Rural California community left on its own as police staffing shortage brings end to daytime patrols
A rural community in northern California is reporting it cannot rely on local police should a crisis hit due to staffing shortages that run so deep in the area that the sheriff’s office has canceled daytime patrols.
“Unless you’re bleeding or dying, you’re probably not going to get a sheriff or anyone to respond,” Tehama County resident Cheyenne Thornton told the Guardian.
Tehama County has a population of nearly 66,000 people and sits about halfway between Sacramento and the Oregon border. Within the county sits the community of Rancho Tehama Reserve, where residents say that calling 911 leads to a dead end or long wait times.
“People out here are ready to take it into their own hands. They’re tired of not getting any help. It’s kind of a ticking timebomb out here,” Thornton, an office manager with the local homeowners’ association, told the Guardian.
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“You feel like you don’t matter out here – you’re on your own.”
The Tehama County Sheriff’s Office is located about 25 miles from the town and has been battling a steep staffing crisis for years, which has been made worse in recent years – when other police departments across the country reported ongoing staffing problems related to 2020’s defund the police movement.
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In November, the sheriff’s office canceled daytime patrols altogether, citing a “catastrophic staffing shortage” due to a “drastic rise in attrition, coupled with the inability to present enticing recruitment efforts.”
“We’ve never been in a position where we’ve [had] to suspend dayshift patrol,” Sheriff David Kain told the outlet. “I don’t know that people really recognize how agonizing this is.”
Data from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that the number of patrol officers fell by more than 20% between 2008 and 2021. Some locals, however, say lack of police is nothing new.
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“I moved to this county in 1978, and the first question I asked was, ‘What kind of service do you have in the rural areas?’” County Supervisor Bill Moule told CalMatters in December. “The sheriff was kinda this big guy, been sheriff a long time. He looked at me and said, ‘Son, get yourself a shotgun and a dog.’ It’s no different today than it was in 1978.”
Arming themselves in the event of chaos or tragedy is the norm, according to locals, with some brushing off the fact that police cannot respond at the drop of a dime.
“I can protect myself and my family, whether I shoot you in the a– or beat you with a stick,” Rancho Tehama resident Chris Foster told the Guardian. “This is the country. People packing guns is normal to me and my 9-year-old son. Because, you know, you have to protect your wellbeing and your property. It’s like anywhere else.”
The former sheriff, Dave Hencratt, attributed low retention and recruitment rates of law enforcement to pay wages back in comment to local media last year.
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“We are running what I call a ‘supermarket of employees’ for other agencies,” Dave Hencratt told a local newspaper last year. “When Redding police department says, ‘You know what, chief, we’re down officers’ – ‘Well, go down to Tehama county, go down the officer aisle and pick some,’ and that’s what they do. They’re cherry-picking our people.”
Violent crime in the county has also reportedly been on the rise in recent years, with residents pointing to a handful of examples. Thornton cited an incident last year when a man allegedly called the homeowners’ association and threatened to kill everyone there, but the sheriff’s office could not respond.
“We have zero response from any of the law enforcement,” Thornton told the Guardian. “We recorded [the threat]. That’s all we can do – hope for the best, hope that they don’t actually follow through with their threats. It’s a different world out here.”
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In 2017, Rancho Tehama was the scene of a series of shootings, including at an elementary school, carried out over two days by one gunman who ultimately committed suicide. The shootings left five people dead and 14 others injured. The incident still haunts many residents.
The sheriff’s office had reported to the gunman’s home 21 times before committing the carnage, local media reported at the time. Some residents even filed lawsuits against the sheriff’s office, arguing they were not adequately protected from the gunman.
Despite the lack of police in the area, residents stressed to the Guardian that their neighbors are “hard-working people” and that the community is no different from other parts of the country.
“It gets a bad rep,” Michelle Abrams, a clerk at the local gas station, said. “I think people categorize it as a big tweaker theft town, but there’s really hard-working people out here. I see them every single day and they come in dog tired, completely covered in dirt after working the fields and the ranches.”
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G3 Box News Digital reached out to the sheriff’s office but did not receive a response by time of publication.