Deputy shortage continues amid low pay in Merced County, residents frustrated with online portal

Brianna Willis Image
Wednesday, March 27, 2024
Deputy shortage amid low pay in Merced County
The number of deputies continues to decline quickly at the Merced County Sheriff's Office.

MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- The number of deputies continues to decline quickly at the Merced County Sheriff's Office.

Last week, the department rolled out an online reporting system for non-violent crimes.

Sheriff Vern Warnke says can't believe in his decades of experience that the shortage would come to this.

"September will be 45 years I'll be with this agency, and never once did I think, that we would not be able to do a personal touch for calls to service where the deputies actually continue to respond to your house," said Merced Co. Sheriff, Vern Warnke.

Sheriff Warnke says the problem is that deputies are not getting paid enough and are leaving for other counties, now residents are equally concerned.

"I want to be able to call 911. I want to be able to call the Sheriff's department and say, 'Hey, I need a deputy out here," said Merced County Resident, Jason Tucker. "It could be an ongoing threat, it could be a situation that gets worse, it just doesn't make any sense."

The days of picking up the phone and calling 911 for non-violent crimes in Merced County are over.

"I know first-hand the ineffectiveness. There's no one to even answer those calls," said Merced County Resident, Rebecca Tucker.

Jason Tucker and his wife live in a more rural part of the county and say they are concerned for their safety, especially since the Sheriff now has to respond to calls himself.

"When your top guy is all that's left to respond to calls, you got nobody," said Jason Tucker.

Sheriff Vern Warnke is equally frustrated with the new portal and knows it will only decrease reporting.

"The folks that are producing the very food we eat, they're getting ripped off left and right, and I know for a fact that they are not reporting all the thefts or the vandalism, everything," said Sheriff Warnke.

He tells me some people aren't as tech-savvy, and he suspects they will struggle.

Residents spoke out at Tuesday's board meeting, but the supervisors did not have any items on their agenda to address staffing concerns.

Supervisor Scott Silviera says they are working on solutions in closed sessions and are in negotiations with the Deputy Sheriffs Association union.

The county recently offered deputies an eight percent raise, but Silveria says it was declined because the union said it wasn't enough.

"We know it's a problem, and I don't have the answer today, and that's frustrating. That's what keeps me up at night," said Silveira.

Sheriff Warnke believes one solution is for him to be able to control his department's budget and thinks he can get deputies to return to the county.

Until then, he says he won't give up and will do what he was elected to do: protect and serve.

"Quite frankly, it's this agency that when everything else fails. They come to this agency to help, and we will continue to do so, right down to the last gunslinger, which will probably be me," said Sheriff Warnke.

Each Merced Co. Supervisor has upcoming town hall meetings for residents, you can find more information HERE.

Sheriff Warnke says public safety leaders were not invited, so he plans to hold his own soon.

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