Grand Jury: probation department understaffed, at risk


SANTA CRUZ — The Santa Cruz County Grand Jury took aim at the county’s probation department in a report released Tuesday.

According to the report, Deputy Probation Officers (DPOs) lack adequate training and safety equipment, a list that includes poorly functioning radios, ill-fitting tactical vests and Tasers.

The department also grapples with low staffing and high caseloads of potentially violent offenders. Unarmed DPOs frequently perform high-risk visits, often without law enforcement to back them up, the report states.

In addition, personnel interviewed for the report told grand jury members that they feel unsupported by their supervisors, and fear retaliation if they report their concerns.

All of this increases safety risks to the officers and results in fewer probation visits, the report states.

“While the Department has not experienced any fatalities, violent offenders have injured Adult Division DPOs attempting to supervise them in the field,” the report reads. “Equally concerning is that rather than risk injury or death, DPOs often do not visit offender’s at work or home, leaving them unsupervised and the community unaware of the potential dangers posed by high-risk offenders in our neighborhoods.”

In its list of recommended actions, the grand jury said that the Probation Department should provide sufficient equipment to its officers, and provide ongoing training. It should also develop policies of having law enforcement officers to accompany DPOs on field visits.

In addition, the Grand Jury said that the Probation Department should hire an independent consultant to conduct a needs assessment study, focusing on potential harm to field officers making high-risk probation visits. The focus, the report says, should be on creating an armed unit.

Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said that the county is “disappointed in the report.”

Hoppin added that the Grand Jury usually does a good job of investigating and producing its reports, but that this one “fell short of previous efforts.”

“The constitution that convenes grand juries calls for careful and diligent investigations, and this was neither,” Hoppin said.

Hoppin said that the investigation did not go far enough, and relied to heavily on the claims from one side of the equation.

“It appears as if the Grand Jury has injected itself into labor relations based on the claims of a few probation officers without interrogating those claims whatsoever,” he said. 

Hoppin said the county has “next to zero” incidents of violence on probation officers, and has dedicated deputies from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office to help in high-risk situations.

“…and suggesting that they are at risk – or that we put them at risk – is in my opinion reckless,” he said.

Hoppin said that the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of Tasers in its latest round of budget talks, which concluded Tuesday.

Under state law, organizations typically have 90 days to respond to grand jury reports. They are not, however, required to implement any of the suggested changes.

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To see the full report, visit www.bit.ly/2J8d7ff.

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