SCV’s top cop talks shop 

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station Captain Justin Diez addresses attendees during the An Evening of Conversation with Captain Jusin Diez event held at Mercedes-Benz of Valencia on Wednesday, 051524. Dan Watson/The Signal

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez was speaking to some of his biggest supporters in the community Wednesday at the SCV Sheriff’s Foundation event.  

But he was not there to lead a pep rally. 

A Conversation with the Captain was organized by the nonprofit that supports station operations ranging from the Search and Rescue Team to the weight room and intended to improve community dialogue, said Gloria Mercado-Fortine, the foundation’s immediate past president. 

After sharing some of the challenges facing the local law enforcement landscape — morale and staffing challenges, the rise in property crimes and recidivism — Diez led an hourlong Q-and-A at the Mercedes Benz dealership on Valencia Boulevard.  

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Captain Justin Diez, right, and Incoming SCV Sheriff’s Foundation President Scott Schauer, center, present a plaque to Mercedes-Benz of Valencia General Manager Tom Swire during the An Evening of Conversation with Captain Jusin Diez event held at Mercedes-Benz of Valencia on Wednesday, 051524. Dan Watson/The Signal

It was part of an ongoing effort at dialogue by the foundation, which hosts conversations between station officials and local youth as well, Mercado-Fortine said. 

Conversations with law enforcement are more important than ever, she said, adding she hears from local youth regarding this seemingly fractured relationship and mistrust among young people, which several attendees mentioned as a major societal challenge. 

A peculiar request 

Diez said the station receives approximately 93,000 calls in a year, ranging from matters that shouldn’t have resulted in someone dialing 911 to life-threatening incidents. 

And the station will answer any call, he said. 

To respond to local public safety needs, he has approximately 258 sworn deputy positions budgeted for the station — about 65% to 70% of which he’s currently able to fill.  

Those deputies are meant to patrol hundreds of square miles and a population of about 310,000 — which can swell by nearly 40,000 people when Six Flags Magic Mountain is filled. 

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Captain Justin Diez addresses attendees during the An Evening of Conversation with Captain Jusin Diez event held at Mercedes-Benz of Valencia on Wednesday, 051524. Dan Watson/The Signal

The station’s contract with the city of Santa Clarita, which Diez said Sheriff Robert Luna gives him leeway to manage, requires a certain number of vehicles patrol in the city. 

This provision, combined with the staffing situation, has resulted in deputies’ mandatory “drafting” for overtime duties for years, he said. 

The situation is also why even the captain had to acknowledge his answer sounded odd, when he was asked by a member of the audience about the best thing the community can do to help. 

“One thing?” Diez repeated, as though he was quickly taking stock of the situation he just explained, involving crime numbers and recidivism ticking up and a dwindling number of deputies to address both. 

“I know this sounds really weird. But report crime,” he said. “We need people to report crime. I don’t want you to be a victim, and then you talk about it on Facebook and complain, it happens all the time, or on NextDoor … and then not report it. Because we’re not going to take a report off Facebook — so please call the station.” 

Diez then added a second request the crowd was there for: “Support your Sheriff’s Department.” 

Diez said the SCV is in a very unique position, in that about 90% of his staff live and work here, which makes a big difference. 

“Support those guys and gals because look, they live here, they’re coaches here, they’re teachers here,” he said, “and of the 23 sheriff’s stations, this is the only one.” 

He referred to it as supporting a “culture of public safety” in Santa Clarita, he said, in explaining perceived challenges that are coming from all sides. 

Attendee Steve Hopp asks a question about recent burgurlaries in his neighborhood during the An Evening of Conversation with Captain Jusin Diez event held at Mercedes-Benz of Valencia on Wednesday, 051524. Dan Watson/The Signal

Cultural challenges  

One of the biggest challenges, he told the crowd, is that fewer and fewer people want to be law enforcement officers, which is apparent in the academy classes that serve all agencies.  

When he went through the Sheriff’s Academy class at College of the Canyons about 20 years ago, there were more than 100 trainees, a figure that’s now coming in at closer to a third of that, and the LASD is facing a much more competitive environment for recruits with other agencies.  

He said the staffing level is so low department-wide that even if the city upped the station’s contract to pay for more deputies, he wouldn’t have the bodies available in his ranks. It’s the same issue that has led to the station occasionally turning down additional grant funding during holiday operations. There’s only so much overtime that deputies can work. 

Santa Clarita City Councilman Jason Gibbs said the work to keep residents safe was the No. 1 priority, calling deputies “the absolute front line.” 

“So, sadly, the way we’ve had to augment is to pull off items that we’re not able to meet because the staffing is just not there,” Gibbs said. “While there are extra bodies in positions that we’d like to fill, one of the best things we can do is limit that, so that the deputies aren’t working 80 to 100 hours a week. 

“And until we see a real culture change when it comes to our police officers and the respect that should come with that job is returned — then we’re gonna have a hard time finding deputies.” 

Scott Hoolahan, 53, a longtime resident and local businessman who said he moved to the SCV at age 13, described himself as a “big fan of the people in uniform that make this town the safe place that it’s been for most of my adult life.”  

Hoolahan lamented the current state of discourse between young adults and officers and talked about how that poses problems for the future of public safety, because “they punch the same three numbers that I do,” when an emergency happens.  

He praised Diez for his earnest talk, which he liked because the captain wasn’t trying to sound like a “polished politician,” he added. He also respected the strategy. 

“If his superiors and other politicians think, ‘Oh, well, look, Santa Clarita is just this perfect little place,’ and then underneath the social media cloud, there’s all these things happening that aren’t being reported. They don’t mean anything to those people,” Hoolahan said of the internet chatter. 

“Well, he’s trying to get more resources. He’s understaffed for the number of people. So I think he’s asking for our help as citizens as, ‘Hey, when this stuff is happening, you gotta report it,’ because without that reporting, he doesn’t have the ammunition to go get more resources, because ‘they’ have a false impression of what’s happening or not happening in the Santa Clarita Valley.” 

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