Our View | Badges? We’ve Got Plenty. Who Will Wear Them?

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By The Signal Editorial Board

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be … law enforcement officers.

Yes, that is a take-off of an old song popularized by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. But it does reflect the true sentiment of people and the times we live in. Parents don’t want their kids to be law enforcement officers.

And why would they? Who would really want that job today?

Apparently, fewer and fewer people — at least when it comes to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where a personnel shortage is the latest real-life ramification of the past few years of anti-police political rhetoric and government decisions.

Locally, last week the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station’s “J Team” was disbanded.

The Juvenile Intervention Team, or J Team, is — sorry, “was” — a respected unit that focused on youth offenders and drug crimes with an intervention-like approach.

The team has been “suspended,” which is code for “it doesn’t exist anymore.”

The J Team specialized in youth drug and gang education and enforcement. The J team was disbanded …

Not for a lack of funding.

Not for a lack of need.

Not for a lack of support.

But because there is a lack of staffing.

Wait. What?

A lack of deputies? Yes, the Sheriff’s Department is experiencing a lack of deputies.

Locally, the SCV Sheriff’s Station is running at less than 60% of its full staffing level.

The first priority of any law enforcement agency is basic public safety, which means having enough deputies for patrol.

We don’t.

So all of our deputies must go on patrol, which leaves no deputies for special teams — like the J Team. This, in the middle of a national fentanyl drug crisis that has killed dozens of young people in the SCV over the past couple of years.

And it may not stop with the J Team. Unless the Sheriff’s Department can get more deputies, other much-needed special teams will be disbanded also.

The LASD doesn’t have enough new recruits. Academy classes that used to have 90 to 100 cadets each session now have 30 to 35.

This is a problem not only in Santa Clarita but also throughout the United States. The staffing levels for police departments throughout the state declined by at least 3.5% a year for the past two years. The number of patrol officers per 100,000 population is at its lowest point since at least 1991, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Countywide, the Sheriff’s Department is more than 900 deputies understaffed.

There are many reasons staffing is low across the board — the biggest being the toxic national dialogue that demonizes police officers and has made police department staffing significantly more difficult for every major city in America. All it takes is a 30-second out-of-context clip on the internet from someone’s phone to tarnish a reputation or even ruin a career of a deputy. 

Police chiefs around the country have blamed staffing shortages on protests and public expressions of distrust, which swelled after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

External pressures such as negative media coverage, increased oversight, and the rising threat of violence also impact morale of current and future law enforcement officers. 

Internal factors such as equipment access, workload and burdensome overtime requirements are also factors. Officers need the right tools to perform their duties effectively. A heavy workload without adequate resources can lead to frustration and exhaustion. 

Morale is at an all-time low in many police agencies, including the LASD. Four people associated with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department committed suicide in a two-day span this past November.

All of this, along with L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón’s criminal-friendly directives and new criminal justice laws that seek to reduce the number of people in jail have created an exodus of veteran officers. 

After all: Would you feel validated if you kept arresting the same criminals over and over again, only to see them repeatedly set free?

Yes, as in any profession, there are officers whose actions are unacceptable and they need to be held accountable. But they are in the minority. The vast majority of law enforcement officers are individuals who work hard to keep communities safe, and are willing to make sacrifices to do so. 

We need to teach our kids, along with our friends, neighbors and elected officials, to respect law enforcement officers. They have a tough time and deal with many people who are having their worst day. They have to make life-and-death decisions in a split second and then have people second guess them. And the second guessers are doing their second guessing with the luxury of doing so in a safe environment, under no time pressure, as they endlessly review slow-motion video and pause it frame by frame, imposing unrealistic expectations on human beings trying to do a near-impossible job in imminent physical danger.

The anti-police environment is coming home to roost. As of now, the SCV no longer has a valuable team of deputies dedicated to saving our kids from the fentanyl scourge and other life-and-death issues -— simply because there are not enough deputies to staff the team.

We need to change our tune, in L.A. County and the nation at large. Let’s respect our officers and thank them for protecting us — and change those lyrics to, “Mamas, don’t teach your babies to disrespect officers …” 

Otherwise, they, like Waylon and Willie’s cowboys, will just ride away.

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