcome your business.’”
Davis and Ho emphasized that Antioch police would continue arresting criminals, even if the DA did not prosecute some misdemeanor crimes.
Taylor echoed those remarks, saying, “We do not welcome the criminals. This is America – any criminal has right to drive through the city. But please do not stop. We are going to do (police) business as usual. This is a grave concern of every city in Contra Costa County. I think our voices will be heard and we will follow through with whatever legal procedures we have to do.”
Rios said that when making cuts to balance a budget “you look at the least impact to the citizens. Surely this is one that is going to impact us the most. You certainly don’t want to allow the Board of Supervisors to balance their budget, basically, on our backs. It’s time to be realistic and give us the protection that we put our taxes into.”
Ironically, while Davis and Taylor were criticizing the supervisors for cutting assistant district attorney positions due to funding shortfalls, both Antioch and Brentwood– due to funding shortfalls – have cut from their budgets a part-time assistant DA position to help prosecute crimes in those cities. Both mayors said they would like to reinstate the funding for that position, depending on what the county does.
Kochly’s decision to continue prosecuting all crimes might be only temporary if in the next 120 days county officials can’t find or free up the $1.9 million it recently cut from his budget. Otherwise, he will be laying off six contracted assistant district attorneys along with 11 regular assistant DAs at the end of the year – and the limited-prosecution plan would take effect, perhaps in September.
County Sheriff Warren Rupf, forced to cut nearly $10 million from his budget and lay off 25 deputies, told the supervisors that extra funding would not be found for the DA’s office due to the county’s ongoing obligations to provide generous benefits for current and retired county employees.
“This problem cannot be solved in 120 days because it’s taken years to develop,” said Rupf. “In my opinion, this level of government has failed public safety by any definition. It has entered into employee contracts that have obligated itself to other things that are unaffordable. We, in a manner of speaking, are the General Motors of county government. We can’t afford to conduct our business; we can’t afford to deliver a product – and we look to Washington, D.C. to bail us out.
“Unless we change the structure (of county employee benefits), we will not get a resolution. The unit cost of an employee (of the sheriff’s office) has caused us over the last six years to reduce the number of employees that we have. We need to get everyone engaged (in renegotiating employee salaries and benefits) and need to do it quickly. We are not just broke – we are broken.”
The supervisors agreed that excessive employee compensation packages are to blame, combined with the recent economic downturn that has reduced tax revenue. They said they are continuing to negotiate with the county unions to try to reduce the cost of employees.
While the focus lately has been on cuts in the district attorney’s office, possibly resulting in reduced prosecutions, the county sheriff’s deputies are warning that cuts in their force will definitely reduce arrests.
“If you’re not bleeding, don’t call 911 and expect the Deputy Sheriffs’ Office to respond quickly to your call,” said Jim Bickert, a deputy sheriff and president of the Contra Costa Deputy Sheriffs’ Association in a press release Tuesday. “Starting tonight, there will only be three patrol cars on graveyard; only four cars on the weekends to respond to evening calls.”
He added that he fears that Contra Costa County will become known as the place criminals can get away with committing crimes if the supervisors don’t restore funding for sheriff’s deputies and assistant DAs.